Ford Focus EcoBoost S+ | Hocus Focus

BY Azfar Hashim

This is the perfect Focus in the entire range and poses a threat to all its competitors - but why is it not doing as well as it deserve?

Photos by Azfar Hashim

By default, well at least for the past five years, the ‘icon’ representing the family hatchback segment has been the Volkswagen Golf. The reason being simply because there’s no Japanese representative; and on top of that, a Volkswagen has always been regarded as a premium product, hence it is a natural aspiration for most drivers who want to experience German quality and engineering.

In Malaysia, following the Golf is the 308. It has everything the Volkswagen offers, but with a French badge adorning the front and rear instead; and with a price tag that’s significantly cheaper, the 308 also presented a strong case for itself.

Then there’s also the Focus hatchback. Like it’s other two nearest rivals, the Focus offers similar practicality, respectable ride and handling, and last but not least, reliability. The fact that the Ford brand has always been a staple for most Malaysian households, the Focus seals the deal for a healthy number of families as well.

Let us also not forget Proton’s Suprima S. Priced even lower and also offering whatever the typical family hatchback offers, the national brand unexpectedly overtook the Focus in that particular segment. The fact that the Suprima S has respectable power delivery all thanks to its force-fed powerplant — which is in contrast to the 2.0-litre Focus’s naturally-aspirated unit — drew even more interest, which eventually led to sales in favour of Proton.

Ford obviously hasn’t been sitting quietly watching the world go by — hence this Focus with a 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost powerplant.

We’ve previously sampled the 3-cylinder, 1.0-litre EcoBoost powered Focus (for the Singapore market) and even with the smallest engine for the Focus line-up, it impressed us with its acceptable overall performance and class-leading handling. So to see an even powerful engine matched to this brilliant chassis of Ford is something that needed to be experienced by us.

And oh boy how lovely this engine is. Under the hood lies a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder, 16-valve engine. Matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission, it produces a total of 177 bhp and 240 Nm of torque. With all that torque kicking in from as low as 1,600 rpm, you should know that maximum power is conveniently available from low engine speeds — hence explaining why it takes only 8.6 seconds to accelerate from standstill to 100 km/h. Compare those numbers above to the rest of the competition like the Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308 THP and Mazda 3 2.0 and it is easy to notice that the Focus - although not the fastest off the mark - is the most powerful in the class.

Should you find yourself bumbling along and then rapidly needing power, the engine offers responsiveness to suit. And when 4,000 rpm is approaching on the rev counter, say, just as the Muatan Panjang lorry you are overtaking proves longer than you might have expected, there’s a further kick of acceleration available up to 6,000rpm. The EcoBoost (EcoBoost refers to Ford’s range of turbocharged engines) unit’s eager grunts are quite memorable, and they don’t really intrude into the cabin when stretched hard.

As it is, the Ford Focus is already one of the better driver’s cars in its class for accurate steering and taut handling - this latest rendition is clearly out to maintain that reputation. On the highway, the Focus drives smoothly and quietly. Its pliant and capable suspension is further showcased when driven with speed over uneven roads; the cabin is well insulated from any road noise, squeaks and rattles were hardly noticed and best of all, the ride comfort was not badly affected.

Well appointed cockpit one of the Focus's selling points

Well appointed cockpit one of the Focus's selling points

Enthusiastic drivers will be rewarded too. Corners taken hard and fast do not seem to shake the Focus. In fact, you can still push it hard, ease off the accelerator when u sense understeer setting in, correct your steering and next you know, you’re back in line — all this possible thanks to the well sorted suspension set-up, and the alert Electronic Stability Program (ESP). Even the body-roll doesn’t set in rudely. Safe to say, the Focus is presently the best front-wheel driven car, this side of the competition.

Equipment wise, you would be able to notice little details, like the nicely sized door handle, side signal repeaters on the wing mirrors, two exhaust pipes and, to top it off, fancy multi-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 215/50 R-18 Michelin Primacy LC rubbers.

If you're not confident of your parking skill, press this button and it does the dirty job for you - all you do is modulate the brake pedal

If you're not confident of your parking skill, press this button and it does the dirty job for you - all you do is modulate the brake pedal

The interior has an upmarket feel to it, uncannily like a Volvo’s. So yes, it is impressively solid and ergonomically focused on the driver; in fact, it has been a very long time since I felt that Ford has gotten a perfectly designed dashboard like this one. Every control button feels solid and tactile, and should be able to last a long time…

An 8-inch Sony TFT touchscreen multimedia head-unit is factory fitted, and the steering wheel - which could be a little smaller for Asian drivers — also comes with controls for the audio system, Bluetooth and cruise control. Also worth mentioning here is how the multimedia system features voice control — you can use this to switch radio channels or even make phone calls. Very thoughtful indeed, considering how you have everything at the tip of your fingers.

Oh, and lets also not forget the steering mounted paddle-shifters that comes in very useful while attacking some b-roads. Certainly make swapping gears a more convenient affair.

For rear passengers, they would be able to enjoy the sizeable headroom and legroom — it is more than adequate to accommodate three adult passengers. It has commendable boot space too; both deep and wide, it should be able to pack in at least two golf bags. Ford claimed a capacity of 316-litres with this one; however its nearest competitors, the Golf and 308, still offers more with 380-litres and 470-litres respectively.

So yes, the Ford Focus EcoBoost Sport+ is an overall complete package, and most importantly, the power delivery and brilliant handling makes the daily drive less mundane; in fact, don’t be surprised if you end up joining some car club’s breakfast drive ever so often using this is a tool.

At RM$139,888 OTR without insurance, it also fits nicely between the Mazda 3 Hatchback 2.0 (RM$124k), Peugeot 308 1.6 THP (RM$133k) and Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline (RM$150k)

But here’s the problem: The Honda Civic Vtec Turbo 1.5 which has a price of only RM$132k.