Opportunities to drive virtually every model in a new product line-up don’t always present themselves at a new vehicle launch… However, in the case of the recent local introduction of the Ford Focus hatch and saloon, FMCSA did an admirable job of ensuring that everyone had a go in virtually every model.
There’s one downside to that scenario, however … and that is that one really only has a brief experience of each model. That was certainly the case with the Focus. I really loved the fancy interior spec of the 2,0 GDi Sport five-door model, which seems very well priced at R266 400, the 1,6 Trend five-door seemed well balanced in terms of refinement, specification and comfort and, as for the two four-door models with PowerShift dual-clutch transmissions, I’d suggest that the R16 800 premium of the torquey 2,0-litre TDCi turbodiesel over its petrol-engined sibling is just about, um, justifiable. I only wish Ford would have equipped those dual-clutch models with shift paddles instead of fiddly toggles on their shift levers…
But back to the launch. Just before the programme ended, the Cape Town journalists were notified that their flight home had been delayed indefinitely due to a veil of fog that had descended over the Mother City. Keen to make our way home from George, three of us nominated to drive a Focus back to Cape Town – the drive would take about four hours and the chariot FMCSA offered us was a 1,6 Ambiente, the entry-level four-door model. The launch wasn’t over yet!
The 1,6 Ambiente doesn’t look as flashy as its Trend or Sport siblings because it is devoid of chrome trim, darkened lenses and fog lamps, and boasts 16-inch steel wheels with “alloy-look” covers. However, there’s no doubt that the new four-door’s “mini Mondeo” appearance is much more resolved than that of its somewhat awkwardly-proportioned predecessor. The front of the saloon is dominated by the elaborate split-grille with faux air intakes and the bonnet lip that curves over the Ford badge. There are swage lines and pronounced shoulder lines on the sides of the vehicle that wrap around the rear flanks. The leading edge of the bootlid features an integrated spoiler and the elongated taillight clusters broaden the rear aspect. If this palpably handsome and reassuringly distinctive vehicle is destined to become fleet fodder, I wouldn’t mind being labeled a “rep” for being seen behind the wheel of a Ford Focus four door.
The interior of the car, especially the facia profile, shows all the hallmarks of Ford’s Kinetic Design language that most users will recognise as derived from the current Fiesta. There is no multi-function steering wheel on this model, but the safety spec includes ABS with EBD, ESP, front and side airbags, plus Isofix anchor points and integrated head restrains on the 60:40 split rear seatback. The audio system is a six-speaker audio/CD/MP3 unit with a standard USB socket located in the glovebox and the manual air-conditioner is very effective. Furthermore, there is height adjustment on the driver’s seat, two centre-console drinkholders, a leather gear knob and stowage bins in the doors.
Ford has clearly made positive strides in terms of the tactile quality of the interior materials and the switchgear feels more substantial to operate than on earlier models. I felt no lumbar discomfort even though I was perched behind the wheel for the majority of the 432 km journey from George to Cape Town and, although the rear passengers have limited headroom and manual window winders to contend, legroom is adequate (thanks to scalloped front seatbacks) and the saloon’s ostensibly generous boot capacity is a claimed 421 dm3.
On the road, the 1,6 Ambiente feels poised and quite willing in cut-and-thrust driving conditions. The engine doesn’t feel especially powerful or torquey given the bulk of the compact saloon’s body, but if one manages the motor’s outputs (92 kW and 159 N.m) smartly with the slick five-speed manual ‘box, it’s not difficult to build up or maintain a good head of steam. Although road noise is still prevalent at medium to higher speeds, NVH levels are otherwise markedly better than on the previous car. What’s more, the Focus didn’t feel leery in the bends; quite the opposite, in fact: the inherent road-holding and handling capabilities of the platform are quite sound, I’d say.
After virtually emptying the 1,6 Ambiente’s 55-litre tank in completing the journey from George Airport to the parking garage at Cape Town Airport (remember we were three motoring scribes in a hurry to get home), entry-level compact saloon motoring didn’t seem such a burden. It made me wonder whether an engine with a capacity larger than 1,6 litres is really all that necessary for everyday driving conditions…
As a package, the 1,6 Ambiente offers good value at R208 400. Many buyers will opt for the Trend specification at R226 400, I suspect, but if money’s tight, don’t overlook the Ambiente… There are far worse things in life than being teased for “owning/driving a rental vehicle” now and again!