A more premium take on Ford’s small hatch has arrived in Australia, right as competition in the class heats up. Will the new Focus Titanium get the attention it deserves this time around?
You can’t help but feel a little sorry for the Ford Focus. It’s never been a bad car, but in Australia it hasn’t matched the success of small-car favourites like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 or Mazda 3.
In a market where buyers are increasingly turning to SUVs, the Focus is always going to have an uphill battle to stake out a sales claim, but in top-tier Titanium trim it seems there’s little to hold the new Focus back.
Currently, the Focus range starts from $25,990 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level Trend model, with Ford eschewing a traditional cut-price base model – a strategy started with the previous-generation car. In Titanium trim, the price rises to $34,490 (plus ORC) before options.
Across the range, all models feature just one engine measuring 1.5 litres in capacity (the same size as the previous-generation car), but actually new for the Focus in Australia, moving from a turbocharged four-cylinder to a new turbo three-cylinder design.
Outputs are rated at 134kW and 240Nm, and the engine is matched to an eight-speed torque converter automatic driving the front wheels.
Though the Focus Titanium shares its mechanical specification with the wider Focus range, it defines itself through equipment differences.
All Focus models come equipped with auto headlights and wipers, a self-dimming mirror, leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric park brake, 8.0-inch touchscreen with voice inputs, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, alloy wheels, reversing camera and cruise control with speed limiter.
The Titanium ups comfort and convenience with additional standard equipment like partial-leather seats, powered seat adjustment for the driver, front seat heating, proximity key, chrome-accented grille and window surrounds, bigger 18-inch wheels, sports suspension, adaptive cruise-control, dual-zone climate control, LED ambient lighting, wireless charging and 10-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio.
While the audio branding might be shared with high-end models from Audi, Bentley and Aston Martin, Ford’s 675-watt, 10-speaker B&O Play system is a long way off the mark of those much higher-priced systems, and audiophiles will cringe at the door rattle and lack of clarity as volume rises.
For $300 you can option a pop-up driver’s head-up display, while $650 gets you ‘prestige’ paint (both fitted to this car), and active park assist and a panoramic roof are also available at $1000 and $2000 respectively.
Safety spec in the Focus Titanium covers autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, lane centring, evasive steering assist, post-impact braking system, powered child locks, six airbags, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
A list of features doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Inside, Ford has stepped the quality of the interior up a notch or two compared to the previous model. You’ll probably notice it the most in some of the finer details, like the grained plastic console finished in the same material as an Audi A3, or the convincing-looking brushed-metal decor panels on the dash and doors.
In an attempt to maximise the feeling of spaciousness, the new Focus runs a low centre console and a reasonably minimalist dash, in stark contrast to the previous claustrophobia-causing interior that jutted out in places, almost threateningly.
The feeling of premiumness is bolstered by a rotary dial for the gear selector, which although a little odd at first, quickly becomes every bit as intuitive as a traditional selector lever. Drivers who habitually rest their left hand on the gear selector may not think as highly of it, however.
Seats hit that ‘just right’ level of support and comfort, and even though you sit low within the vehicle, it’s a more natural stance than the upright and over-the-pedals position of the old car. Front-seat passengers weren’t as happy, with reports of a high-set seat and glovebox sculpting that reduces knee space.
Partial leather and cloth trim looks nice, but the fabric inserts in the middle of each seat have a shiny, plasticky feel. No doubt the cloth selected is hard-wearing, but there’s a variety of far more inviting interior trims, from tweeds to velours, that would be preferable to the pool-furniture feel of the textile chosen. Not to mention the disappearance of full leather (actually part faux-leather in places) from the old car without the option to upgrade.
There are neatly premium touches like flock-lined door pockets, a stitched look for the padded door card inserts, and LED lighting in most (but not all) interior lights.
Then there are minor downsides, like a plastic panel at the upper edge of the passenger footwell instead of continued carpeting, and a starter button that feels like an afterthought – jammed away out of sight behind the steering wheel in a nook between the dash and the steering column.
No complaints about accommodation, though. While the roof line sits slightly lower than before, seating has been dropped down to match, ensuring head room remains intact. The front seats are a little firm but supportive and well profiled, and driver’s lumbar support is a welcomed inclusion.
As some competitors, like the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3, move away from rear-seat practicality and position their small hatches as ‘lifestyle’ vehicles, Ford has maintained a workable rear seat for carrying passengers.
Long rear doors make getting in and out easy, and space is up to scratch for adult passengers. Curiously, though, Ford doesn't pipe face-level ventilation to the rear seats through the console.
In the rear, Ford provides 375L of boot space, which is a handy step up from the 316L offered in last year’s model. A flat and square boot floor means no storage qualms, but a high lower lip can impede loading slightly.
As for the driving experience, there’s little chance the Focus is going to upset or offend anyone. The small-car class is fairly closely matched when it comes to drivability, and the new Focus doesn’t stray too far from the pack.
It’s not the most powerful nor the most torquey engine in its class, but it is athletic enough to deliver strong acceleration around town without the overall zoominess of a more sporty hot hatch.
As is so often the case with three-cylinder engine designs, the noise and vibrations are a little more noticeable than in four-cylinder equivalents due to differences in balance characteristics between the two designs. The Focus is no exception – it is mostly smooth and quiet, but when accelerating hard sounds a little more gruff, with a hint more vibration (though nothing too severe) making its way into the cabin.
Ford has stepped into the lead on ratio count with its new eight-speed automatic, whereas most competitors stick to six or seven speeds. Select drive and the new auto pulls away cleanly and smoothly.
For the most part it’s a transmission that you don’t ever notice, adept at getting the right gear to match driving conditions, decisive about its selections and alert to changing gradients. Every so often an upshift would thump into the next gear, on the way through first and second or second and third gears, spoiling the otherwise well-rounded experience.
Another change over the previous-generation Focus is a move away from a more sophisticated independent rear suspension to a torsion beam set-up. In reality, only the most ardent boffins are likely to be able to tell the difference in the real world.
The Titanium, on big 18-inch wheels and with – according to Ford – a sports suspension tune, still manages to ride out most road surface imperfections, though there is a touch of firmness that catches out some smaller bumps.
It’s hard to fault the handling, too. The car holds the road well, tracks with stability at high speed, and still manages to feel planted and accurate through bends.
If you’re less interested in keen driving and happy to hand over the reins a little, the Focus Titanium also features top-notch distance-keeping cruise control, which can bring the car to a complete stop and does so smoother than many human drivers at times.
Lane centring is also impressive. The system requires you to keep your hands on the wheel rather than taking full control, but doesn’t bounce between line markings or tug at the driver's hands, meaning it serves its intended purpose of relieving at least some of the strain of driving on long highway runs.
Wind and road noise are kept respectably hushed, which is another win for drivers who cover longer distances out of town. It perhaps also goes some way to explaining why the engine noise stands out in certain situations.
Ford offers capped-price servicing, the first five years of which will total $1661 comprising the first four services (12-month/15,000km intervals) at $299 each and the fifth at $350, plus a $115 brake fluid change at three years.
Ford’s warranty covers five years with no kilometre limit. Ford also offers 12 months' roadside assist renewal (provided by state auto clubs) with each genuine service for vehicles up to seven years of age.
In terms of fuel costs, official figures suggest mixed-cycle fuel consumption as low as 6.4 litres per 100km. On test, split into two-thirds city driving and a third on the highway, we returned 10.4L/100km, though the car we drove was almost brand new with little to no running-in having taken place.
It’s probably worth noting that one of our earlier highway-skewed tests also returned a higher than claimed figure, so we’ll keep an eye on this in future reviews.
There’s no denying a sizeable shift in the Focus’s fortunes. While the last generation wasn’t in any way a bad car, the new model picks up more tech and features, becomes more premium, and feels better balanced and better finished than many of its rivals.
Ford’s biggest struggle will be getting buyers to pay attention to the Focus instead of defaulting to a more popular Corolla, i30, Mazda 3 or Golf. It sits closer to those top sellers than ever before, but while the car has changed, attitudes towards it might take longer to catch up.
Listen to more audio of the 2019 Ford Focus below