The recently launched Focus EcoBoost 1.5L lineup is a major refresh of the existing C346 platform (Ford Global C Platform) that underpinned the pre-facelift Focus variants that debuted globally in 2011 and 2012 in Malaysia. Known in most circles as the Ford Focus Mk3, the facelifted models sport the same chassis and very similar interiors, but get refreshed with brand new power and drive trains. Design elements fore and aft have also been totally reworked, making this refresh all the more exciting and relevant than just a simple minor tweak like what most manufacturers would usually do for a product mid-life cycle exercise.
Sharing similar body dimensions and sheet metals, one would think the two would be hard to tell apart, but enough has been done to the car’s exterior propositions to clearly distinguish the new from the old, to the point that casual observers might not even recognize the family semblance unless you’ve done your homework. The new car looks sharp and edgy, compared to the slightly more pedestrian design of the predecessor. Prior to the facelift, the original Mk3 Focus was one of the more desirable C segment (albeit not the roomiest) offerings in our limited choice car market, with the hatchback variant earning a loyal following with its capable 2.0-liter dual variable valve timing Duratec mill that churned out a respectable 170PS mated to a slightly problematic but very engaging 6-speed Powershift dual-clutch gearbox.
Ford took the opportunity to swap out the engine and gearbox combo during this mid-life exercise, giving the new Focus a much needed (Eco)boost to keep it relevant in today’s selection of small displacement high output offerings. As of today, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, Mini, Honda, Mazda, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Audi, Citroën, Porsche, Hyundai, Kia, Volvo, Subaru, Proton and Ford list among the growing number of manufacturers that offer turbocharged petrol engines for Malaysia. This leaves only a small handful of other guys who have yet to take the plunge. In other words, turbocharging is slowly becoming the norm in this country; times are indeed a-changing for the better.
Ford Focus Sport and Titanium: Re-skinned For 2016, And Then Some
Externally, the lights and bumpers for both Sport+ (hatchback) and Titanium+ (sedan) variants have been thoroughly reworked, though the treatment for the rear designs are more subtle compared to the front. I was actually glad that they left the rear design pretty much intact save for minor tweaks around the rear light cluster area, especially for the hatchback; the original Mk3 hatch had one of the most beautiful derrieres. The new hatch just got its rear cluster sharpened up slightly to make it more coherent with the frontal proposition. Unfortunately, and this is a big boo-boo in my books, they decided to omit Bi-Xenons for all of the variants this time around, which is a shame and could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some potential customers.
The sedan also gets similarly mildly facelifted for 2016. The 2012 Focus Titanium sedan had larger rear light clusters that extended all the way to the license plate garnish while the 2016 version has slimmer tail lights with a curved kink towards the license plate that look a bit like a VW Jetta’s but overall still retains the Focus’ signature look. The new car gets a rear spoiler as well to give the sedan a racier side profile.
The new 2016 Ford Focus range gets a whole new face in line with the marque’s current corporate identity. A large trapezoidal grille dominates the front, coupled with slim-line headlights to give it a fierce, fire-breathing demeanor. The fog lamp housings have been completely reworked to coincide with the headlight design, and gone are the triangular fake air dams of old. Overall, the 2016 Focus is more “focused” in its design language, giving the car a lean and mean demeanor.
Ford Focus: Brand New Mechanicals
In essence, the new 2016 Focus lineup gets a brand new heart and muscles to replace the 2.0-liter Duratec mill and Powershift transmission on the pre-facelift C346. Although there was technically nothing wrong with the powerful 2.0-liter Duratec Ti-VCT GDI engine on the outgoing model, Ford’s new EcoBoost line of powerplants have successfully been featured in most of Ford’s global lineup, offering a better balance of economy and performance and is the way forward for most if not all car manufacturers.
The new 1.5-liter EcoBoost GDI engine in the Focus puts out a healthy 180PS @ 6,000rpm and 240Nm @ 1,600-5,000rpm as opposed to 172PS @ 6,500rpm and 202Nm @ 4,550rpm, making the new engine one of the most powerful consumer engines in the country, right out of the factory without modifications. Even Honda’s latest darling the new Civic 1.5 Turbo only manages to make 172PS, some 8PS shy of the Ford mill. Another hot favorite in the compact category, the VW Golf TSI only does 150PS with a 1.4-liter engine, so pound for pound the new EcoBoost engine offers the best bang for buck in terms of pure output figures.
Having said that, the new car gets something but loses something in return. The excellent and efficient dual-clutch 6-speed Powershift transmission found in the old car has been relegated to history books, replaced by a regular 6-AT SelectShift slushbox which is understandable, considering the negative connotations surrounding dual-clutch transmissions. Volkswagen still stand by their DSG, but Ford is taking no chances, having earlier replaced the Powershift on the outgoing Mondeo with a normal auto with torque converter. So on the one hand you have a more potent powerplant, but on the other hand its performance is dialed down a notch by choosing to go with a torque converter automatic. Safer, but duller response. But it lasts, and I guess that’s the whole point these days.
Elsewhere, the rest of the C346 of old has been retained in the facelift. MacPherson struts take charge of the driven wheels up front while Control Blade Independent multi-links shore up the rear wheels. Said combo has worked very well for the Focus in the past, delivering crisp and taut handling that it is well known for. In the new car, this combo continues to soldier on, shod with 215/50 R17 Michelin Primacys (Sport+ and Titanium+ variants) while the Trend hatchback gets 205/60 R16s. Having tested both the Sport+ and Titanium+ variants, we feel this to be an excellent tradeoff between outright performance and comfort.
Setting Apart the Trend, Sport+ and Titanium+
As far as the stuff that makes or breaks a sale, the all new Ford Focus EcoBoost range has enough bells and whistles to satisfy most pundits with a penchant for technology. Both Sport+ and Titanium+ variants are bequeathed with dual zone climate control AC systems while the pocket-friendlier Trend hatch settles for manual electronic controls. All three variants feature comprehensive steering wheel controls that govern often used controls such as trip computer, EcoMode, Message Center (Bluetooth telephony), audio controls etc); Sport+ and Titanium+ variants get leather wrapping and paddle shifters too.
The Sport+ and Titanium+ variants get further differentiated with leather upholstery (Titanium+ gets 4-way power seat adjustments) and unlike before, the Sport+ now comes with full leather seats as opposed to partial leather in the outgoing model, while a sportier 3-spoked steering wheel replaces the previous 4-spoked affair. The center dash is enhanced with a large 8” TFT Color screen SYNCᴛᴍ2 Sony system with 9 speakers, as well as a self-dimming rear view mirror, among other little nifty things to justify the substantial price tag difference over the Trend line (RM118,888 for the Trend, 139,888 for both Sport+ and Titanium+).
Further justification of the Sport+ and Titanium+ over the Trend variant include a center armrest with integrated cup holders, Color TFT meter cluster (Dot Matrix on the Trend), overhead sunglasses compartment, illuminated sun visors with vanity mirrors, door sill plates, ambient lighting and footwell lights; the list goes on. You can guess where this is going I suppose. For an extra 200-odd bucks a month in repayments, forget the Trend and just plonk your money down for either the Sport+ or Titanium+; you won’t regret it.
If the above para doesn’t convince you enough, consider the following safety features. All variants come standard with driver and passenger frontal airbags, ABS, ESP and HLA (Hill Launch Assist), but that is when they part ways, because the dearer variants come with side and curtain airbags, Keyless Entry and Start, front parking sensors, Park Assist (parallel, perpendicular and park out), Enhanced Active City Stop, BLIS (blind spot monitoring system) with Cross Traffic Alert and Cruise Control with speed limiter function.
How’s The Drive, Then?
Being one of the less roomy competitors in the C-segment, the Ford Focus EcoBoost makes up for it in the performance and handling departments in which it shines with ease. It may not handle as well as a VW (I used my own Golf 6 TSI as a benchmark), but the performance gap is very small. I will happily trade my car in for a Focus, if it hadn’t been for that slushbox, but more on that later. The chassis is well sorted out, and thanks to the 50-series tires the car absorbs bumps and imperfections rather well with little intrusion into the cabin. The Focus represents a fine example of a well-sorted out Continental passenger car, with good feedback and just enough tautness without the edginess of a typical compact Continental over our punishing and unforgiving tarmac.
The engine is very interesting indeed. Having had little to no prior experience with an EcoBoost engine, I wasn’t prepared for this at all. The little 1.5-liter 4-potter piddles around town with grace and is seldom heard, but once you take a stab at the throttle all hell breaks loose, transforming this usually docile heart into a flame-breathing dragonheart that takes no prisoners. Unlike other blown engines with small displacements, this gem of an engine sounds more like a V8 monster rather than your typical turbocharged mill, with an induction note seldom found in turbos which usually whistle rather than roar. The less adventurous ones may not like said induction roar, but I happen to like it very much; it exudes a kind of urgency to go with the thrill of the accompanying speed.
In spite of its potent powerplant, a lot has been lost in translation in the cogs. To put it bluntly, the GM/Ford derived 6F35 6-speed automatic with torque converter isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, which is good in the way it tiptoes around gearchanges to ensure a high level of seamlessness with no shift shocks to be felt, which is in sharp contrast with the full blown orchestra emanating from the engine bay. Upshifts felt a little slurry, while downshifts took more than a second to fully engage. For the sake of longevity I’d have to agree with this kids’ gloves approach to gearchanges, but the downside is you won’t get to rely on engine braking in a heartbeat.
Coming from my DSG-equipped daily driver, the SelectShift auto tranny in the Focus EcoBoost does seem a little out of touch, but it isn’t that bad to warrant a red flag. The engine climbs willingly with little hesitation, its raucous intake note filling the air and warning slower cars to step aside as you weave in and out with aplomb, thanks to that lovely, well-balanced chassis and responsive electric power steering. The seats are reassuring enough to not fatigue during long drives, but I would’ve liked a little bit more thigh support.
The Final Word
The new Ford Focus EcoBoost has a bit of something for many people, but it doesn’t particularly excel in any one field, preferring to play it safe by scoring high on most accounts. It has the looks, it has the Continental charm, it has a powerful engine, it has loads of electronic features and it has the handling to go with it. For C-segment shoppers, the new Focus should very well be on their shopping list; it may not be the best fit for many people due to a combination of factors, but what it does, it does quite well. And I daresay, the Focus should be used as one of the benchmarks for this segment as it really is quite a fun and solid car to drive.
Ford Focus Sport+
Ford Focus Titanium+
Text and images: Greg Yang