Ford's Focus on US market

By Richard Bosselman on Sat, 5 Feb 2011 | Industry Press Releases | Ford Focus
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Ford USA has been involved in all aspects of the new Focus' design. Photo supplied

Spotted around Los Angeles the other day were billboards promoting a television comedy about a small-time crime family's attempts to go legit while its patriarch is away in prison.

I was surprised to see them.

Scoundrels, a Hollywood adaptation of our own Outrageous Fortune, failed to strike a chord with the US, so was canned.

A reminder, perhaps, that not everything we like can be automatically Americanised.

Will the new Focus translate any better, as the second product (after Fiesta) of the One Ford commitment to adopt common engine lines and platforms worldwide? By staging the car's international launch in California, Ford highlighted the need for it to appeal to America if it is to step up from being a European favourite to a global hit.

The launch venue also drew attention to the close involvement Ford USA has had in all aspects of the new Focus' design.

The car hasn't gone completely cowboy, at least not in five-door format, where there are obvious styling cues to the Fiesta.

The interior also stays Euro in character, but with a clear lift in material quality, equipment and design.

There's also a welcome improvement to the driving position for taller folk, thanks to steering adjusts for reach and rake, and the seat adjusts much lower than before.

Internationally, there will be five petrol and four diesel engines - in 1.6- and 2.0-litre formats - but the US drive involved only the most powerful petrol, a direct injection 2.0-litre four, generating 119kW and 197Nm.

It is impressively smooth and quiet in marriage with the new PowerShift automated dual-clutch manual transmission.

PowerShift works better in this application than it does in the Fiesta, because it is married to a larger-capacity engine generating a whole lot more torque.

This means the box doesn't hunt between gears anywhere near as desperately.

But it still has foibles.

The system has been tuned to operate almost too aggressively in engine-braking mode and - as in the Fiesta - there are no paddle shifts to allow full manual engagement.

Prolonged exposure to LA's start-stop traffic flow also challenged its refinement, with some in-neutral vibration apparent after a while.

The flagship Titanium edition I took for the day packs a huge amount of technology and it's a pity the primary attractions of Synch interactive audio and sat-nav will not be available for the first year of sale here.

Even so, Bluetooth will feature from day one and the flagship might include a US-tuned self-parking feature as well as the standard reversing camera.

A wider footprint and stronger body bode well for the dynamics, yet the Focus is a different car now.

The chassis is better balanced, yes, but for better or worse, it feels more grown-up.

Some feel seems to have been removed from the steering and the suspension tune, while still taut, also is less edgy.

Technology is a key factor here, too.

In addition to adopting an updated stability control, the Focus gets electric power steering and torque vectoring.

Working in tandem with the ESP, the former is more efficient than a regular hydraulic set-up and helps to save fuel, while the latter subtly brakes the driven wheels to mimic a limited-slip differential.

And the price? Sorry, that just wasn't up for discussion with the Ford NZ representative.

Keep an eye for an announcement closer to the car's local August launch date.