Focus on Boosted Efficiency
Ford’s ubiquitous Focus is seen as the brand’s main C-segment entry. The 2016 model year brings with it a change of engine to the peppier 1.5-litre Ecoboost unit and some changes inside. Does the car still stand out?
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao
The largest volume seller in the region is the C-segment family sedan. It has remained so, despite the launch of compact SUVs and more affordable B-segment alternatives.
And the Focus continues to be one of the largest selling in this segment of cars. It has been a landmark model for both Ford Europe and America and the company is using this quick refresh to make it more so. While the model is essentially a carry on from the 2015 model year, this year its 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine option is being replaced with the more powerful 1.5-litre Ecoboost engine with 150hp of output.
This marks another model in the region that has been kitted out with the Ecoboost. The turbocharged engine is becoming a primary part of Ford’s arsenal as it revamps its models and makes its stable more amenable to the tighter CAFE standards.
Even without the new engine, the Focus has a lot going for it. It is built on a very reliable platform that hasn’t needed too much fiddling with. The Model is available in three different body styles – hatchback, sedan and wagon and even offers an ST version that pushes the advantages of FWD power with a handy six-speed manual gearbox. And we aren’t even discussing the potential of the powerful Focus RS yet.
Styling has been a strong point of the Focus, the car looks edgy and very modern and has made a very nice transition through the model generations as it integrated new technologies and ideas. The sedan manages to retain some of the hatchbacks edginess past the C-pillar but that’s largely because the rear box has been kept a bit foreshortened.
If you look at the car closely you will realise that the front overhang is a little more than you would expect, but that’s the result of an inclined engine as well as lots of equipment ahead of the cylinders.
The inside of the cabin has become a little bigger than before with the centre console now hogging a large part of the dashboard. A monochromatic display sits on top off and visually offset from the generally classier instrumentation below it although the general feeling of almost vertical louvres and knobby switches is carried across the Figo and Fiesta as well.
Cabin space and comfort are top level as is the quality of the air-conditioning. In terms of space and comfort, the Focus continues to remain very Europe specific, with many competitors having expanded their offered cabin volume and comfort because the global consumer now demands more.
However, what really does set the Focus apart is its ‘focus’ (so to speak) on safety, with one of the best packages available along with ESP, Traction control and the like. It also brings with it the virtues of torque vectoring making the car one of the best drives in its class.
The more powerful engine is based on Ford’s Ecoboost that combines turbocharging with direct injection while offering the ability to switch to a partial Atkinson cycle to reduce consumption. The finer control offered over the firing sequence with the ability to time valve opening and closing properly makes for a fine balance being on tap.
There’s no doubt that the new powerpack is quicker off the block than before. Mated with the six-speed auto gearbox with SelectShift the car can effect a good sprint but that is once you factor in the little bit of turbo lag that you encounter. Once you keep the engine revved above 2,000 rpm that is no longer a factor so the car can be driven rather sportily if needed although it isn’t quite in the class of the older 2.0-litre unit that offers more linear performance.
Of course the torque vectoring helps in curves, and a very good place to check that out would be a tightening radius turn like we have in a couple of places in Muscat. The torque delivery is well controlled and there is a little selective braking too just to feed into the turn.
Suspension response is comfortable and thankfully kept just a little tighter than the median while NVH levels are very much top of class. The electric power steering is noticeably light and responsive although at times there is a hint of vagueness especially around the dead centre point. It does weight up nicely as you dial into a curve. Add to that instrumentation that is sculpted with little tactile telltale signatures and you can do most of the steering wheel control without actually taking your eyes off the road.
The one change we would really like is Ford changing the selectShift arrangement to offer tap to shift on the knob instead of the little +/- toggle. It’s not a problem when the car gets the paddle shifter but that’s above the pay grade of our test car.
The Focus didn’t really need this midlife change of engine other than it fitting in better with Ford’s global responsibilities and ambitions. But since it is being changed, it is good that the power and performance quotient is moving upwards. Having a turbocharged engine brings with it a certain thrust either on added oomph or far better mileage – in this Ecoboost the balance is nicely done, for both parameters are given equal importance.
Our advice would be to get the highest specced variant that you can afford, since you will appreciate the system’s integration with your external USB and phone sources as well. We would have definitely considered the 1.5-litre Ecoboost in our comparison segment if we were buying a C-segment car. It still has a great value feel about it.