8.5 / 10
The Ford Focus may be one of the world’s best selling cars, but the Blue Oval brand insists topping local sales charts isn’t a priority for its overhauled small car.
Proving this, the 2016 Ford Focus ‘LZ’ range drops the entry-level Ambiente specification, which had a circa-$20K starting price that appealed primarily to fleet managers and put it head-to-head with rental car specials such as the Toyota Corolla Ascent and Hyundai i30 Active.
The decision to distance the Focus from the base model sales battle is the latest move in Ford Australia’s company-wide philosophy of prioritising private buyers and offering the cars with the equipment they want.
Consequently, the 2016 Focus range now offers stronger value across its three remaining trim levels: the mid-tier Trend (from $23,390 plus on-road costs), the performance-themed Sport (from $26,490) and the high-grade Titanium ($32,690).
Significantly, Ford has cut $1300 from the price of the almost unanimously selected automatic transmission option, lowering the premium over the manual to just $1000. In the case of the Trend and Sport variants, it means the six-speed auto variants are $200 and $700 cheaper than before at $24,390 and $27,490 respectively, while the auto-only Titanium is also $300 sharper.
Sedan versions of the Trend and Titanium auto variants remain (they’re priced identically to their equivalent hatches), while the slow-selling diesel has followed the Ambiente out the door.
Those two exits leave just one engine (ignoring the unforgettable 2.0-litre turbo in the Focus ST that arrived earlier this year) in the LZ Focus range: a brand-new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol from the EcoBoost family.
Familiar from the Kuga SUV, the engine produces 132kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm from 1600-5000rpm, giving it a 7kW/38Nm advantage over the Focus’s former naturally aspirated 2.0-litre unit.
Those outputs position it at the upper end of the performance spectrum in the segment, aligning it most closely with the likes of the Mazda 3 SP25 variants (138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre), the Nissan Pulsar SSS (140kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo), the Peugeot 308 (110kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo) and the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI (110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo) – all of which start above the Ford’s entry price.
The engine fittingly feels a step above base spec, delivering good response off the mark and pulling confidently once on the go. It’s more vocal and grumbly than some rivals, making its presence known every time you get on the throttle, though in full flight at higher engine speeds it has a nice sporty note.
It’s the one mark against the Ford Focus’s NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), which is otherwise improved and now up with the class benchmarks in isolating passengers from road, wind and other ambient noise.
Joining the new engine is a new conventional (torque converter) six-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old dual-clutch unit. Unlike the old gearbox that was jerky at low speeds, the new one is perfectly smooth in the same conditions. It works up to higher gears quickly, aiding fuel efficiency, but is at times hesitant to drop back when you accelerate, relying initially on that broad peak torque band to do the hard work.
Typically this is where you can knock the gear lever into ‘sport’ mode and count on the transmission to grab lower gears sooner and hold onto them for longer, but the Focus’s sport mode is far more subtle and fails to have a noticeable effect on the car’s character as do similar modes in the likes of the Golf and 308. The gear lever also lacks a proper back and forward tipshifter, instead featuring awkward plus and minus thumb buttons that don’t encourage regular use by keen drivers.
Similarly subtle – though this time much more positively so – is the limited effect of the Sport variant’s sports-tuned suspension on ride comfort. Often ‘sports suspension’ goes hand in hand with ‘hard-riding’, but not so with the Ford Focus Sport. It’s firmer than the Trend and Titanium, but is never uncomfortable or fussy. More time than was afforded at the launch is needed to determine the full extent of the tuned suspension’s effect on the Sport’s handling characteristics. Stay tuned for a more in-depth garage review of the Sport, as well as a first steer of the manual and sedan variants, neither of which were available at the launch.
Combining the regular suspension tune with 60-aspect tyres and 16-inch alloy wheels, the Trend is the most comfortable of the bunch. It feels composed over big and small bumps, and is better at taking the edges off sharper surface imperfections than the Titanium, which wears skinny 40-aspect rubber and 18-inch alloys.
All three tend to bounce over undulations and rock mildly from side to side over country roads at higher speeds, leaving them short of the supremely sophisticated Golf and 308.
Always a highlight, the Focus’s steering is at least on par with those two. It’s now lighter but no less direct, progressive or engaging, and like few in the class delivers genuine feedback rather than tiresome vibrations.
Unlike the darty 308, the overwhelming sensation the Ford Focus exudes is one of solidity. Thank its well-honed dynamics for this sense of substance and poise, and the fact it’s one of the heavier cars in its class.
That weight doesn’t hurt efficiency too badly, however. The Focus’s combined cycle fuel consumption claim (5.8-6.4 litres per 100 kilometres) may fall short of the benchmark Golf, but it holds its own against the 308 and Mazda 3 and easily betters the thirsty Pulsar. Thank also the impressive stop-start system, which (unlike many) kills and restarts the engine as you crawl through traffic, and restarts quickly without any jerkiness.
Excellent dynamics have always been a Ford Focus trademark; less impressive has been its interior.
The updated model takes some positive steps forward. Leading the charge is the introduction of the Sync 2 infotainment system, which brings an 8.0-inch touchscreen and an updated voice command system. The big display means the Focus’s dashboard is no longer cluttered with tiny buttons, though aesthetically it looks like a fix-up job rather than a fresh coherent design: the climate panel is still messy, and how the ‘source’ and ‘sound’ functions survived the physical button cull is beyond us…
Sync 2 works well, however, dedicating four quadrants of the screen to phone, navigation, climate and entertainment functions. The touch points can be a bit small to hit when driving at higher speeds, meaning it’s worth starting up a conversation with the intelligent voice control system. Single-command address input for the standard satellite navigation is the highlight, while being able to whinge “I’m hungry!” and receive nearby restaurant options in return is also pretty nifty.
Equipment across the three grades is impressive. In addition to the features already mentioned, the Trend gets rear parking sensors, a reverse-view camera, single-zone climate control and cruise control; the Sport gains auto headlights and wipers, LED daytime running lights and tail-lights, push-button start, dual-zone climate control and a nine-speaker audio system (up from six) with DAB digital radio; and the Titanium gets a power driver’s seat with leather inserts and a host of advanced safety systems including emergency city braking, blind-spot monitoring, and the advanced active park assist system with front sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, parallel and perpendicular parking assistance and park-out assist (which helps you leave a park).
Standard across all models is the programmable MyKey and the Sync-linked Emergency Assistance function.
Read our full pricing and specifications story for more details.
Material quality is above average overall, with smart touches of piano black and satin chrome lifting the feel of even the Trend, though the entry model unfortunately misses out on leather on the steering wheel, soft-touch doorsills, and a rear-seat armrest.
The driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive, and visibility front and rear is fine. Second-row riders likewise get particularly comfy seats, with just enough headroom for 180cm passengers and adequate (but far from expansive) legroom.
The 316-litre boot is larger than that of the Mazda 3 or Toyota Corolla, but some way short of the space provided by the Golf, 308 and i30.
Ford still provides only the minimum three-year/100,000km warranty (some rivals offer up to seven years and unlimited kilometres), though it does better many by providing capped-price servicing, free roadside assistance for up to seven years if you service your car with a Ford dealership, as well as a free loan car when your car is being serviced.
Ford Australia’s decision to remove complexity and make its small car line-up more, err, focused may not see it rival the likes of the Corolla, 3 and i30 for sales supremacy – but what it has achieved with the updated Focus is arguably much more important for private buyers.