Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Inigo S. Roces | posted February 14, 2013 17:29
Future (Almost) Perfect
Chances are, by now, you've heard quite a bit about the Focus. It's one vehicle that's loaded with abilities, tech and -best of all- is all found in a down-to-earth, sub P3M compact sedan.
The new car imbibes excitement right from the exterior with the lower intake openings, aggressively shaped to resemble fangs. Headlights taper upwards and feature a strip of LED's that serve as park lamps. Towards the side, the kinetic design philosophy is featured in the form of Z-shaped character lines that run across the shoulder and break up the typical straight silhouette. Tail lights creep further toward the side, directing your attention to the sporty hatch for a rear. The rally style spoiler comes standard while reflectors are housed in a touring car style diffuser under the bumper.
The car comes with a smart key that makes entering a breeze. You can unlock the door and start the car without ever removing the key from your pocket. Inside, the cabin features black rubberized material with aluminum accents.
Over in the driver's side is a four spoke steering wheel with directional pads on either spoke. The left pad can control the info displayed in between the dials. The right pad can control the info displayed on the center stack. In between the spokes are even more controls for cruise control, the audio system, and a paired cell phone. Ahead of the wheel is the instrument cluster, neatly laid out with all vital dials easily readable. Its central LCD can even be configured to display all fuel consumption related data simultaneously.
On the dashboard is the famous voice-activated SYNC system, taking prime real estate on the center stack. The in-car entertainment system not only features the standard audio options but high tech means of connectivity and convenience with Bluetooth hands-free functions and MP3 player compatibility. It can be controlled with button commands on the center stack or thumb controls on the steering wheel. The added voice-activated features allow drivers to simply push a button and access these features through as many as 150 voice commands. Smart phone users will enjoy the fact that the vehicle can download the paired smart phone's contact list, message inbox and music. The vehicle can make conference calls on the go, send templated messages or play particular songs just by saying the track name (even a few Filipino songs).
Propelling all of this along is the vehicle's Duratec 2.0-liter Ti-VCT engine with gasoline direct injection. It delivers 170 PS of power and 200Nm of torque. It's paired with six-speed PowerShift dual clutch automatic with manual mode. Unlike conventional systems, shifting is done via the plus and minus buttons on the side of the stick (as opposed to a +/- gate on the shifter).
The tech toys don't end there. The next alluring feature is the Active Park Assist that steers the vehicle all on its own into tight parallel parking spaces. We actively sought out tight parallel parking slots just to test the system and experience it. The ads may have exaggerated a bit as it takes a few steps to do properly. The driver first has to activate the system, drive by a parking space to scan it and start the procedure once the sensors detect the space. As he controls the throttle and gears, the vehicle will steer into the slot, guided by proximity sensors positioned all around the car. Once done, a beep and message will be displayed on the LCD screen. Of course, in practice, it takes a few tries to “detect” a parking space. Putting all your trust in the car and letting go of the brake completely is not recommend as it quickly gains speed and makes for some really close calls.
When driving around town, yet another feature is the Active City Stop system that is effective from speeds of 30 km/l and below. Like that featured in the new Volvos, the system constantly monitors the car ahead, waits until the last moment for the driver to respond and applies the brake if necessary to slow down the car or bring it to a complete stop and avoid a collision. Take note that the system needs to see three reflective elements to work (two reflectors and a plate). It may not operate as advertised against other vehicles with broken tail lights or motorcycles. We didn't try crashing it into a foam wall. Quite surprisingly, the system came on a few times in traffic when a vehicle suddenly slowed down and we were tailing a tad close.
When taken up to highway speeds, the Active Grille Shutter system uses vents to automatically control airflow through the grille to significantly reduce drag and help reduce wind noise at speed while contributing to improved fuel efficiency because of the better aerodynamics it creates. It's really hard to tell when this system becomes active. It just makes for a nice bragging point with your friends.
Finally, there's the torque vectoring control, which improves the vehicle's handling by applying the brake in the appropriate wheel to allow the car to handle better or safely manage bumpy or uneven roads. All the driver needs to do is steer the car and the vehicles does the rest. The system is hardly felt in short tight turns. Rather, it seems designed to take on long sweepers, where the system kicks in toward the middle of the corner. Nevertheless, the result is a sharply handling car, less tire squeal and a very enjoyable drive, almost as enjoyable as the Toyota 86.
The vehicle's safety has also been improved with a higher percentage of high-strength steels comprising the body shell. The vehicle will have as many as six airbags; four for front passengers and two curtain airbags for side impacts. Safety features like Electronic Stability Program, Emergency Brake Assist, Hill Launch Assist and Anti-Lock Brake System which includes Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are also equipped.
All that tech makes for quite an intimidating experience. Hop in the cockpit and you're greeted by this maze of buttons and switches. Of course, you're soon spoiled by it as the days go by. The cabin feels less like a family car and more like a sporty hatch. The seats may be a bit hard to sit on but provide good support for hard cornering.
As for the entertainment, the Sync system works most of the time. It requires near complete silence in the cabin and very well enunciated commands. Given that, I wouldn't rely on it on a regular basis as it can still confuse some commands for others. The best method is still using the steering controls to browse through the tracks and playlists.
Its other feature is the ability to dial numbers, or even conference call all via voice command. Simply connect your smart phone and the car will download your messages and contacts. When we tried it, however, it never managed to download the entire 1,000+ contacts from our phone within a week's time. As such, we had to dictates some numbers, rather than say the names. New texts didn't seem to load on the screen as they arrived. Although it did manage to read a few of the text messages that were loaded (even some in Filipino) with a funny accent.
Overall, the Focus Sport seems like a sport hatch first and family car second. Much about the car's behavior screams sporty with a peppy and torque just itching to rev. It may not have the wanton pull of a turbo diesel but it's certainly sufficient enough to provide some thrills. The handling is still top notch with the torque vectoring system easily making minced meat of sweeping curves. It feels a lot like a Lancer Evo's Active Yaw control, smoothly pulling the nose tighter in without much of that computer assisted feeling.
Driven leisurely, it returns a bit of a harsh ride. Some passengers complained of rather tight confines behind. It's hard to get fuel efficient results as the dual clutch system seems designed more for higher revving sporty shifts than eco driving. There's a lot of gear hunting at low speeds with light pressure on the throttle, like the car can't make up its mind between 1st and 2nd. It makes for some delayed response and a few jerks just pulling away from a slow crawl to a cruise. As you drive around, the Focus will return 8.8 km/L in the City and 10.5 km/L in the highway.
The Focus hatch is certainly a driver's car. It's a sports hatch through and through with much more high tech comforts thrown in to make it drivable every day. The tech features are great, but to be honest, fans of this class of car will be much more happy doing many of these things the old fashioned way.
There's clearly some bugs left to work out in the tech department, but they're not as bad as to make you avoid the systems altogether. They're still loads of fun to show off to your friends and I suppose fairly convenient if you're not in a rush. Though with the car's pep and handling, I imagine you will be most of the time.