Bullseye: Ford Focus (2005)
THE ORIGINAL FORD FOCUS IS A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW. When it debuted in Europe in 1998, it immediately set the standard for cutting-edge design, comfortable ride, and, above all, superb driving dynamics. We had a sampling of its scalpel-sharp handling when we threw the turbo diesel version around the streets of Amsterdam three years ago. Even in its twilight years, its newer rivals struggled to match the Focus as a driver’s car. Now it’s Ford’s turn to have a go at succeeding its own groundbreaker, and the results are promising.
The “New Edge” style that made the Focus so distinctive has been dialed in a different, more mature direction. The swoops and curves are now more Swedish than French. Sharply squared-off hood and shoulder lines echo those of the Volvo S40, while the vertical planes of the front fenders show shades of Audi A6. Bulging fender flares are a carryover from version 1. The rear is clean but conventional, with a pair of large triangular lamps. The result is less in-your-face than that of its cousin, the Mazda3.
The cabin is wood, leather, slivers of metal and supple plastics everywhere. Features usually found only in cars a class above are standard, including six-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, rear air con vents, in-dash six-CD audio unit with an aux input hidden in the glove box (iPod addicts rejoice!), lighted vanity mirrors, power-folding side mirrors, electric trunk release, rear sonar, and tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The layout is logical and Germanic, from the twist knob light switch to the steering-wheel mounted tactile audio controls. Safety enthusiasts will be happy to find front and rear fog lamps, and park lamps are all provided.
People at the front have plenty of elbow and leg room, while the rear bench is just wide enough for three. The rear seat cushion stretches forward to the back of your knees for good support. Even with the more upright rake of the rear seat, there’s plenty of head- and knee room for tall adults. The rectangular doors also provide easy ingress and egress. The trunk is deep, wide, and protrusion-free, allowing it to swallow a couple of full-sized suitcases.
Flip out the metal key from the remote fob (another Volvo touch), start up the engine, and press on the drive-by-wire throttle. The 1.8 Duratec DOHC inline-4 delivers 123 bhp and 165 Nm. Acceleration is not scintillating off the line; rather, the engine delivers a muted push that allows the Focus to keep up easily enough.
We suspect that the engine’s tepid response is due to the portly chassis that it’s carrying. The good news is the weight has gone into sound- and vibration-dampening material. There’s a manual mode to the four-speed automatic, but the shift indicator is all but invisible in the trip computer window, so best to leave it in full auto. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD have good stopping power after you get over the initially mushy pedal feel.
So what’s all the fuss about the Focus? Turn the wheel and you’ll discover its main strength. There’s a satisfying quickness to the steering, and confident, obedient handling. The combination of front McPherson struts and the patented control-blade independent rear suspension allows the car to track accurately, with a nearly-neutral feel. You can corner this car like Morgan Freeman or Mika Hakkinen, and it’ll be equally happy. Mika will wish that the driver’s seat had more side support though.
In this case, there’s no downside to the sharp handling; the ride is smooth and comfortable. The 16-inch tires and various chassis bits filter out bumps and ruts, and the steering wheel doesn’t wriggle or kick back.
Comparisons to its chassis-mates, the Mazda3 and the Volvo S40, are inevitable. The Focus doesn’t beg to be driven hard like the Mazda, which taunts you even as you’re walking up to it. It’s refined and quiet, and feels good even if you’re puttering along to the supermarket. We’re confident that it’ll be a much better end-of-day companion than the rather unruly Mazda3. On the opposite extreme, its handling is more entertaining than the “safer,” stodgier character of the S40.
If you want a sporty drive, then it’s best to look elsewhere: Mazda3, Honda Civic 2.0, Hyundai Coupe, or the upcoming Focus 2.0 hatchback, are more your style. If you want a refined luxury cruiser that also knows how to play when the road turns twisty, then the Focus should be at the top of your list. Asking price is a reasonable PHP919,000.
Given the Focus’ comfort, capabilities, and extensive equipment, rival sedans—including the Swedes and Germans—have reason to sweat profusely. This is a car where the feel-good factor can stretch on for a long time.
By Jason Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang