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Quick Drive: 2007 Ford Focus

Review by Feann Torr - 5/July/2007

2007 Ford Focus

When you think of the Ford brand, what springs to mind? It's probably something unsavory if you're a die-hard Holden fan, but for most Australian drivers I'd wager it'd be large cars - perhaps a Falcon, or Territory that first enters your thoughts. Or possibly even a Mustang if you're into muscle cars. 

In the next few months Ford will be trying very hard to move beyond the large car association many people equate it with; it wants people to think of small cars too, which are now make up a crucial part of its new car range.

Vehicles like the boisterous XR4 Fiesta and the superb Focus XR5 Turbo are helping to attract attention to its small car offerings, which will be further bolstered by a convertible version of the Focus, expected to arrive later in the year.

In an attempt to move the spotlight away from its larger cars (at least until the new Falcon arrives in the second quarter of 2008), Ford has just launched an updated range of its popular Focus models, which herald a subtle new look, improved safety features, an enticing new diesel model, and a competitive new pricing campaign.

Speaking to Ford's sales representatives, it's clear that the company is very serious with this small car sales push. In recent times, cars like the Mazda3 and the Toyota Corolla have been the top dogs, but are now being aggressively targetted by the new pricing campaign which includes half-price safety packages until the end of September 2007, and offers the Focus at under 20-large for the first time.

The addition of a diesel model to the range is also a boon, and while Ford predicts the new TDCi turbo diesel will account for around 10% of Focus sales in the coming months, we reckon that's a conservative figure. Having driven the new diesel car we can report that it will be one of the class leaders when it goes on sale later this month, particularly in terms of fuel economy.The old saying about cars running on the smell of an oily rag almost rings true with this eco-friendly four-wheeler.

It's taking on the current small diesel cars such as the Volkswagen Golf TDI, Peugeot 307 HDi and Holden Astra CDTi and - crucially - has a lower price point than its rivals. But don't think that this means you get less bang for your buck.

The diesel Focus represents a milestone for Ford as well, being its first diesel passenger car, which shows a growing acceptance for diesel at the company. And if things go well - who knows? We could be writing about a diesel-powered Territory on these very pages...

Make: Ford
Model: Focus
Price: $19,990 - $29,490
Transmissions: 4-speed auto, 6-speed manual, 5-speed manual
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol, 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Seats: 5
Car Supplier: Ford Australia


2007 Ford Focus

2007 Ford Focus

2007 Ford Focus

2007 Ford Focus Range

Ford has a comprehensive small car fleet in Australia, but is most often recognised as a large car brand. Two ways in which the company hopes to redress this perception is by offering more traffic-stopping halo models, such as the Fiesta XR4, Focus XR5 Turbo, and Focus Convertible, and revised pricing. Here's how the new look Focus range stacks up in terms of pricing:

Focus CL -     $19,990
Focus LX -     $23,990
Focus TDCi -  $27,990
Focus Zetec - $26,490
Focus Ghia -  $29,490

2007 Ford Focus

We tested a number of models during the new Focus launch, including the 2.0-litre petrol sedan and hatch models in various levels of trim, and of course the brand-new 2.0-litre turbo diesel model. Which is very nice to drive, I might add.

Every model in the revised Focus range gets subtle new features, including a more sophisticated front apron design. On top of new-look alloy wheels and integrated mirror indicators, the front end redesign gives the cars a slightly sleeker and more modern appearance, and the diesel model looks particularly imposing with its large air-to-air intercooler visible behind the lower air dam.

On top of the new front end, all models now get dual front airbags and ABS, including the entry level CL model that is now priced from $19,990, undercutting the new base level Corolla by a thousand bucks. And with that the price war begins in earnest...

Under the skin, only the diesel model benefits from any real changes, but this shouldn't be considered a bad thing as the Focus chassis is one of the best in the business.

On the road the 2.0-litre petrol models were able to keep up with the powerful new diesel models for the most part, outputting 107kW and 185Nm. The 5-speed manual gearbox in the Focus Zetec model ($26,490) offers short throws and precise shifts, and the 2.0-litre engine is still one of the best in class. It's just a shame cruise control isn't standard on the entry-level $19,990 CL model, but all other models feature steering wheel-mounted speed regulation controls.

The chassis feels composed and confident in most situations, whether trundling through sleeping towns at 50km/h or sprinting down mountain passes at 100km/h. We did notice some tyre noise though it was more than likely the rough surfaces of the Queensland hills beyond the Gold Coast. 

While fairly compliant on poor quality B-roads, the Focus nevertheless manages to entertain on smooth sweeping corners and tight hairpins, exhibiting relatively low levels of body roll which allows you set your line and lay down the power through the bends without too much understeer ruining the fun.

The steering feels planted and has a bit of weight to it, and the overall ride and handling of these cars is quite pleasant. There's a progressive feel to the way the cars drive, and the German engineering is apparent. In particular I thought the rear suspension was very good; it never felt like it was being dragged around corners and simply propping up the boot, but collectively felt like part of the chassis and contributed to the way the car handled and tipped into corners.

Coupled to the 4-speed automatic, complete with a trendy tiptronic mode, the 2.0-litre petrol engine struggled up some of the steep hills we came across and wasn't overly eager to kick down a gear at such times which made it feet lethargic. Itneeded to be revved much harder than the manual diesel and petrol models, but in general it worked well enough and did a fuss-free job of getting things moving. 

When we returned from the hills and reached the traffic of the city however, the 4-speed automatic in the Ford Focus proved to be much better combination, and more adept at managing the stop-startdriving rhythm.

The petrol-powered 4-cylinder Ford Focus has only one real rival and that's the Volkswagen Golf 2.0-litre FSI, which ekes out slightly more power, but costs more and is nearing the end of its life. 

Compared to its closest rivals, such as the Toyota Corolla, Holden Astra, and Mazda3, the new petrol-powered Focus models don't have much to worry about. The Mazda3 is the only model that makes more power - by just 1kW - but with its new price point the Focus remains the best value.

Yet even with a competitive petrol range, it's the new diesel model that impresses most, with its relatively quiet operation, effortless application, solid features list, and eye-opening fuel economy.

And it's fast! Though the Zetec model has slightly firmer suspension and larger 17-inch alloy wheels, the new TDCi diesel Focus ($27,990) has a lustrous torque surge that not only makes the car quick, but remarkably relaxed to drive. You rarely have to pin the throttle for long periods of time and the gearbox and clutch are well paired.

Though no automatic version of the new diesel Focus is offered, it won't pose a huge problem (unless you have an automatic-only drivers license...). This is because the car's huge 320Nm of torque is available so low in the rev range (2000rpm) that you can pretty much leave the car in third gear at almost any speed once you're off and moving. Just tickle the throttle, and away she goes.

Compared to its diesel rivals, the Focus stacks up well. The 6-speed gearbox is similar to the item found in the XR5 Turbo, with short throws and a precise feel. I found myself constantly changing through the gears not because it was needed, but because it simply felt good to do so.

Because the Focus TDCi has a heavier engine block made of cast iron, the suspension is tuned slightly differently from other models, but retains the small cars, ahem, focus on dynamics. Like the petrol models it tips into corners nicely and can hold a good line through a bend. 

Standard features on the fleet-footed $28k diesel-powered Focus include 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lights which add some extra visual appeal, plus four airbags, traction control, ABS, and air conditioning.

The engine outputs 100kW @ 4000rpm and 320Nm @ 2000rpm, which is on par with the current class leaders. The engine also has a nifty 'overboost' feature that often kicks in with downshifts, such as when you drop a few gears to overtake a truck. Simply put, the turbocharger huffs a bit harder and torque is momentarily boosted to 340Nm, giving you a bit more acceleration when you need it.

The diesel powered Focus is quick, there's no denying that. Where most petrol powered small cars need to drop gears to achieve crisp acceleration, you can just ride the torque wave thanks to the turbocharged diesel engine. And because it sits on the tried-and-tested Focus chassis the diesel car has very good driving dynamics. Like the other Focus models, the newcomer loves corners yet because of the extra torque burst the turbo provides, this diesel powered model can power out of corners much more swiftly.

If you're mental image of diesel vehicles are those of slow and dreary, loud and smokey cars, you're living in the past. Simply put, these things are sensational.

Even from low in the rev range the engine delivers a strong surge of power, yet never has the frenetic feel of the petrol engines. With good throttle response thanks to a variable nozzle turbo (or VNT for the tech savvy), the engine is very user friendly thanks to its abundance of power, though it does get a little loud if you rev it past 3000rpm. In retrospect however, there's really no need to; short shift at around 2000rpm and the row the gears through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and before long you're at cruising speed.

While the extra performance this 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel engine gives the Focus is more than welcome and, as we discovered highly entertaining, it's heavier price is most convincingly counter balanced with its wallet-friendly fuel consumption. When Ford insisted the new diesel powered Focus could cover almost 950 kilometres on one tank of fuel (which is the same size as the 55 litre tank used in the petrol version) we baulked, but after thrashing the diesel car through the scenic hinterlands of North Eastern Australia, it became evident that these diesels are incredibly flexible motors.

The claimed fuel consumption figure, which is an average spanning city and highway driving, is 5.6 litres per 100km and we actually recorded those exact numbers after some brisk driving involving only a short stretch of highway and mostly winding roads. This suggests that it would not be hard to lower that figure to around 5L/100km if you drove the Focus TDCi thoughtfully.

In contrast, the petrol powered Ford Focus models, which also have 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engines, have an average fuel consumption figure of 7.1L/100km, and witnessed real world figures of around 8.0+ litres per 100 kilometres in the 4-speed automatic versions. That's quite a difference.

The diesel model features a monotone charcoal black interior scheme and though it's hardly exciting, it does have a fairly ergonomic layout. The dash plastics in all Focus models are good, with a soft rubbery finish that doesn't glisten like hard plastics, and the Ghia models ($29,490) with their light leather upholstery were the pick of the bunch in terms of comfort - though leather is now an option on the sporty Zetec models too.

Ford has also added a few new models to the range, including a sedan version of the Zetec variant ($26,490) and a hatchback version of the luxury Ghia model ($29,490). All of the new Ford Focus models can be optioned with safety packs, which add curtain airbags to all variants and stability control to the budget models, and as mentioned Ford hopes to increase the appeal of these upgrade packs by offering them at half price for a few months.

Conclusion

The Ford Focus is a very competent small car that ticks all the right boxes. It's got lashings of style, is well priced, it drives well and has plenty of interior space - the sedan model has more boot space than the Commodore even! The lack of an automatic diesel option may hinder interest in the new variant somewhat, and DSC is an option on all models except the range-topping Zetec and Ghia. Even so, the new Focus makes for a compelling small car proposition.

If you are thinking about buying a small car it's worth taking a test drive in a diesel model too. They're frugal, they're spit out less carbon emissions than similar sized petrol engines, plus they're seriously powerful. And this new Focus TDCi is shaping up to be one of the best on the market.

No longer content to be bridesmaid to Toyota, Ford is employing a new strategy to try and wrest the small car crown from the Japanese brand. Though it has a long road ahead to achieve this feat, the reduced prices, upgraded styling, improved specifications, and the addition of the sensational diesel option show prescience. But whether or not it will be enough to change the public perception that Ford is a large car company remains to be seen.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Ride & Handling
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Competitive Pricing
  • New Diesel Option
  • Manual-only Diesel
  • DSC Optional Extra On Most Models
  • Tough Competition

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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