The fifth contender in our 2012 Car of the Year overview is the Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi 4-door Trend Powershift. Brent Ellis, one of the judges, gives us his take on the new incarnation of this popular sedan.
The first two generations of the Ford Focus proved to not only be runaway sales success stories (over 10 million have been sold worldwide since 1998), but they also defined a few benchmarks within the compact sedan and hatchback segments. Now in its third incarnation, the new Focus range is not only broad but also largely appealing, thanks to a bold new look. But, as I discovered while testing this Car of the Year finalist, looks can be slightly deceiving…
When pictures first surfaced of the new Focus, I was initially impressed. And in the flesh, the new design does look good in the case of the sedan you see here. It’s actually quite a large car to behold. The cheeky visage, with its large headlights and trapezoidal air dam grille, makes it look removed from the mainstream and quite aggressive, and you’ll never mistake this for something else on the road.
The side profile is not generic either, although I really don’t like the standard 16-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels – they’re too busy for the simplified design language, and the car would look much better with less-spokey wheels. The rear is my favourite bit if I’m honest, and with elongated tail lights and a high boot sill, the car looks taut and purposeful. The polished metal exhaust tip is a bit of an afterthought though, and looks tacky.
On the inside, it starts to fall apart for me. There are so many different things going on that it’s hard to see how they all come together to create a calming, harmonious driving environment. Instead, I found it a bit chaotic. Ergonomics aren’t too well thought-out either, and I often found myself searching for even the simplest of controls and buttons – and that’s not counting the radio, whose layout and user interface is confusing and silly. That said however, it was at least a comfortable place to be, with fabric-covered seats offering enough support, and on the whole, interior space is good.
Comfort and Features
The diesel variant in the Focus sedan range is only available in top-level Trend trim level, but despite this there were some luxuries missing for my liking. Things like leather seats and auto climate control, lights and wipers. For a range-topping model and in a segment as hotly contested as this one, I think Ford missed a beat or two when deciding on the spec for local consumers. Having said that, there is a decent list of standard features – cruise control, a multi-info trip computer linked to a multi-function steering wheel, the annoying 6-speaker radio/CD/aux/USB/iPod sound system with Bluetooth and voice control, air conditioning and front fog lights are all standard, amongst one or two others.
Ride and Handling
Surprisingly, this Focus drove rather well. I was surprised only because I wasn’t expecting anything exciting. The suspension is well-sorted and provides decent ride comfort, and there is plenty of confidence when taking a corner at speed. NVH levels (noise, vibration and harshness) aren’t too bad; the usual level of diesel clatter and vibration makes its way through the firewall and pedals into the cabin. It’s not unpleasant, but this is no Jetta TDI (which is fabulously quiet).
Performance and Economy
This Focus is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine, which produces 120kW and 340Nm – on par with other diesels of the same capacity. Performance is reasonable, with Ford claiming that the 0-100km/h dash will be over in 9.2 seconds and that you’ll top out at 211km/h.
What makes this diesel different however, is that the front wheels are delivered the power through what Ford calls a “Powershift” gearbox. To you and me, it’s a 6-speed double-clutch automatic, and while that should have the petrol (or diesel) heads out there sitting with raised eyebrows, don’t get excited. It’s nothing special – although changes can be smooth, they tend to be jerky most of the time, and switching to manual mode will just annoy you. Add to that the fact that automatic gearboxes do nothing to improve consumption and you have to wonder why Ford decided to only make this model available without a clutch pedal. Isn’t the whole point of a diesel to save fuel?
That said, the Focus TDCi wasn’t terribly disappointing on the efficiency front, although I had to drive extra economically to lower my average. Ford claims you’ll use an average of 5.3-litres per 100km on the combined cycle, but in practise I returned 7.4-litres per 100km. Not terribly disappointing for a car like this, but with a manual gearbox you should be able to lower that by at least a litre-and-a-half. Carbon emissions are pleasingly low at 139g/km.
The usual host of safety acronyms are all present in this Focus, the likes of which include ABS (anti-lock brakes), EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), BAS (brake assist), ESP (traction control) and HLA (hill start assistance) with six airbags and ISOFIX child seat mounts also fitted. An immobiliser/alarm and remote double central locking are also fitted as standard.
Thankfully, Ford does offer an options pack, which includes auto lights and wipers, follow-me-home lights, an auto-dimming interior mirror, a leather steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels – all yours for just R6300 (which is phenomenally cheap).
The Focus 2.0 TDCi 4-door Trend retails as standard for R285 320, which includes a 5-year/90 000km service plan and a 4-year/120 000km warranty. Adding the options pack takes that up to R291 620, and I still think that is decent value for money. This car competes against the likes of the new VW Jetta 2.0 TDI Highline (manual only, R297 200), the age-old Toyota Corolla 2.0 D4-D Exclusive (manual only, R290 900) and the Chevrolet Cruze 2.0D LT (manual only, R277 300).
Interesting to note that the Focus is the only car here that is available with an automatic gearbox, and that means if you’re shopping in this segment and an automatic diesel is a must, your car has finally arrived (as annoying as the gearbox may be). If, however, you are shopping in this segment with a view to buy a spacious, economical diesel saloon, your money is best spent on either the Cruze or the Jetta.
Yes, the Jetta becomes really pricey once you start selecting options but honestly, it’s the best car in this segment (and it’s extremely frugal too). The Cruze, while it doesn’t offer Jetta levels of quality and finish, represents the best one to go for if you can’t afford a Jetta, and it’s quite a bit cheaper than the Focus to boot. As far as the Focus goes, I didn’t enjoy driving it much. And why buy a car you can’t enjoy driving? I know I wouldn’t…