First drive: 2019 Ford Focus in France
Ford’s Focus is a big seller in Europe, but it’s an underrated entity in our UAE market. Despite its tidy looks and arguably class-leading driving dynamics, the C-segment hatchback – and sedan – has been forced to take a back seat (in sales terms) to the likes of the Japanese and the Koreans in the GCC.
The revamped fourth-generation Focus – due on sale here in the fourth quarter – might not reverse this sales deficit, but the newbie does manage to build on the strengths of its predecessor, serving up even crisper driving dynamics, more rear-seat space, improved crash safety and a broader arsenal of tech features and mod-cons.
As is the case now, the new German-built Focus will be available in Ambiente, Trend, Titanium and ST-Line trims across both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback formats. A replacement for the ST hot-hatch will also follow in due course, although Ford Middle East isn’t for now commenting on timing. Pricing and exact spec levels for the 2019 Focus range will also be announced closer to the launch date.
Although similar in dimensions to the outgoing model, the latest Focus is underpinned by an all-new platform with proportions that have shifted the mass for a more cab-rearward stance. In other words, the bonnet is longer and the rump is shorter. The new car is more torsionally rigid than before, which benefits both crash protection and its ride/handling dynamics.
The other big news is the adoption of three-cylinder 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbo engines across the model range (excluding the ST, which will come later). The three-cylinder motor (yes, just three pots) comes in two variants, as the Ambiente and Trend trim levels are equipped with a 150 hp version while the upmarket Titanium and ST-Line models score a pumped-up 182 hp unit.
In case you thought three cylinders sounds like one too few, we should point out the new EcoBoost motor also has a fuel-saving feature that deactivates one cylinder at light throttle loads and when coasting, thereby turning it into a two-cylinder engine. But, to be fair, we couldn’t detect this transition throughout our preliminary drive across highways and winding mountain roads in the south of France. It’s seamless.
We initially sampled a five-door ST-Line with the 182 hp motor and six-speed manual gearbox (cars destined for our market will be offered only with the new eight-speed auto, but all petrol cars at the launch were equipped with the manual). On paper, outputs of 182 hp and 240 Nm sound distinctly punchy, but the motor does its best work in the upper half of the rev range as there isn’t a surfeit of grunt down low. So, you need to keep it on the boil to extract meaningful performance.
The three-cylinder engine has a distinctive beat and chief powertrain engineer Thomas Wagner says it was a challenge to infuse this motor with the same smoothness as the four-cylinder engines that are the norm in the C-segment in which the Focus competes. Wagner and his team have succeeded on this front as the 1.5 EcoBoost is a decently quiet and refined powertrain.
The six-speed manual gearbox (although irrelevant in our market) is a slick unit that’s a delight to use. We later sampled the brand-new eight-speed auto in a diesel Focus (they were the only cars at the launch event with the automatic) and can confirm it’s a brilliantly smooth and responsive unit. This transmission alone will give the 2019 Focus a handy edge over its rivals, which come at best with six-speed autos (except the VW Golf, which has a seven-speeder).
The new Focus also scores highly for its on-road dynamics. Ride quality is acceptably compliant (although it can get a bit sharp when the car is optioned with larger rims), but it leaps ahead of the field in terms of its feedback-rich electrically assisted steering and crisp, grippy handling. It’s a joy to pedal, which is more than can be said for most of its competitors, with the arguable exception of the VW Golf and Mazda3.
The cabin has some nice design elements and the new dashboard has more visual lightness about it. That said, there is far more hard plastic trim than one would have liked to see in a hatchback that’s priced in the upper regions of its segment (which is one reason why it never took off in the GCC). On the plus side, the storage pockets and bins scattered throughout the cabin are rubber-lined, so items you stash in there don’t rattle around annoyingly.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive (in both ST-Line and the Titanium we sampled later) and the increase in rear-seat legroom is also noticeable. Only the tallest passengers will have reason to complain in the back.
The eight-inch touchscreen’s operating system is Ford’s Sync 3, which has become more intuitive and easy to use in recent years. It’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the options menu includes an inductive charging pad. Also on the menu is a premium B&O sound system.
In Europe, the Focus can also be equipped with an onboard modem. That allows better search and traffic for the built-in navigation, plus it makes the car a wifi hotspot. And it lets you do things from your phone remotely – check fuel, lock the car, or even find it if you forgot where you parked it.
As mentioned earlier, spec levels for GCC cars will be announced closer to launch, but Euro-spec vehicles are offered with features that include a heads-up display, pre-collision assist, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control that maintains a steady distance to the car in front at speeds of up to 200 kph. There’s also self-parking capability, plus camera-based lane centring that keeps the car in the middle of the lane.
Styling is always a subjective area, but to our eyes the new Focus has pleasing proportions and crisp detailing. There’s even a hint of Aston Martin about its thrusting grille and swept-back headlights. We’d argue it’s one of the best lookers in its class, but you can make up your own mind.
All in all, the 2019 Focus is a very capable offering that deserves to do well in our market. It’s a practical, stylish, fun-to-drive package that ticks the requisite boxes for a car in this segment. The only slight let-down is the excess of hard plastic in the cabin, but that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise polished and well-engineered vehicle.
Photos by Ford.