Although synonymous with Germany, the Ford Focus now has stronger links to Tom Yum Goong than to sauerkraut.
The switch to Thai production in August saw the introduction of the Focus Mk2, which debuted Ford's hands-free Sync infotainment system among other tech features, yet did not suffer a drop in cabin quality to the extent of the Fiesta when it made the same transition two years earlier.
The production shift was quickly followed by a price cut that saw the RRP of the entry-level Ford Focus Ambiente manual drop to $20,290 and the dual-clutch automatic to $22,590 – although Ford’s ‘special’ driveaway pricing offer of $19,990 and $21,990 respectively remains months later and should be your starting point negotiating with dealers.
It puts the Focus in the thick of the action in the ultra-competitive small-car segment, where it takes on the new-generation Toyota Corolla (from $19,990), the top-selling Mazda3 (from $20,330), the Australian-made Holden Cruze ($21,490), and the dramatically improved second-gen Hyundai i30 ($20,990), not to mention more than a dozen other compact sedans and hatchbacks.
The Ambiente is the only variant in the third-generation Ford Focus range powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (the higher-grade models feature 2.0-litre petrol and diesel alternatives). Its 92kW/159Nm output is respectable for a naturally aspirated engine of its capacity, however the willing unit is burdened by the car’s 1335kg kerb weight. It’s happy – and at times required – to rev towards its 6300rpm maximum power point but begins to sound thrashy and strained north of peak torque at 4000rpm. At lower engine speeds it’s reasonably quiet and refined.
The same can’t be said for the optional six-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. Gear changes are jerky after cold start-ups – whether made automatically or manually by the driver via the dinky +/– buttons on the inside of the shift lever – and can remain excessively so for minutes. It tends to lurch in first gear like the first generation of dual clutches and misunderstands the engine’s limitations at higher speeds, upshifting on hills and killing momentum before aggressively hunting for a lower ratio. Yet it’s also tardy to react to aggressive throttle inputs, waiting (and wondering…) before kicking down. Best save yourself $2K and stick with the standard five-speed manual, which is also more fuel efficient, using a claimed 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle compared with the auto’s 6.5. On our test covering a range of conditions we achieved economy of 10.6L/100km.
The Focus claws back points in the dynamics department, where it’s both well balanced and engaging. The electrically assisted steering (standard in all but the Ambiente sedan, which features a simpler hydraulic system) is light but keen, offering quick and direct response to minute inputs and an encouraging progressiveness to bigger twists of the tiller.
Unsurprisingly, the chassis – which is a highlight of the Focus ST hot-hatch – remains capable and composed supporting the less performance-oriented variants. The suspension reacts promptly to smooth out bumps and coarse surfaces, creating a comfortable ride, and helps to contain roll through corners.
The excellent seats, which are soft and supportive, and particularly cossetting in the second row, enhance comfort. Rear passengers enjoy decent head, leg and foot room in the back of the Focus, and while they miss out on a centre armrest in Ambiente and Trend trim lines, are looked after with a collection of clever storage spots around the seat base and doors.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is acceptable front and rear, although the view of the centre console is more of an acquired taste. Like the smaller Fiesta, the Focus features Nokia 5210-inspired switchgear and a tiny 3.5-inch blue dot matrix screen that – at least to a smartphone-savvy Gen Y-er – misses the mark both in terms of design and fit and finish. Fortunately, the Y2K styling is backed up modern-day tech, with Ford’s Sync connectivity system facilitating voice-activated hands-free calling, phone book transfer, audible text message readout (with compatible phones) and music player integration via either Bluetooth or USB. Though Sync suffers the typical Microsoft-style issues of over-complicated procedures.
The unavailability of cruise control in the Ambiente is disappointing, however, and the base model does without reversing sensors, foglights and alloy wheels (it gets 16-inch steels with a space-saver spare), which are all standard throughout the rest of the Ford Focus range. Other features of the entry-level model include manual air conditioning, multi-function display with trip computer, one-touch up/down electric driver’s window, and 60/40 split-fold rear seats. Boot space behind the rear bench trails the likes of the Hyundai i30 and Mazda3, with 316 litres available in the hatch and 421 litres in the sedan.
The entire Ford Focus range has earned ANCAP’s maximum five-star safety rating, each model equipped with six airbags (dual front, side and curtains), electronic stability control and emergency brake lights that flash under heavy braking to warn drivers following behind.
The Focus is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and has 12-month/15,000km service intervals. Most services for the Ambiente will set you back $320 under Ford’s six-year capped-price servicing program, with the 60,000km interval the only outlier at $455, which involves replacing the fuel and air filters and the spark plugs on top of the regular service.
Well priced, well balanced and comfortable, but lacking drivetrain refinement and some basic features, the Ford Focus Ambiente is a dish best served manual… perhaps after sampling the i30 and Mazda3 for entree and main.