The arrival of Ford’s new Mustang has generated a heightened level of excitement within the performance car market in New Zealand.
The Mustang capped off a busy year for Ford during 2015, notwithstanding there was a new Mondeo, a Ranger refresh, and a heavily upgraded and revamped Focus.
This evaluation surrounds the Focus which lands here in both wagon and hatchback forms; amidst those variants are four engine options and several specification levels.
The test car was my personal favourite, the Sport hatchback with its 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine. There are bigger engines – 1.6-litre to 2-litre and diesel – but I find the baby of the series quite alluring.
Ford has really embraced turbocharging technologies, and the Ecoboost 1.5-litre stands out for its honesty and low down torquey characteristics. The turbocharger not only helps pump up the power outputs – 132kW and 240Nm – but it is also a mechanism for promoting fuel efficiency.
Ford claims a 6.7-litre per 100km (42mpg) combined cycle rating for the S-specification Ecoboost Focus. That correlates well with the 8l/100km (35mpg) average showing constantly on the test car’s trip computer, along with a 5.5l/100km (51mpg) instantaneous readout cruising at a steady 100km/h, the engine quite unstressed at just 1800rpm.
And if you think small displacement engines can’t hack it in terms of performance, the opposite applies, maximum torque is available all of the way from 1600rpm to 5000rpm. The Focus in this from is feisty, it will scamper to 100km/h from a standstill in 8.5sec, and lunge through a highway overtake in 5sec (80km/h-120km/h).
Power is harnessed through a six-speed automatic transmission and, interestingly, the Powershift button on the gearlever, a recent tradition in European Fords, has disappeared. Nevertheless, there is a sport position on the gearshift selector and steering wheel-mounted paddles should the driver wish to override the gearshift protocols.
Not only does the engine stand out for its solid power delivery, it works through the transmission to provide strong engine braking on an easing throttle. If you use that in conjunction with the paddle-shift system, the Focus S does feel sporty, it is punchy and dynamic in terms of power delivery.
Of course, the Focus has another role to play and that is the honest everyday transport we have come to expect from the series as a car. And in that mode it is an easy-to-drive model.
The new enhancements for 2016 include engineering changes which have made the Focus even quieter and less vulnerable to coarse chip road seal surfaces. At highway speed it is superbly quiet, that only broken by the eager throb of the engine under load, it’s not overbearing, but when you request acceleration, it is audible. But that needn’t be a consideration.
I took the test car on my usual high country run between Canterbury’s two main river gorges and delighted in its unflustered highway motion, it travels smoothly and without sound. It also handles with the ability we have come to expect from European Fords.
Mondeo set the trend when it was first launched, the Focus, too, has agility which defies its purpose. The suspension and chassis settings are biased towards a controlled ride and strong steering turn-in. You can really lean on the Focus in a corner and it will respond with decisive handling manners and controlled suspension movement.
Providing the grip are Michelin Primacy tyres (215/50 x 17in). By sheer nature of their profile they exude a comfortable ride, yet they also have tenacious grip and don’t complain under pressure.
It’s that level of quality which makes the Focus a desirable purchase. At $38,340 for the S-spec model you get all the trick gear which is landing in Ford product these days.
Items such as satellite navigation, keyless entry and ignition, voice recognition and smartphone connectivity are all included. There’s also a massive amount of safety gear and function which help in the everyday missions we have to tackle as drivers. Some include enhanced active park assist, and parallel and perpendicular park assist. One of the key safety features I like is the driver impairment monitor, it works alongside the lane keeping aid and alerts to keep the driver aware that he/she should be taking a break.
Even though the Focus sits in the Mustang’s shadow it is still an integral part of Ford’s line-up.