We love a good road trip and there are so many fantastic places within a day's drive of Sydney. Whether you head out to the Hunter Valley, north to the Central Coast, west to the Blue Mountains, or south through the Royal National Park towards Shoalhaven and the Sapphire Coast – they all offer very different experiences and it would take a very long time to get bored.
Ford organised a lifestyle event, and invited a group to experience the Ford Focus over a two-day adventure around Sydney. I was paired with Kelly Noble, managing director of Glam Adelaide and Glam Digital – for those who may wonder why this is relevant, she appears in some of the images accompanying this story.
As iconic a place to start an epic road trip as you can get, we met at Bondi Beach at sunrise. After watching the stunning transition of the sky from dark blue, to purple then pink and orange, we headed up to Icebergs to fuel our bodies, and run through the itinerary and obligatory safety briefing.
Wandering back to the beach and fighting the innate Sydney beach-bum urge to just lay in the sand all day, we were handed the keys to a blue Focus Titanium and started the slow crawl out of Sydney. As we headed south towards the Royal National Park, the traffic snarls started to free up and we were able to start playing around with the infotainment system.
The Focus is the first of the Blue Oval's line-up to get Ford Sync 3, it's standard right across the range and it has been programmed to better understand the Australian accent. It also now has a pinch and zoom function and the voice commands are more intuitive – you can ask it to find a toilet, find a coffee, find parking and more.
We had used voice command to enter our destination, and then proceeded to get lost a few times on the way which of course, sent us into hysterics – it couldn't have been easier to set the destination and yet the graphics on the 8.0-inch touchscreen kept confusing us. When a turn was coming up, half of the screen was filled with a magnified version of the upcoming intersection. In a tiny font in the corner it had the distance, for example 250m – however when the large direction popped up we would take the next left or right, not noticing the distance measure.
Other than that, the system is very intuitive and understands what you ask of it the majority of the time. What's wrong with a detour or two anyway? When on a road trip, if you take a wrong turn, keep heading that way for a while. You never know what little hidden gems you'll find!
We wound our way through the Royal National Park and the Ford Focus began to show what it's capable of. The 2016 update marked the arrival of the 1.5-litre four cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine that produces 132kW and 240Nm, teamed with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. It's far from a hot-hatch, yet not really a warm-hatch, however it has a sporty feeling thing to drive and far more dynamic than many other small cars.
The Ford Focus is available in a hatch or sedan. The five-door hatch can be had in the Trend ($23,390 before on-road costs), Sport ($26,490) or Titanium ($32,690) specification and the four-door sedan in either the Trend ($23,490) or Titanium ($32,690) trim.
This being the Titanium spec, it had 18-inch alloy wheels and the ride was quite sophisticated over the majority of surfaces and the Focus felt solid and stuck to the road through the corners of the Royal National Park. The twists and turns were a lot of fun and the steering made it an absolute joy. It's light, direct and engaging.
Fuel economy is a claimed 5.8-litres per 100 kilometres. There was a fuel economy challenge as part of this road trip, and by driving ridiculously slow, Kelly and I managed to get it down to around 3.2-litres per 100km on one of the legs. It would be incredibly hard to keep it that low driving normally day-to-day, but it was still interesting to note that that figure is possible.
It's really nice and quiet in the cabin; isolated from intrusive road noise or engine noise. Luckily because we had a bit of a 'karaoke' session going on and any unwelcome additional noise could have thrown us off and made the singing worse than it already was.
On a road trip, it's vital to stop, look around, grab a coffee and enjoy the moment. After driving a few times over the always impressive Sea Cliff Bridge, we stopped at Coledale Beach for some fun in the sun. Beach cricket, frisbee, a coffee and too much fun with the dress-up beach gear, and we were off again. This time headed for Mount Keira.
There is a spectacular view from the lookout, but a little visitor in the carpark grabbed our attention. An echidna had been very hard at work digging its way along the kerbs surrounding the bitumen. The ranger had apparently returned him into the bush a number of times, but he kept on coming back to the carpark.
I don't blame him, I'm sure he was impressed by the convoy of shiny Ford Focus' that rolled in that day. The Titanium scores a few added extras over the base and mid-spec including low-speed autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and perpendicular park assist as standard.
Halogen headlights are standard but this has an option pack that has bi-xenon HID's and a sunroof. It has LED daytime running lights, auto-folding power side mirrors and a little rear spoiler. It is quite a sporty looking thing!
After winding our way through the scenic countryside we arrived at our accomodation at Peppers Manor House in the Southern Highlands there was a surprise challenge waiting. All of the windows of one of the cars had been completely blacked out and we had to try out the semi-automated parking system. It was incredibly disconcerting but certainly served to highlight how clever it is, I was being cheered on by Kelly and just went for it by trusting the instructions.
Luckily there was a big glass of champagne as a reward at the end and then dinner at the amazing Biota restaurant in Bowral where we got to make our own dessert using liquid nitrogen. The next day we were up at sunrise again and on the road headed for a place I'd never been to and wish I'd known about sooner.
Bendooley Estate is home to a cafe called Berkelouw Book Barn and it is spectacular. The walls are lined with books, there are open fireplaces and the coffee and cake is divine. One of the best things about exploring the Southern Highlands is that there are so many fantastic places to stop and look around, and of course eat and drink.
We needed to be refuelled ahead of our final challenge to mark the end of the road trip, so after a stop at yet another visually spectacular spot, the Nattai Gorge Lookout, we headed for the base of the Blue Mountains to have more food – lunch at Glenbrook's 2773.
As the road trip came to an end, we arrived at the Sydney International Regatta Centre to have a bit of fun doing some dynamic driving exercises. The first was ABS braking, followed by a slalom then a j-turn. My favourite was the j-turn, it was the first time I'd attempted one and I'm proud to say I nailed it in the end.
Ford Focus road trip was not just about the beautiful scenery, the indulgent food and delicious coffee, it was the perfect way to really experience the Ford Focus Titanium. It was a lively and entertaining drive, was packed full of safety features, and the Sync 3 system is really intuitive.
Heading away for a weekend is something any car owner can do. Not only is it a great way to relax and bond with others in the car (after two days and hours of conversations, Kelly and I are now officially friends for life), if you throw in some challenging roads you'll also have a blast.
One last road trip tip – just have fun and enjoy yourself.