2011 Ford Focus Pre-NAIAS Review
By Thom Cannel
Forget every previous impression you have of a Ford Focus. Today Ford introduces its first truly global product, one that is nearly identical whether bought in China, Europe, or North America. It is a critical product, more so than the recently introduced Fiesta and vital to Ford’s profitability. If our opinion counts, it should be a very strong contender in the small car segment known internationally as “C-cars,” compact vehicles characterized by the VW Golf, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Dodge Caliber, or Kia Forte.
At its embargoed introduction held in greater Detroit in a former truck plant, the car convinced every attendee that it was a great looking car inside and out. In fact it was a toss-up whether the sedan or hatchback looked better and the hatch had the advantage of a red that rivaled sunset. Visually both cars appear chiseled and flame sculpted, a combination of crispness and blended lines that makes light move across its curves (designers call it flop) creating deep shadow and crisp highlights. In silver the sculpting is particularly apparent and cause for the four-door sedan to draw every eye back from the flame-red five-door hatchback.
Inside—we were permitted to look, not touch—surfaces look more Audi than Civic and disclose the European influences of those design studios. Seats are far more upscale in shape, fabric, and sculpting than you’d expect for a car that has to compete with Honda, and Toyota as well as Kia and Hyundai.
Focus is one of the first vehicles to offer “MyFord,” technology parsecs beyond SYNC. While SYNC continues, now with better voice recognition, MyFord improves a driver’s connection with his or hers vehicle. Based on two LCD screens, one in the instrument cluster and another in the center stack, drivers have a color-appropriate system of controls over audio, navigation, vehicle systems, and communications. Five-way controllers under each thumb on the steering wheel govern the system and its use. For instance the left thumb controls systems and the right controls volume or fan speed and other necessities. Thus you can push traditional buttons to change the volume, or chat with the voice system, touch a screen, or use steering wheel controls.
Powertrains in the US will utilize a 2.0-liter Direct Injected four-cylinder motor equipped with independently variable intake and exhaust cam timing. It promises 155 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque and is coupled to an all-new six-speed PowerShift automatic-manual gearbox. That is, it shifts automatically and transparently yet is completely gear driven with no hydraulics. This permits features like hill start assist which prevents rollback on a slope. Globally other engines including diesels are available.
Ford promises a driving experience closer that is fun but relaxed, whatever that means. Perhaps it means freeway driving, the American standard, will be relaxing while its capacity to drive with spirit remains intact. Ford says testing for Focus was done performed on European test tracks as well as inside a virtual world; plenty of processor cycles were devoted to computer aided calculations. Interestingly the company, who has amassed a database of testing parameters that can be measured, says some things remain in the hands and hindquarters of skilled test drivers.