Jude P. Morte / Brent Co | December 26, 2007 00:00
The Diesel Compact (Car) idealAlthough a great passenger car, the current Ford Focus didn't exactly endear itself to motorists due to really compact dimensions, ho-hum styling and fuel consumption, plus significant competition via the new Honda Civic, its Mazda 3 platform twin, and the (barely breathing but still very much alive) Toyota Corolla.
With that in mind, Ford decided to cast a new ace. Realizing that the passenger car market was leaning towards the ideal mix of fuel-efficiency and power, the Blue Oval decided to launch a diesel version of the Focus hatchback and make it available immediately to the media.
But an interesting twist came about when it was this writer's turn to borrow a Focus TDCi. Apparently Ford Group Philippines decided to forego the usual test unit and gave this writer an exclusive test of a Focus TDCi with never-before-available two-arm nine-spoke 17-inch rims shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE040 205/50R17 tires. That surprise and exclusivity aside, does this new Focus variant pass public muster and is its arrival too late?
Step inside and one will see that the monochromatic black interior is retained (along with the layout, seating and inside material), but with less metallic trim than its gas-fed counterpart. The irksome small center console and front door storage, engine bay access (you have to stop the car and shove/twist the key inside a slot hidden in the Blue Oval logo within the front grille) and archaic power locking feature (push the silver switch above the door tab to lock, pull to unlock) are still there, but there are lots of new pluses. The narrow side mirrors feature power-assisted folding and the audio entertainment (as a whole) are major upgrades from the gas model. Oh, and the cold airconditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, large gauge cluster readouts and cavernous glovebox were also retained.
A look at this new Focus shows a much sportier front end than the commercially available TDCi version. The mesh lower front grille (and the massive intercooler behind it) display the raw aggression shared with its World Rally Championship sibling, further highlighted by the test unit's 17-inch alloy rims and 205/50R17 tires. Autoindustriya would like to make clear, though, that the unit featured for this test drive is NOT available commercially and the manufacturer's suggested retail price of the Focus TDCi (with stock 16-inch rims and tires) is P1.089 million.
Driving the car is like trying to handle a caffeine-crazed cheetah on a leash. Powerband entry comes in WAY early (1000-1200rpm), along with the boost from the variable nozzle turbo (3000-3250rpm). Tested top speed is a whopping 220kph, but this Focus is as frugal as it is forcibly facile - a tested 15.4 km/l on five days of mixed driving.
Ford got one thing right when they mated a six-speed m/t to the Duratorq Turbo Direct Common rail Injection (TDCi) four cylinder. Although second gear is tall and third gear is rather short, there's rarely a need to downshift due to the quick torque delivery. Just don't forget that the m/t totes a dogleg reverse gear similar to the diesel Hyundai Accent and Getz. To engage reverse, depress the clutch pedal, put your right hand on the m/t stick, pull up a plastic ring around the stick and move it to the upper leftmost side of the m/t box. Conversely, just depress the clutch pedal, put your right hand on the m/t stick, swing the stick to neutral (while on the clutch pedal and without pulling up the plastic ring) and place it in the leftmost side of the m/t box to go forward. To this writer the six-speed's transition between reverse and first gear is a big plus, which can save time and effort during parallel parking.
As expected of a car homologated for WRC competition, handling is one of the car's strong suits. Traction now breaks at 105-115 kph and the steering is light yet sharp. The ride is a bit harsh (but expected) due to the 17-inch wheel/tire combo; what's unusual is the road noise from the test unit's rubber.
Also expected from a car that shares a platform with the current Volvo S40 is its safety features. The brakes and handbrake grab hard at the slightest prod or pull, and the ABS wakes up at three-fourths effort. The headlights are bright (even at the dim setting), and the headlight dial under the leftmost a/c vent is easy to see and use. The wedge-shaped profile of the rear end makes rearward vision difficult, forcing the driver to occasionally get out and check the car's distance from inanimate objects.
Although its arrival may seem a bit tardy due to the presence of stiff competition, what this Focus iteration offers to the public is arguably TDCi - The Diesel Compact (car) Ideal.