Focus arrives in our garage with Ms Valet’s approval.
“IT’S a blue Ford Focus,” I say to the lady at the airport parking desk. “Is that the new one?” she asks. “Well, yeah, it’s been updated with a new nose and the inside’s a bit better too.”
I thought Ms Valet was just being polite discussing my new long-termer, but she had a genuine query. “Have they changed the engine?” she said, before adding, “My sister has one, and she’s taken it back twice, and it’s not even one year-old yet.”
Turns out that her sis has the previous LW series Focus, whose problems have been firmly addressed with the late 2015 update to LZ model designation.
The big issue for the Focus was the previous dual-clutch transmission. To summarise, it was rubbish. Recalled, rectified and now written-off, Ford Oz went back to basics with the Thai-built LZ, ditching the dual-clutcher for a conventional automatic. Yet we won’t have that problem: our long-termer has three-pedals and a six-speed manual gearbox (hooray!).
Ford has also streamlined the range, meaning that every Focus – bar the performance Ford Focus ST and the salivating Ford Focus RS – comes with the same 132kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, from Scotsman Andrew Fraser’s brilliant engineering mind. Want a diesel? You’ll have to look elsewhere because that’s been dumped too.
This is the mid-spec Ford Focus Sport hatchback, which at $26,490 sits above the entry-level Ambiente and below the luxed-up Titanium. Not only does my long-termer have the new trapezoidal nose, flanked by LED DRLs, but a smarter, less cluttered interior as well. Standard gear is impressive and includes SYNC2 voice activation for the sat-nav, keyless entry and start, Bluetooth and a crisp colour reversing camera.
Ford used to be the small car kings. Think Cortina, Escort and Laser. Let’s not forget the smaller Fiesta’s skills – especially the current model’s considerable talent. Then there’s the first-gen Focus, which on the cover of one British rag was headlined, ‘Ford is Revolting’. It stuck with me, that cover. So did the car.
Focus, the original, showed a progressive, bold and capable Ford at its absolute best. ‘Kinetic’ design language, high tail-light treatment that kick-started a load of copycat rumps, control-blade suspension and Richard Parry-Jones’ dynamics. That bloke was – is – a legend for making cars like that first Focus push rivals, including the Volkswagen Golf, to up their game.
That Focus was brilliant, but by the time it arrived here rivals had been given enough time to catch up. It didn’t win COTY Down Under. The second generation lost its dynamic edge, and once Mk III arrived here, in August 2011, Focus regained its sharp looks but was hampered by a firm ride on wheels above 16 inches in diameter, and had a Thatcher-like turning circle.
Enter Old Bluey, born on the mean streets of Bangkok. Like any Aussie tourist, my new long-termer may as well be wearing a Bintai singlet. Aussie-Focus supply has been coming from Thailand since 2012, a long way from the quality award-winning German factory for Mk I. That’s what this Sport, now sitting in the valet car park, has to live up to.
My one complaint looking back at the blue Focus is those alloy wheels. I reckon its old-man fuddy-duddy 17s should be on the Titanium, and the Titanium’s hot 18-inch five-spokers should be on the Sport.
There’s little time to explain this to Ms Valet, though. “It’s a cute car, isn’t it,” she chuckles, “and that’s all I care about – not the engine”. Well, Ms Valet, with that new nose and EcoBoost powerplant, my Focus Sport should appeal to you and your sis. Let’s see if it can appeal to the Wheels crew over the coming months more than its predecessor, too.
Third time a charm?
This is our third Focus Sport long-termer. What’s changed since the last one in 2013? Robbo’s burgundy express was powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine making 125kW/202Nm – 7kW and 38Nm less than our new Sport’s 1.5-litre turbo-petrol. With the now defunct ‘Powershift’ dual-clutch, Robbo’s returned an average of 6.7L/100km against a claimed 6.6L/100km. Impressive. The auto LZ reduces that claim to 6.2L/100km, and our manual with standard idle-stop lowers it further to 5.8L/100km, which may help offset the $600 price increase since 2013. On our first tank, which included brutal treatment on some back roads, we managed 7.4L/100km, but that should get better.
There’s more gear now: paddle shifts are offered for the first time, Active Park Assist now includes ‘Perpendicular Parking’, and a reversing camera is now standard, as is keyless entry and push-button start. Robbo had no complaints about the quality of the Thai-built Focus, and lauded the steering calibration, which has been changed for this LZ model. His only complaint was that sketchy transmission, which won’t be an issue for our manual machine.
Ford Focus Sport hatch
Price as tested: $26,910
Part 1: 203km @ 7.4L/100km
Overall: 203km @ 7.4L/100km
Date acquired: December 2015