If you can, cast your mind back to when you purchased your first car. Safe to say, it’s normally a pretty exciting time, and it was back in 2015 when I went to buy my first-ever car.
After months of researching small cars with a bit of a sporting edge, a decision was made – enter the LW MKII Ford Focus Titanium in Panther Black. Bought as a four-month-old demo with 250km, my car was just over $42K when new. In terms of the price I actually paid, though, and the equipment it came with, it was stunning value. On top of the standard stuff, my car was optioned with the Sports Exec pack (Adaptive Cruise, Xenons), genuine Ford Panther Black 18-inch alloys, weather shields, Premium carpet mats and metallic paint.
I remember thinking 'What a beast' to myself as I drove home from the dealer with my P-plates on.
Often criticised, I really liked the crazy look of the Focus, with its stretched and melted rear lights, crease lines, chrome accents and big front grilles. The all-black Mafia look just made it even swankier.
The interior was another thing that sold me. The combination of decent interior materials, piano-black accents (which is ironic because I loathe piano black), white stitching, blue lighting with contrasting red ambient lighting, and a nice soft woven headliner made the car feel rather special. The expansive dashboard with crease lines and the sporty dials and dash cowl combo really made an impact on me compared to the other cars I considered.
It wasn’t just the design that was good about the interior, though. Front storage was very good, with a large console bin, useful driver's side compartment, decent-sized door bins and a huge glovebox. The only real complaint was that there was no phone storage. Even the back seats had well-sized door bins, map pockets and seat-side storage compartments, which were never noticed or used.
Unfortunately, the back seats were a sore point for the Focus. Although not a purchasing priority, the rear seats were very cramped for anyone over 175cm, and nobody over 160cm could fit behind my seat (I’m 180cm). Head room was also very poor for tall people (Sunroof didn’t help), and it was safe to say that I wasn’t popular with my taller mates. The soft front-door plastics also didn’t carry through to the rear, which was a shame.
The 316L boot was average for the class, but the high floor caused by the larger space-saver tyre meant that it was quite shallow and, when compared to its rivals, quite a lot smaller realistically.
Another sore point was the infotainment. Although I was honoured to own a car with a screen at all, the 5.0-inch screen was still pretty pathetic considering that there were phones with bigger screens. The Bosch-made navigation was superb, though, and the Sync 1 software was very easy to use… When it worked. Made by Microsoft, it often froze and rebooted like it was Windows Vista. The nine-speaker Sony stereo was ridiculously powerful, though!
Shoddy software and cramped seating were soon forgotten, though, because driving the Focus was always a treat. Small Fords have always had a reputation for their dynamics, and although a bit of a porker at over 1.4 tonnes, the Focus was no exception. The steering was extremely sharp, with great feedback and excellent accuracy. Unfortunately, attached to this excellent steering was a turning circle that was so huge it felt like I was in a B-double.
The turning circle was shocking due to the Titanium being fitted with larger 235/40R18 Continental ContiSport tyres. And what tyres they were! These tyres, in conjunction with the all-round independent suspension, lowered sports chassis and torque vectoring, meant that the Focus handled better than almost every other small hatch. I can hand on heart say that it even out-handled my mother's MKVI Golf GTI.
Blasting the Focus on back roads was always great fun, but even highway driving wasn’t too bad because the Focus had better-than-average sound insulation (and a lot less tyre roar than the GTI) than rivals from the time.
But a great-handling car always needs a great engine and drivetrain, and alas, we come to the part of the review everyone has probably been waiting for. Before I get to that wonderful gearbox, the engine.
With 125kW and 202Nm, the 2.0-litre GDI engine was never going to be the 'beast' I always liked to imagine it was, but it was a very willing engine that loved a good rev, although it lacked guts below 3500rpm. Fuel consumption wasn’t too bad as well. Without start-stop, the car did around 9L/100km on average (95 per cent city driving), but on highways it normally dropped to the low fives.
The engine was matched to the infamous 6DCT250 Getrag PowerShift gearbox. Now, ignoring all the problems that this gearbox had, the gearbox was very smooth when it worked. Compared to the VW DSG, it was far smoother below 2000rpm, but above this it was extremely slow. Rapid-fire upshifts? No. Double downshifts? No. The ability to go to redline? Ah, no. The PowerShift gearbox was clearly designed to mimic a regular automatic, which really begs the question as to why Ford bothered with it in the first place, especially as it was such an unreliable turd of a gearbox.
Shuddering, lurching, missing gears, forgetting to upshift, forgetting to downshift, stalling and rev flares without any increased speed were all normal things for this gearbox. Now with over 3500km, the gearbox was completely incompetent at doing the one job it had to do. Without ranting on about Ford’s crap customer service, the clutches were eventually replaced at 6000km (after about 10 software updates), in which it then proceed to malfunction again after only 800km. It’s safe to say that the 6DCT250 PowerShift gearbox is what singlehandedly killed the little reputation the Focus had, and thoroughly destroyed any possibilities of decent resale.
The gearbox may have been a major reliability sore point, but over the course of my ownership there were plenty of other faults, including:
- A blown speaker that was replaced with an incorrect speaker, and then replaced with the correct speaker, by which stage the door had a million rattles due to being pulled apart so much.
- A rear boot seal that disintegrated and had to be replaced under warranty… Twice.
- A sunroof seal that proceeded to let water into the cabin, meaning a new sunroof seal, and a new headliner.
- A faulty left suspension bushing and coil that caused horrible knocking.
- Windscreen washer jets that leaked all over the bonnet due to a faulty fluid line.
- A rattle in the steering column that was the cause of a bolt coming loose… Lovely.
And that pretty much summarises the 14 months that I owned a LW MKII Ford Focus Titanium. If someone came up to me and asked if they should buy a third-gen Focus, I’d say maybe… If the deal is good and as long as it’s a diesel, manual or face-lift LZ. The reliability problems that I, and many others, encountered have completely killed the Focus brand name in Australia, which is a shame because, that aside, the Focus is a good car.
Here's to hoping that the upcoming fourth-gen Focus can bring some of the shine back.