More than just a

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‘Focus’, sounds a tad too cliche for a car ain’t it? Well in all honesty, I do actually find it a very fitting adversary for Ford’s latest and improved Focus. To know more, Keegan Dorai takes both the hatch and saloon out for a spin to see what’s in store.

by KEEGAN DORAI

he Ford Focus - hmm - where shall we start? Is it all in the name? I don't think so. If we’re serious about getting down to business, the Focus has, and always will be, one of the best mid-size (or C-segment) entree that has put Ford pretty much on the map globally. Yes, we all do know that the Blue Oval has made a number of legendary cars that results in winning lots, and I mean, lots of awards since incarnation.

Cars such as the Mondeo, Sierra and the Model T are no stranger in this chapter too. But if sales figures are taken into consideration alone – the Focus is pretty much the sole triumph over here – and this is why we are talking about it. At first sight, there is pretty much nothing unmistakable about its distinctive design that is coupled alongside with a set of great packaging throughout, which seems to make you wonder; ‘why the heck did I choose this box of prosaicness over this?’

Yes, the Focus is undoubtably a great car. A perfect, C-sized segment premier that simply shines in vital areas. Though its presence is relatively low over here in this heat-infested sweatbox part of the world, you’d be surprised to know that your next rental car could be a Ford Focus anywhere in the Western hemisphere. Trust me, book your next Eurotrip and you’d be in for a treat while traversing around in one.

Nonetheless, lets get back to square one and wonder why did its predecessor didn’t fared well over here in comparison to the current car? To answer that – this is where Ford’s ambitious ‘One Global Ford’ plan comes in to play.

In overcoming rising inflation and skyrocketing costs of building a single-spec variant for each respective markets, Ford has ensured that all models beginning from 2012 will adopt this new philosophy in order to broaden its appeal throughout the globe. So yes, the days of yearning for a US-spec only Ford is now no longer applicable anymore.

In theory – this is the first – and globalised Focus you can get on the market today. It is no way different from its American counterpart, which only the latter holds a steering wheel on the left side in the cabin. As tested over here, these pair of Focus’ are built, shipped, and delivered right off the cargo boat that originates from Ford’s Rayong plant in Thailand. Interestingly, all Thai-built Focuses that we get over here are also exported throughout the far ranges of Australia, New Zealand and Micronesia as well.

By carrying some fabled traits of the old with an added twist of present-day refinement, Ford has given a dose of changes throughout. At the forefront, the Focus now uses a pair slimmer headlamps, elongated foglights, and the latest ‘Ford face’ that gives it an ‘Astonesque’ look – whereas at the back – changes are only noticeable with the use of smaller taillights and a restyled bumper that houses a pair of larger rear foglamps.

It clearly looks more mature now, though - but in all respect, we’d still opt for the original, Kinetic-based design of the old. Moving on beneath, the boffins at Ford has given the Focus a retuned chassis setup as well, which includes additional stiffness in the frontal structure, a new arc welding technique and bigger brackets within the engine compartment. Suspension tunings are also revamped with adjusted geometries, stiffer bushings and dampers to exude a more pliant ride quality.

First things first, the Focus rides unbelievably superb while on the go. The suspension is a revelation that simply offers you the best of both worlds. Why best of two? One; it glides along any rough patches in sweet grace, and two; it handles impressively well while doing the tango. To put it in an elementary manner, this is essentially the best handling C-segment car made available on sale today for your money.

And yes, I am not being tendentious by asserting that claim. Pit it against any similarly-priced rivals in the chapter of dynamics, the Focus is, and will always be the ultimate driver’s choice of delight. Steering response is quick, and with lots of grip ready at your disposal – there is virtually nothing much for you to worry about in keeping up with that faster and more expensive hot-hatch you’re chasing up the hills. Not exactly in the name of power, but handling prowess it is.

‘As tested over here, this pair of Focus’ are built, shipped, and delivered right off the cargo boat that originates from Ford’s Rayong plant in Thailand’

If familiarity is calculated in, it is instantly noticeable that this facelifted variant bears a more lighter steering feel and response in comparison to the older model – and it balances out well in both town speeds or highway driving. Navigating it around tight spaces, however, hasn’t been much easier with the reworked turning radius.

Body control is well above good as well in this case, and being coupled with a set of succulent dampers, it absorbs any intruding thuds with ease over pothole-ridden roads in Klang. Pitch and rebound rate is quick as well, resulting in a healthy turn in at the apex with minimal understeer. Overall, the Focus steers along with plenty of ease, let alone fast or slow without leaving you feeling lifeless as an unproductive day.

Moving on upfront, all current Focus’s are powered with an improved 1.5-litre Ecoboost motor, which puts out a warm-hatch, 180bhp-power rating that is combined with a 240Nm torque reading – giving it an extra 10bhp and 38Nm more than the former. But why only an improved engine? Well technically, the ‘new’ 1.5-litre is, essentially a downsized alternative of the old 1.6-litre block that now opts for more efficient components inside.

Like the all-new Mondeo – and in favour for better longevity and refinement – Ford has jettisoned the swift-shifting Powershift dual-clutch in order for a conventional six-speed torque-converting Selectshift automatic. Besides its 180bhp power figure, the Focus does feel more engaging than its pre-facelifted predecessor when it comes to pure throttle response and feel. Besides that, the smooth-shifting automatic transmission is now more aligned towards fuel economy than spirited driving.

Progress is subdued in a good way, however, and I am not saying that the Focus is performing below par at this very topic. If you’re looking at a broader perspective, it looks like maturity has taken a toll in a more positive manner for those prospects preferring a comfier, unhurried ride back home after a long day’s work.

‘To us, this is essentially the best handling C-segment car available on sale today for your money’

Even so, the Focus is ready to perform at times when it’s needed the most – just push the gear selector into Sport mode, toggle the paddle shifters, and watch the motion of speed blurs up in an instant. And oh, let’s not forget that it also produces 30bhp more than a bog-standard Volkswagen Golf TSi.

Refinement on the inside is impressive as well. Even at high speeds, the Focus remains as one of the most refined entree’s around in the segment, all thanks to the use of thicker carpets and added insulations all around. All that aside, the Focus also gets Ford’s latest SYNC 2 operating system, which comes with a new 8-inch touchscreen that replaces the antiquated and minuscule-looking, monotone interface.

Admittedly, the Focus is one of the best places to be in while on the go. Being a bloke that lives in the far edges of Klang, and having the Federal Highway right out my doorstep as my only passage to meet my colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, I am pleased to say it musters out an airy ambience throughout my gruelling drive up and down. Could it just be its beige interior in the saloon? Nope, I don't think so – cause the full-black upholstered interior of the hatch does feel snug in a very good way.

It is obvious that the dash’s fascia is much neater than before. Gone are the old, patchy-looking dials and buttons that once adorned the old centre stack that is now replaced with a neater layout of controls. The air-conditioning controls have been modernised – and unlike before – is easier to operate without batting an eyelid away while being at the wheel. Still, you can leave all of that behind, and operate the climate control with the improved voice-control function now!

With this new regeneration, occupants in the front can expect better ergonomics within the refreshed cabin area. Typical of all Fords, the Focus offers a good set of supportive front seats, which is paired with a decent driving position that offers you lots of room to adjust about. There is a new steering wheel now at helm, and practicality is boosted up with more cubbies and storage spaces for your everyday clutter in between both the front seats.

New 1.5-litre motor puts out a warm-hatch 180bhp power figure
Titanium models are entitled for some sportier touches on the outside

At the cargo quarter, owners can load up to 316-litres worth of payload for the hatch, and 421-litres for the saloon – which isn’t really class leading in this part as the Volkswagen Golf offers 64-litres more, and trailing the Jetta’s whopping 510-litre boot area. Be that as it may, you can still fold both the hatch and saloon’s rear 60:40 seats flat in order to accommodate heavier or longer stuffs when needed to.

Kit count in this newer line of Focus’ are generous – and it is easily one of the best in class, too. Toys such as a revamped Active Park Assist, which now comes with a new Perpendicular Park function, Cross Traffic Alert and Blind-spot monitors are standard across both Sport+ and Titanium+ variants. Besides that, the updated Active City Safety now works up to 50km/h, as opposed to the old 30km/h module found in the pre-facelifted example.

Wishing that Ford has make do with a proper paddle shifters over the venerable rocker switch? You’ve got your wishes answered in this pretty simple, but rather iffy part of the car as well – although you’d still need to live with one in the Trend model.
By summarising this, the Focus is, and will still be one of the most solid C-segment choice that you can drive off the showroom floor today. In this case, Daniel might have lots of love for the Civic as he pilots it up and through the weaving roads of Cameron Highlands, but there is nothing else more sincerer than my love for the Focus’s balanced and relaxing nature, which keeps me company throughout a hectic midweek drive around the Klang Valley.

It is a revelation that still embraces its proud enthusiastic manners that is succulently paired with the usual family-friendly values in a polished package – despite losing out a little at the dynamism clause it once excelled in. But now, I would say that the Focus is a more better proposition for those who is on a Euro C-segment hatch or saloon lookout. It’s an impressive piece of daily-usable, all-rounder kit that leaves me mesmerised about its really superb ride and suspension setup.

Ford Focus Trend and Titanium+

Engine: Inline-4, 1500cc, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 180PS at 6000rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1600-5000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front-wheel drive, traction control
Weight: 1270-1471kg
Power-to-weight: 122PS/tonne
Price: RM118,888-139,888