Ford Focus: Do you like driving?

The refreshed Ford Focus is better to drive than ever, but are there any takers?

ford_focus_01Considering how the local motoring media spares no expense in waxing lyrical over the refreshed Ford Focus, you might get the impression that blue oval’s C-segment offering must be pushing numbers that would register a frown or two from the folks at Toyota and Honda.

A little insight into the numbers tell a different story. In the first six months of 2016, the Ford brand sold a total of 4,247 vehicles in Malaysia, averaging just over 700 units a month. Given the weak market outlook, these numbers are not to be scoffed at, but what’s interesting is that one model alone, the Ford Ranger pick-up, contributed close to 85% of the total (or 590 units a month) with the remainder (at slightly over 100 units a month) divvied up between the Fiesta, Mondeo, S-Max, Kuga, Ecosport, Everest, Transit, Mustang and of course, the Focus.

Read into Ford’s fortunes how you will, but an educated guess would place the Focus, one of Europe’s best-selling passenger cars, only in the low tens per month, while Corollas and Civics sell well into the hundreds, if not thousands in the case of the new Civic. So why is this happening?

A proverbial favourite of the motoring press, but is the new Focus striking a chord with car buyers?
Is the Focus overrated?

It’s not difficult to understand why the motoring media, local or foreign, covets cars such as the Focus. With the new 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost engine, the facelifted Focus gets a healthy bump in power, from 160hp and 202Nm of the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre to 180hp and 240Nm of the road-tax friendly turbocharged 1.5-litre. Along with chassis dynamics that are already rather good, the Focus is able to shine even more with the new motor.

More performance from punchy 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, it’s road tax friendlier too

Our Sport+ hatchback test car has the kind of usable performance that would make hot hatches of a generation or two ago proud. It feels faster than what we estimate to be 8.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash, such is the punchy and urgent response from the boisterous-sounding EcoBoost four-pot. Like the Mondeo, the Focus has reverted to a torque converter automatic, the six-speeder works well and doesn’t draw any attention itself, making you wonder if dual-clutch autos were ever worth the trouble.

Torque converter auto returns in place of dual-clutch system

Of course, the Focus is even better when it isn’t just going straight, its light but sharp steering is a satisfying twirl in the corners, aided by a grippy front end that offers a degree of handling adjustability and involvement not normally seen in FWDs. The suspension damping could border on being too firm on bad surfaces, but it’s clear that Ford has tuned a hatch that eggs you on in uncovering its hidden talents. In short, you need to like driving to appreciate the Focus.

But can driving save the day?

Surveys will show that car buyers in general always put styling first, assuming he/she can afford the vehicle in question. The heavily revised frontal design of the Focus with its Aston Martin-esque grille is a brave move to give the brand a stronger identity, but seeing how interest has cooled towards the once popular Fiesta (also facelifted with that grille), you’ve got to say the trapezoidal opening up front divides opinions. For sure it’s distinctive, but we think the pre-facelifted look was much easier to like.

The new face of Ford divides opinions

Away from driving, there are also a couple of chinks in the Focus’ armour. Despite being a substantial facelift, the Focus’ interior space remains unchanged. So rear knee room was always going to be tight, with boot space measuring a paltry 316-litre. The utility shortcomings aren’t necessarily deal breakers but the alternatives in the segment, namely the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308, offer more usable room along with a better build quality despite Ford choosing softer plastics and materials in the renewed Focus.


Knee room is tight but not necessarily a deal-breaker

And then there’s the price. There’s no denying that the Focus’ features and safety package are comprehensive if you choose the ‘Plus’ variants. Blind spot warning, autonomous low-speed emergency braking system and even self-parking come standard, but there’s also a price to pay for the tech which you may or may not use (such as the aforementioned Active Park Assist). At RM139,888 (sans insurance, mind you), the Sport+ hatch is more than RM10,000 dearer than the equivalent pre-facelifted model that used to retail for an all-in on-the-road price of RM128,888, so the Focus isn’t quite the value proposition it once was.

New Focus carries more tech but price is dearer than before
The puzzle that Ford needs to solve

While the Ford Ranger pick-up is going strong, passenger car sales remain suppressed, even if products such as the Focus merits more owners than the handful Ford manages each month, and it’s not as if Ford owners are a dissatisfied bunch either as the brand came a respectable fourth in last year’s JD Power Customer Service Index (higher in fact than Toyota). We are none the wiser, perhaps there really are too few Malaysians who truly enjoy driving, which is a shame because cars such as the Focus is the real deal in a sea of pretenders.

The Ford Focus is calling for drivers who enjoy driving, are you one?

Ford Focus 1.5L Sport+
: RM139,888.00 (incl. GST, w/o insurance)
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cyl, petrol, FWD
Output: 180hp @ 6000rpm, 240Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto with steering shift paddles
Performance: 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds, top speed 220km/h (both est.)
Wheels/tyres: 17in alloys, 215/50 R17
Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control, Blind Spot Warning, City Safety
Warranty: 5-year or 200,000km