FEATURE STORIES

Special Agent Specs

Special Agent Specs image

Text: Iñigo S. Roces / Photos: Iñigo S. Roces | posted September 13, 2007 00:00

Ford Focus Diesel

We motoring journalists, much like any other journalists, are an inquisitive bunch. Any random statement, vague phrase or curiously worded sentence can be taken to mean something else entirely.

Say "There's something in the works" and we'll instantly ponder the possibility of a new model coming up. Mention a "brand new visual statement" and we know there's a whole model range facelift to expect. Some might go to extremes and even camp out at the factory gates to get exclusive shots of that all too precious masked new car.

Ford Philippines knows this perhaps all too well. It might be due to that very fact that they decided to play to our fantasies in their most recent vehicle launch held at Subic Bay recently. We were to be secret agents for two days, evading the ‘Enemy Agent Vehicle' (EAV) with the help of the Ford Focus Diesel.

Just a week before, packages were sent to our offices containing a coded message and a black light with which to translate it. Cowering in our cubicles, we soon saw the invitation details in bright pink type. We were selected to enter Focus Agent Special Training (FAST) signed off by Agent F. Ingenious, and just oh so 007 cool.

You'd think that the theme would stop there but the organizers just couldn't help themselves. On the bus heading there, members of the media were treated to a screening of 007: Casino Royale, just to get us in the mood.

Soon as we arrived in Subic, our training had begun. Ford Agent J, (JP Tuason of Tuason Racing School) dressed Men in Black style briefed us through flat screen broadcasts on what we had to do. Whether it was finding a special capacitor or one of eight keycards that would release the Ford Focus diesel, finding it in pure darkness and relying on the black light did not make it easy. A couple of easter egg hunts within the warehouse quickly yielded the components and the Ford Executives soon revealed the new Ford Focus diesel.

Of course, this still wasn't the end of the training. To be called certified Focus Agents, we had to know the Focus inside and out. The next set of activities would ensure we knew the difference between the Ford Focus Diesel and any other gasoline driven vehicle.

First, was a drag race. This pitted the Focus against the EAV. To make things more interesting, both cars were to start on 4th gear. Of course the Focus, with peak torque much higher than most gasoline engines of its class and coming in as low as 2,000 easily rolled of the line. The EAV had stalled right at the line. Now it was our turn, as agents in training, we would have our hand at feeling the Focus Diesel's rapid acceleration. The next mission also involved simulated overtaking. We were to drive the Focus at a steady speed on 4th gear and overtake without shifting down. Behind the wheel, acceleration just felt like a continuous surge of power. We thought we'd be rifling through the first 3 gears, yet the Focus's 1st gear is deceptively long. Even in a stretch as short as 1/8 of a mile, we've managed to rack up speeds of 130km/h.

Next was a blind test. We were to ride around a number of Ford Foci and determine, just by sound, which was a Diesel. Of course its easy if you're outside, but seated inside with a full complement of built-in noise vibration harshness is harder than it sounds. Needless to say, a large number of us couldn't tell.

Is it over? Not quite, the second to the last activity for the day was a fuel economy test. The Focus diesel and the EAV were to drive around the track for eight straight minutes in a convoy to see which would get better mileage. The TRS team had outfitted both cars with a temporary external fuel tank, loaded with two liters each. After the allotted time, the EAV had indeed consumed nearly a liter more than the Focus.

The final activity was a true test of the agents more than the Focus. We were to group into teams and go on a wild Amazing Race style event in a race for clues to decode the secret message. The event had us rowing kayaks, scaling rock climbing walls, crossing rickety bridges over crocodiles, sliding down zip lines, and running around in every direction. The only times we weren't in a hurry were in the car, trying to rack up fuel economy points. While we refueled at the end of the activity, the results wouldn't be revealed until the next day.

By the second day, it seemed everyone was getting tired of the whole spy theme. Bright and early, participants were sauntering towards their respective tents for the first of the day's activities: a drag race. Focus vs Focus of course. Today of course was more spy vs spy, err… focus agent vs focus agent rather than against the EAV. The individual part of the competition had us competing for honors for the graduation ceremony later in the day.

Once we've mastered straight line speed, the learning curve was steep. The next challenge was a slalom course specially prepared by the Tuason Racing School in an isolated part of the airport. The pylons seemed like they were placed randomly, but a quick familiarization drive soon revealed it to a be a short yet exciting track with long straights and very tight turns to sample the merits of the Focus Diesel's performance.

Even with a short start straight, the Focus made quick work of it with sprightly acceleration. The hard turns let us sample the excellent handling and minimal body roll retained from the gas Focus, a benefit of that C-platform shared with the Volvo S40 and the Mazda 3. Pouring on the throttle tucked the front end more with a bit of wheelspin, reminiscent of the marvelous Mini but in a bigger body and much more torque.

Participants were able to come pretty close to the ideal time set by the TRS team. After all have had a run through the course, the TRS boys once again demonstrated just how fast the EAV could do it. Of course, it came rather close to the ideal time of 45 seconds for the course. That wouldn't last as the instructors had their run in the Focus diesel to set the bar higher at 43 seconds.

Yet cheeky comparison and clever marketing scheme aside, the weekend event truly gave all participants ample seat time and a sampling of the Focus Diesel's abilities in situations often taken for granted in usual test drives. There's no babying this car around, that's for sure.

As for the consumer, it really doesn't matter whether they choose to purchase the Ford Focus Diesel for its practicality or sportiness. It will oblige to either request with a dash of excitement thrown in. It's one of those rare few cars that are both practical and fun to own. Makes you wonder why they hadn't brought it in sooner.