We drive the new SA-bound Ford Focus: Will the next-generation premium hatchback give the popular VW Golf a run for its money?

Ford has revealed information of its fourth-generation months ago, but this week the automaker unleashed its Focus variants to global media. Wheels24's Janine Van der Post drives it in Nice, France earlier in July.

The Ford Focus has remained a popular hatchback since it was first launched in 1998. Many facelifts and four-generations later, it continues to garner much favour worldwide.

Ford has sat down and listened to its customers, basing the next-generation of its premium hatchback on their feedback.

Designed completely with a 'human-centric' focal point, the fourth-generation Focus is built from the ground up. It’s loaded with tech, more comfort and space and overall better driving experience. It's also a lot lighter and stronger than before.

Since its game-changing first-generation Focus was launched 20 years ago, Ford has sold more than 16-million units worldwide, 7-million of which were in Europe. 

WATCH: 10 things to know about the new Ford Focus set to arrive in SA next year

The automaker told Wheels24: "The Focus is the first vehicle globally to be based on its new C2 architecture designed to enhance crash performance; deliver more interior space for Ford’s mid-size models without negatively impacting exterior dimensions, and support improved aerodynamics for better fuel-efficiency." 

Ford also claims that its best-ever craftsmanship and quality build comes from its €600 million investment at Ford’s Saarlouis assembly facility, Germany where the car is being built.

What’s under the bonnet?

There’s are brand new optimised versions of Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost and 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engines, both enhanced with Ford’s industry-first cylinder deactivation application for three-cylinder units. Ford also says these new units are 10% more fuel-efficient. 

These two engines will be on the line-up for South Africa when it launches early in Quarter 1 of 2019, in manual and auto derivatives.

While there’s also a new 1.5-litre EcoBlue and 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel units, these will not be reaching our local market. A mild-hybrid Focus powertrain option will be introduced in 2020 which will be under consideration for SA closer to the time.

The 1.0-litre EcoBoost is good for 92kW and has a claimed European fuel consumption of 4.7 litres/100km and 107g/km CO2 emissions. 

The 1.5-litre EcoBoost has an all-aluminium construction for reduced weight and its consumption is rated at 5.3 litres/100km and 121g/km CO2. Ford South Africa is yet to confirm which of the 1.5-litre engines will be confirmed for the local market; either the 110kW or the more powerful 133kW units... we're hoping SA will receive the latter. 

Ford says: "The low-friction three-cylinder delivers naturally high torque at low revs while an integrated exhaust manifold improves fuel-efficiency by helping the engine reach optimal temperatures faster, and delivers torque more rapidly by minimising the distance exhaust gasses travel between cylinders and turbocharger.

Trim levels

Ford reckons the trim levels are a "tailored spectrum of choice, with differentiating execution reflecting the customers’ specific preferences and needs".

Ford has introduced a new Active trim reserved in the form of a 'crossover' or wagon model if you prefer. Sadly, due to low demand for this segment in SA, it won't be making its way to our shores. 

The automaker says the first Focus Active model will be introduced early 2019 in five-door and wagon body styles, joining its new KA+ Active and Fiesta Active models as part of Ford’s Active crossover range.

There's also a new, range-topping Vignale spec for the European markets.

Trim levels in SA remains the same with Ambiente, Trend and Titanium, along with the new spec ST-Line trim which slots in as the sportier range-topper derivative for our market.

Where's the ST?

Ford has revealed that SA will not be receiving the new Ford Fiesta ST, so the ST-line in this range is supposed to make up for that heartbreaking news; The Focus ST is also still under consideration but will be confirmed closer to the time of launch in 2019/2020. 

  • Vignale: 'coast-to-coast' lower front aperture designed to appear more jewel-like and artisanal; and restrained Vignale ornamentation such as the aluminium trim for the roof rails, fascia and rocker inserts, and signature Vignale grille mesh.

  • ST-Line: more aggressively styled rear diffuser and larger functional roof-spoiler; more open front apertures designed to enhance performance and reveal the engine components behind, and bold signature ST-Line lower wing elements directing air to the air-curtain inlets.

  • Active with elevated ground clearance and protective black wheel arch and rocker claddings; front and rear skid plates and rocker inserts painted in contrast silver; and bespoke front-end design.

The Focus is available in 13 exterior colours including blue and Vignale-exclusive 'Dark Mulberry' - such a pity we won't be seeing it as it's a lovely shade. Ford SA will confirm body colours for SA when the car will be launched here.

What's it like to drive?

The 1.0-litre unit might seem enticing and the more natural choice to go for South Africans considering record fuel-price hikes. Ford's award-winning EcoBoost unit has gained much respect and favour locally. We drove this version mated to the 6-speed manual on an unusual stormy day in Nice during the hot northern summer of July. The 1.0-litre, however, frugal seemed to struggle at times, such as taking on twisty mountain passes. Considering the bulk of the sedan, you'll still be required to switch to lower gears if you need to overtake even on a straight.

Lower down the pass (read: lower altitude), the 1.0-litre came into its own. Gear ratios are silky smooth and tight. Once I overcame my fear of the increasingly narrowing lanes and protruding rocks along mountain passes, I finally had a blast. I was a bit concerned about the Titanium level trim as this is usually the top grade for SA; I honestly thought it was a Trend package as the quality seems less premium than one would expect. Materials were largely plastic and the build quality felt a tiny bit humdrum.  

With all that said, the 92kW should do incredibly well in SA.

Day 2 provided the opportunity to drive the 1.5-litre manual 6-speed version in ST-line trim. I have to say that this variant is the best of the lot. It delivers a completely different driving experience. The larger engine comes alive and tackles the challenging roads of Nice with vigour. There's a 110kW and 133kW version, and I maintain that we need the latter version at home and that local customers are missing out if Ford SA only provides the lower capacity version. 

It's a feisty character on the roads and drives exceptionally well, whether, in the 6-speed manual or the 8-speed auto guide. It's an absolute hoot to drive. Gear changes are even tighter and smoother and the 1.5-litre provides a bit of a roar when you're putting foot along straights. The ST-line trim is a notch up on all levels from its sporty looks and has a much more premium feel inside too.

We also managed to sample a 1.5-litre auto Vignale version and I fell in love with the Focus - a car I have never felt that way about before. The Vignale trim is glorious and lush with quality throughout the vehicle. It's sad we won't be receiving this trim but it's totally understandable as it will make the car too expensive locally. The auto unit is a peach to drive. The gear-lever dial is solid and easy to use and overall, this version feels even more powerful. It handles well on the road, whether its sweeping tight bends or chugging away in city traffic.  

What else is new at a glance?

 • New Stop & Go, Speed Sign Recognition and Lane-Centring technologies which help negotiate stop-start traffic. Predictive curve light and Sign-based light help drivers see more clearly.

 • First Head-up display for a Ford model. Active Park Assist 2 enables fully automated parking manoeuvres at the push of a button. 

 • Standard selectable Drive Modes, 20% torsional rigidity improvement and isolated independent rear suspension offering Continuously Controlled Damping – a first for Focus as well.

 • Introduction of Ford Connect which features an embedded modem for connectivity on the move, a wireless charging pad, SYNC 3 with 8" touchscreen, and B&O PLAY audio.

WATCH: Here's how the SA-bound Ford Focus performs in crash tests - Euro NCAP

Human-centric design

The automaker reckons that the Focus marks an evolution in Ford design language: "This means that the human-centric design philosophy was created to deliver exceptional user experiences with every interaction with functional, customer-attributes." 

Amko Leenarts, director, Design, Ford of Europe says: "We wanted our all-new Focus to be a product that customers fall in love with, and stay in love with. 

"Inside and out, our new design philosophy is about creating memorable moments of interaction that build and maintain the relationship between human being and machine."

I love the way the new Focus looks as the previous version was a step backwards in terms of styling, and its proportions did not seem to match its profile. Ford appears to have genuinely taken customer feedback to heart and paid extra attention to the details.

There are nifty new designs in every aspect of the car, even the way the side-mirrors have been designed to be more user-friendly. Its design is well thought-out such as the auto door-edge protectors which pop in and out when the doors are opened and closed.

Ford has taken note and amended its Focus' design proportionally, making the car appear sportier and premium. The A-pillars are now further rearward; while the C-pillars sits flush over the rear wheels. It has a longer bonnet and flowing front fender, along with a marked reduction in the wedge of the belt line.

More space comes from the 50mm wheelbase increase which allows for a larger tyre diameter with shorter overhangs.

Ford also says: "Managing airflow around the vehicle played a pivotal role in the design development hence a highly sculptural, athletic exterior provides aerodynamic efficiency through the sleek, lower profile; the short rear overhangs; truncated corners, and harmoniously integrated aerodynamic features." 

The front of the Focus has a visibly larger, yet distinctive grille which sits confidently between the horizontal headlights which are positioned as far outboard as possible to enhance width and stance. 

The same applies to the tail lights which are now two-piece, which makes for more versatile boot opening. LED lighting technologies provide recognisable signatures in daylight and darkness. 

Inside the car, the switches have been relocated along with controls to the touchscreen has provided for a narrower centre console. There are also soft knee pads, and 18-way adjustable driver and front passenger seats.

For rear seat passengers, additional space is delivered by the longer wheelbase and flat floor. Knee clearance is improved by 81mm and shoulder-room by 60mm. 

Ford also says that the Focus’ heating ventilation and air-conditioning system heats and cools the cabin faster with a more powerful 140cc compressor and features more flexible coolant lines and smoother airflow paths for the quieter operation which has been specifically developed for the new C2 architecture.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Brought to you by
Voting Booth
Do you think Mercedes will return to form later in the 2022 F1 season after two poor races?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, don't discredit them.
33% - 608 votes
Who cares, F1 is exciting again!
44% - 807 votes
No, it's Ferrari's turn to dominate again.
23% - 425 votes