King Of The Crop | Ford Focus Hatch 1.0 EcoBoost

BY Azfar Hashim

Ford returns, now with a new force-fed powerplant that should put a smile on budget-conscious buyers — but can it steal the limelight from the Golf?

Photos by Azfar Hashim

The family hatchback market has always been a highly European-dominated one. Just look at the current list: Citroen C4, Opel Astra, Peugeot 308, Renault Megane and Volkswagen Golf. The only Japanese still standing strong in this group here is the Mazda 3 – this has been giving the Europeans a very hard time here.

In the bigger scheme of things though, all of them do the same thing. They have five doors, cabin space for up to five, good amount of boot space and, last but not least, sportier driving experience compared to their sedan equivalents.

Recently - and quietly too - a nameplate that was once a local favourite has returned: The Ford Focus.

And mind you, this time around it has returned fully prepared to leave the rest of the competitions in its dust, because from initial impression, it’s bloody darn good. The center of attention here is the all-new turbocharged 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder EcoBoost powerplant nested right under the bonnet. Ok, so it’s not that new considering the Fiesta arrived first with the said engine almost two years ago…

That aside, you might find it daringly mind-blowing for Ford to put that little engine in the Focus — keeping in mind how underpowered the previous naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre unit was. Which was the main reason why potential buyers back then looking at the Focus hatch and sedan turned towards Volkswagen’s direction and went for the Golf/Jetta instead.

But my word the ‘little’ engine, paired to a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, works really well here. Instead of struggling for power, what you get instead is a non-lethargic and linear delivery as you give the accelerator pedal a progressive pressure — not a surprise when you look at the spec sheet, which shows 123 bhp and 170 Nm of torque. For comparison’s sake, the 1.2-litre Golf TSI offers 104 bhp and 175 Nm, the equally 1.2-litre 308 Allure 129 bhp and 230 Nm while the hot-selling 1.5-litre Mazda 3 hatchback, some 118 bhp and 150 Nm.

Even if you were to put pedal to the metal, the Focus leaps ahead like an eager puppy; at the same time, the gearbox shifts up smoothly, matching the powerband in a spot-on manner. Through this, it shows how capable Ford is at delivering enough grunts for this 1.3-tonne family hatchback.

To keep up with the current trend, auto start/stop comes standard - an intrusive item you really do not need

To keep up with the current trend, auto start/stop comes standard - an intrusive item you really do not need

It still has its limitations though. Past 5,000 rpm, you’ll notice how rather lifeless - flat even - this 3-cylinder engine is; to make it easier for you to digest, it goes wow-wiee-woah from about 1,200 to 3,000 rpm, yay-go-more beyond 3,000 rpm then suddenly past 5,000 rpm, everything tapers off and it felt like a premature… ermmm… ending.

Driven in a calmer manner, everything is fine and dandy; think of it as the car your parents would love to be in. Between 90 to 100 km/h along our regulated expressways, the engine is highly refined with very minimal noise intrusions. Better still, wind noise is barely present at those regular speeds; Ford has definitely done well in this department, choosing to provide high emphasis on cabin comfort — the Japanese could learn a thing or two here.

Since we’re at the topic of cabin, the Focus measures in at 4,360 mm long, 2,010 mm wide and 2,648 mm tall. Next to its peers namely the Golf, 308 and 3, the Focus is the second longest (after the 3), the widest and the tallest; in terms of wheelbase, it again comes behind the 3 (Focus: 2,648 mm, 3: 2,700 mm). I’m sorry if those digits seem too much for you to absorb, but in a nutshell what it means is the Focus provides good amount of head, leg and shoulder room for two adult passengers at the back. That said the rear bench is brilliantly sculpted ensuring additional comfort for longer drives up North.

The previous Focus’s cockpit was one of the messiest places to be in with too many buttons located on the centre console — heck, you need a GPS itself just to find the radio controller. Then, there’s that steering wheel that felt more like a donut than a device you would use to change directions. Now, Ford has made it more minimalist: None of that Vertu-inspired shenanigan, with every buttons clearly labelled, even feeling solid to the touch (Ford’s multimedia Sync system comes standard here as well). To end it all, the steering wheel is perfectly sculpted and sized too. However, one teenie issue still persisted: You can’t seem to get the air-con vent to blow at the direction you really want.

Well, I’m saving the best bit of the Focus for last. Without a doubt, it retains the 'Best Handling' title in the family hatchback category, delivering brilliant steering weight and response, a chassis that’s tight and lastly, anchors that respond very quickly when push comes to shove.

You can be playful with this car when you’re all alone behind the wheel. Enter tight corners enthusiastically and it allows the rear to kick out before the traction control correct things. Switch off the nanny and you could execute a Scandinavian flick, leaving you with a wide smile. In fact each time you decide to enter turns with speed, the Focus pivots the entire car instead. Good play, Ford.

And so here you have it, a family hatch that can behave like a good boy one moment, and a bad boy the next without much hesitation. The practicality it packs will definitely be one of its strong suit, along with the satisfying power delivery which is so, so genre-busting for our tax-unfriendly environment. This Ford Focus hatch should scare the Golf, 308 and 3 now, and it’s not even anywhere near Halloween yet.

If there’s one thing that would drive buyers away, however, is the asking price. At $110k with COE, both the Golf ($105k) and 3 Hatchback ($106k) would still be the ones that rakes in the attention…

The rear hatch that opens high ensure getting items in and out of the boot is a hassle-free affair

The rear hatch that opens high ensure getting items in and out of the boot is a hassle-free affair