I spent a bit of time with the all-new 2019 Ford Focus ST-Line over the Christmas break, and one of the biggest tests I put the Blue Oval's latest hatchback through was a 570km round trip from Melbourne to Mulwala on the New South Wales border.
The reason for my long road trip was to visit my best friend who was staying with family on Lake Mulwala, and I thought it would not only be a great weekend getaway before work started again, but also a great challenge for the little Focus.
As mentioned above, the vehicle on test was the new ST-Line hatchback, finished in Shadow Black ($650) for an as-tested price of $29,640 plus on-road costs.
I set off on one of the hottest days this January, with the in-car thermometer reading 43 degrees Celsius when I left my home suburb of Doncaster in Melbourne's east.
After checking the tyre pressures and stocking up on water and snacks for the trip, I set off shortly after lunch time with my Apple CarPlay navigation estimating I had about 3 hours and 10 minutes of driving ahead of me.
The drive to Yarrawonga-Mulwala is pretty boring once you hit the Metropolitan Ring Road from the Greensborough entrance in Melbourne's north, with about three quarters of the distance and travel time spent on the Hume Highway.
Immediately I was impressed with the enthusiasm and punch of the Focus' new 134kW 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, which unlike most vehicles in the class, only has three cylinders instead of four.
With 240Nm available from just 1750rpm (through to 5000rpm), the Focus feels very brisk off the line and on the move. The three-pot mill's characterful thrummy note is also a point of difference within the class.
On the freeway, the eight-speed automatic settles the engine into a quiet hum, with the tachometer showing around 1800rpm at 110km/h which is madness for an engine this small.
During the drive up I was also very impressed with the Focus' insulation from road and wind noise, particularly the former over the coarser sections of the Hume, making for a very comfortable and quiet long-distance commuter.
The sports suspension was also very well composed on the highway, a contrast to its overly firm behaviour around town.
Having three hours in the car also gave me a chance to test out in-car features like the climate control and sound system.
The former impressed with its effectiveness throughout the journey, even though the temperature crept up to 46 degrees during some parts of the trip. For reference, I had the climate control set to 21 degrees and I was always comfortable.
Meanwhile, the six-speaker audio system did the job pretty well too. It's no secret I like a good ol' throwback playlist and I wasn't really left wanting for better sound during my carpool karaoke session.
Seat comfort was also excellent. I'm one of the few that prefers having fabric seats compared to leather due to their better suppleness and superior heat resistance. Without harping on too much, I was very impressed.
One minor complaint was fuel consumption. Even though I occasionally saw fives and sixes flash on the instant readout, I couldn't get the Focus to stay under 7.0L/100km upon my return to Melbourne.
In all fairness there are a lot of inclines on the journey, and there were a few in-town drives mixed in before, during and following the weekend, though a final indicated figure of 7.2L/100km could be better considering I can achieve much less in the more powerful Audi A3 2.0 TFSI long-termer I've been driving for the last few months.
My other negative is that our tester wasn't fitted with the optional Driver Assistance Pack ($1250) which adds useful driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control with stop&go, blind-spot monitoring and evasive steering assist which bolster the standard autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist detection) and lane-keep assist systems.
Speaking of the driver assistance tech, the lane-keep assist was one of the most intuitive I've ever used. It does a good job of keeping the vehicle within its lane without feeling like its completely taking over the steering wheel – a feeling that normally leads me to turning the system off in other cars.
Personally I think the driver assist pack should be standard on the ST-Line given its a $30,000 small car, especially given Ford is billing the Focus as its new safety and technology showcase.
The adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring systems would have really come in handy during the three-hour highway stints each way, too. Next time.
However, I can't really complain. These days I often lament about numerous models across numerous brands that fail to be as comfortable and quiet on country highway stints given that Aussies love a good old road trip, and the Focus really stood out as a capable tourer.
It certainly feels upmarket and European in the way it drives and how it's been finished inside the cabin, and should you be looking at a fun and well-finished small car that can handle country Australia's rough roads and weather conditions, the Focus is definitely worth a look.
Stay tuned for the full review coming soon!
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