Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos, Ford Press | July 19, 2012 12:35
We were just having way too much fun.
Here we were, driving the next generation Ford Focus up and through the mountains around Krabi, Thailand. Judging by the smiles on our faces in this hatchback with the sport suspension, trick torque vectoring, electronic goodies and 170 willing horsepower on tap, something had to give, especially when we found ourselves pushing the car in front with our pace.
“Car Number 4, keep the convoy intact,” said a voice over the radio. It was Anika Salceda-Wycoco, Ford Philippines' AVP for Corporate Communications.
Hmmmm. Car 4. Oh, that's us.
Is there another way to spell 'whipped'?
Back in Siam
Around 4 months ago, we were at the Renaissance Hotel in Bangkok to witness the launch what is arguably the most hotly anticipated Ford around: the all new Focus.
Like the Fiesta before it, the Focus took quite a bit of time to break out in the ASEAN region, as it has been on sale in other markets since 2011. During that time, Ford has been working out what the Focus should be like in the region because, as with most manufacturers, each region around the globe has unique requirements and/or conditions that a production model needs to be adjusted for.
Now that production in Thailand for the all new Focus is in full swing, we were invited back to try it out; just a week following the reveal of the identical Philippine-market version, albeit in left hand drive though. This time, however, we weren't headed to Bangkok, as Ford ASEAN chose the roads in and around Krabi, Thailand, to show case -show off, really- the abilities of the all new Focus.
Somehow, the phrase “we're excited”' doesn't quite cut it.
Hello, Focus. We meet again.
When we finished the 'deep dive' briefing on the 3rd generation Ford Focus (I'll have a separate story on that in a bit) and the actual route, we finally fired up the fleet of Ford Focuses at the lot. Partnered with Inigo Roces, we actually had the luck of the draw, later we'll understand why. Initially, we were in the Titanium+ Sedan, but after a few hours, we would be rotating out to the Sport Hatchback version of the Focus.
The Focus (hatch or sedan) is simply one of the hottest looking cars in its class now. The amount of work that went in on the design is impressive, as the new Focus sports some pretty cool details. In a nutshell, this car looks like it's just itching to get moving... and I haven't even fired up the engine yet.
A powertrain evolution
The all new Focus arrives with a new duo of engines. The first one is a 1.6 liter Duratec, twin cam, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. With the addition of Ti-VCT variable timing technology, the entry level engine produces class leading output and torque figures with 125 PS and 159 Newton meters. This engine can be found in the Ambiente and Trend variants, and can be matched with a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission; PowerShift, of course.
The cream of the crop has to be the new 2.0 liter Duratec motor. Also twin cam. Also four valves for every one of the four cylinders. Also with Ti-VCT. However, thanks to new Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) that sends an extremely high pressure mist of fuel right into the combustion chamber, it produces 170 PS and 202 Newton meters of torque.
With figures like these, the Focus is now the most powerful naturally aspirated 2.0 liter engine in the Philippine market regardless of segment [except for the Toyota 86 and the upcoming Subaru BRZ -ed]. To put that in perspective, the 2.0L MIVEC in the Lancer produces 155 PS while the prior title holder, the 2.0L Theta engine in the Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage has 166 PS. The 2.0L is available in both the Titanium Sedan and the Sport Hatchback, and only come with the 6-speed PowerShift transmission
More importantly, Ford claims fuel economy figures of up to 16.1 km/l for the 1.6 Ambiente M/T and 14.9 km/l in the 2.0L models. Thats a lofty claim that we'll put to the test later on.
Just to get it out of the way, we asked the panel responsible for the development of the Focus, headed by Kumar Galhotra and Jon Buttress of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa (APA) if there are any plans of introducing a TDCI variant in the future, but the answer was a simple no. While interest and appeal is high in the diesel versions in the country, the low sales volume of the TDCI-powered Focus in the Philippines made the decision quite clear.
Also, I just had to ask if the 1.0L EcoBoost engine will arrive; the same one that garnered the 2012 World Engine of the Year Award. The answer was a little mixed, as there suddenly came a wall of uneasiness amongst the group. Whether it indicative of the possibility of a 1.0L EcoBoost in the Philippines or the opposite, we'll have to wait and see.
Sedan, you're up.
Setting off from the Sheraton Resort in Krabi, Thailand, the multi-leg route took us through the town and out to the open roads around this region.
The acceleration and response of the powertrain is impressive; floor it and the PowerShift transmission kicks down a gear or two for a boost in acceleration. Brake for a corner and the system automatically rifles down the gears the way an experienced performance driver would.
More to the point, this being the sedan, around town the standard suspension was very comfortable; pliant and quiet, especially since the tires were specifically developed with Michelin for the Focus line up. At high speed, the suspension and all the attention paid to making the car quieter (i.e. the wipers are tucked neatly under a 'ducktailed' hood) can really be felt or, in this case, not heard.
In terms of fuel economy, overall, after a quick reset of the trip computer and fuel computer, the Focus -at a 98 km/h average, 2 passengers- was able to achieve an unofficial (meaning merely indicated on the computer) consumption of 6.8 liters per 100 kilometers. After a quick computation, that means we're getting 14.7 km/l; not far from Ford's claimed 14.9, and the official figures were based on a much slower speed.
Also, on the open highway, we got a chance to try out the Blind Spot Information System (a class first) on the Focus Titanium (the Sport doesn't have it), a system that warns the driver if a car is in his or her natural blind spot. A LED indicator would turn on to signal the driver.
One (of two) things I didn't like about the new Focus is that if you're riding shotgun (front passenger seat), the center console does eat in to your knee room. If your feet are planted on the firewall/bulkhead, its okay, but otherwise, it's a little uncomfortable.
Time for the Sport
Soon after, we switched cars with another pair, as we now have the Sport Hatchback version. Looking ahead at our route map (via a Dell tablet PC provided in the car), we soon realized that we will be entering some tight winding roads... the one place that the Focus Sport Hatchback can truly shine.
When we entered the mountain passes in Krabi, I realized one thing: this road makes Baguio's Kennon road look like an international caliber motorway. Seriously.
It's a tight fit, to say the least. On one side, we have a deep gutter. On the other, we have a drop (with sporadic stretches of guardrails) that no amount of airbags can protect you from some kind of injury. And scattered leaves only make it more challenging.
We begin to pick up the pace after a few corners, allowing us to get the hang of this road. Already the difference is clear between the Titanium+ and this Sport; the stiffer suspension makes a remarkable difference, allowing the Sport to corner faster and more confidently than the Titanium we drove earlier.
The second (of two things) that I didn't like was the SelectShift system. Fans of the old Focus TDCI PowerShift would remember the +/- gate to engage sport or manual mode. For the new Focus, they removed the gate, and instead added a +/- switch on the gearstick. Sounds fine, but in practice, I really didn't get the point. A pair of paddle shifters or the old sport-mode gate would have been much better. As it was, we just left the SelectShift switch all to itself.
This was also the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the Torque Vectoring System. Essentially, it 'tricks' the open differential into sending more power to the outside wheel while cornering by braking the inner wheel. Unlike active differentials that send more power to the outside wheel, TVS is clever in its simplicity by using the basic physics of an open differential to its advantage. does feel a little unusual at first, because in our minds, we have an idea of how much a car should turn with a particular amount of lock.
The effect is clear though: you can corner much more confidently than before. So good was the Focus Sport that my companion in the car was getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to fully exploit the car's abilities, as we were stuck behind a slower driver when Inigo and I swapped seats to take on this mountain pass again.
So, when we got a chance to stretch the car's legs again, we overtook the cars ahead.
Yes Anika, that's what really happened. Honest.
A revolution in technology
At this point, we've already tried out the Torque Vectoring System and the Blind Spot Information System. But wait, there's more.
You see, the Focus comes with two more technological firsts in the class. The first one is Active Park Assist.
During a little demonstration and exercise after lunch, we let the Focus aid us by parallel parking in some tight spots. The system (which works off of the sensors around the bumpers) detects an empty parking slot; particularly looking for a space that's just 20% longer than the car itself, according to Chris Harrigan, the Driver Assistance Technologies Supervisor for Ford APA.
All the driver has to do once the system detects a spot is let go of the wheel, engage reverse and control the throttle. He/she can then beam with pride as the Focus steers itself into the slot, performing what is undoubtedly the coolest party trick in its class.
It's not done yet, however, as the Focus also has another neat trick with Active City Stop. In low speed situations (30 km/h or slower), the Focus will detect if a rear-end collision is imminent with the car in front and automatically stop the car. The system works off of LIDAR detectors to scan the distance of the car ahead by monitoring at least three standard reflectors: the two taillights and the license plate.
One thing we were really eager to try out was Ford SYNC; a technology we got acquainted with in the new Explorer. SYNC allows full and seamless integration with nearly every mobile device whether it be an iPod, Android phone, iPhone and other gadgets.
The technology, developed in conjunction with Microsoft, also allows the system to recognize voice commands. Big deal, you say? Well consider the fact that the SYNC system in the Focus allows the driver (or passengers) to speak casually without having to overemphasize or enunciate every syllable, I'd say that's significant.
Admittedly, the engineers said that the system will be challenged if the speaker has a strong foreign accent when speaking English. Ford is currently working on ways to expand the systems capability to account for this, as well as offer foreign language support.
No problems for us in this car though, as SYNC recognized my voice commands and even played my favorite music after I said “Play Song Alapaap” and “Play Song Pare Ko”
The future in focus
We came into this drive at a trying time for Ford Philippines. For many of us in this business, it's heartbreaking to have to say goodbye to their Philippine manufacturing operations, after the production of the all-new Focus was awarded to Ford Thailand Manufacturing in Rayong. Sad as it is, this is business, not personal (I couldn't resist), and Ford Philippines -or any other company, for that matter- can't operate a plant without achieving reasonable economies of scale. It just doesn't justify the operating costs.
Nevertheless, Ford Philippines is working on seamlessly transitioning from a manufacturer/importer to just the latter. Even with the inevitable closure of the plant at Santa Rosa, Laguna, the company will be bringing in more models over the coming years than they've ever had before, especially with the upcoming Ford EcoSport.
Farewell... and see you soon
The first shipments of the Focus is set to arrive in the Philippines over the coming months, available in the usual colors like silver, white and black, with some quirky ones thrown in like Candy Red and Winning Blue. In the photos, you may notice a lime green variant, but that won't be available locally. Well, maybe not yet.
Prices range from PhP 859,000 for the 1.6L Ambiente 5MT to PhP 1,199,000 for both the Titanium+ and the Sport.
Honestly, I actually came into this drive thinking of the possibility that the 3rd generation Focus's level of tech could dilute the drive; numb it, the way other cars from more expensive brands have been.
All I know is, like at the end of a roller coaster ride, all I want to do is hop back onto the seat of the Focus -particularly the Sport- buckle up, and go for another drive on that mountain road.
The drive, the design, the tech and features of the new Focus stand as Ford's open challenge to the other brands. Forget the ante. They just went all in.
That's the kind of car they're bringing to the Philippines.