Jude Morte / Ramon Sy | March 31, 2009 00:00
Dulled by realityWhen the Ford Focus was introduced in 2005, it was hailed as Ford's great compact passenger car (PC) hope and billed as an upgrade from the unloved 1999-2004 Ford Lynx. However lukewarm sales of its 2005-2008 iteration forced the Blue Oval to unveil the newest version of its compact passenger car late last year in an effort to make an impact in the aforementioned segment yet still retain a link to its WRC roots.
Problem is, the new model seems to have diluted the link in a big way.
The overall look is more of an evolution from the previous model than an all new setup. From doors to derriere, it seems that nothing has changed much from its immediate forebear, save for the tail lamps' and right rear foglamp's larger white lighting. However, the front end has significant changes, making the car seem more refined. The headlights are longer and have a sharper angle, but don't display a distinct presence as its precursor's. No longer present is the mesh upper and lower grille that called to mind its WRC homologation; in place is a grille reminiscent of the graph paper-like mug of the previous model Ford Expedition and Explorer.
Inside resides one of the Focus' biggest changes. Silver trim now adorns the radio and aircon controls, along with the gauge cluster. Speaking of the gauge cluster, it has a larger menu screen between the rev and speed counters (and red backlighting for it), larger fonts and big red/silver pointers for all the gauges (speedometer, tachometer, fuel, engine temperature). It's easier to see them, particularly when the sun is directly above the front windshield since it has a long overhang. The aircon (a/c) blows constant cold air, but the a/c controls' fonts are hard to see. The leather seats have a snug fit and feel, and you don't slide off them, unlike the slippery leather of the first locally introduced petrol models.
Storing stuff in the Focus is middling. The cavernous glovebox from the previous model was retained. Rear legroom is decent, but rear kneeroom is tight. If there are six footers in front, only one fellow of average height and heft will fit in the rear. Rear door storage is narrow, and there's no cupholders for rear occupants. The rear backrests don't fold flat, but the trunk area (with both rear backrests upright) can swallow a DHL Jumbo box and two to three large duffel bags.
Surprisingly, Ford ditched an m/t setup for the diesel Focus hatch in favor of its highly touted Powershift dual clutch a/t. The latter features twin manual transmission clutches working in parallel to provide seamless power/torque delivery, even between shifts. Problem is, you hardly feel the power delivery in the seat of your pants since it's an a/t. You can't even use the manual mode, as there's quite a delay during gear transition. Using "(D)rive" is much better, since the wide powerband helps compensate for the tranny problem. It's sad, since there are many performance positives that give its rivals fuel for thought - the A/T is willing to downshift at half throttle, powerband entry is at 1,600 rpm, the turbo wakes up at 2,600 rpm (with full boost at 3,000 rpm onwards), top speed is 219 kph (compared to an achieved 220 kph in the previous model), city consumption is at 16.82 km/l and mixed driving consumption is at 8.83 km/l. It would be nicer if the six-speed m/t in the previous Focus were installed, as using it was the equivalent of trying to handle a caffeine crazed cheetah on a leash.
Much like its forebears, this Focus hatch offers good handling. Traction from the Goodyear Eagle NCT 5 205/55R15s break at 110 kph, but the tires bark at 100 kph onwards. The ride is generally comfortable, an upgrade from the previous model's stiff ride. However, rear occupants complained that the ride still felt rigid, especially on certain bumps (like those lining the EDSA-Ortigas southbound flyover), and the tire noise is dreadful. Steering is syrupy in feel and feedback at times, but generally light and sharp.
Much like the storage aspect, the new Focus' safety features are a love-hate matter. Brake grip is decent, but the brake grip on the previous model's m/t was a lot better, needing just a tap to get passable bite. The handbrake grip is tremendous, biting at only three to five degrees of pull. The thick c-pillars and steeply angled design of rear windshield make parallel parking and long backing a challenge. At least there's backup sensors, but they're sensitive at 0.9 feet onwards. Exterior lighting is bright, and the foglights' brightness can take over for the headlights. However, the same can't be said of the interior lighting, as the only lamp is directly above the middle front windshield and makes looking for rearbound lost items in the dark tough.
Overall, the P 1.159 million 2009 Ford Focus 2.0L Sport TDCi Powershift A/T experience is more civilized than its predecessor. It may be a blessing to some, since the recent travails and travesties of the Blue Oval have forced Dearborn to sell realistic vehicles for practical times. However, it dulls the rally racing heritage of the vehicle, reducing its roadgoing sharpness.