“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!” I was on the verge of turning into the Hulk and ready to smash the infuriating voice-recognition in the all-new next-generation Ford Focus hatchback.
My Dr David Banner impression wasn’t working. I ordered it to patch me through to wheels towers 20 times before giving up and angrily punching the numbers in myself. I was about to Hulk-out when, what do you know, the MyFord Touch system jumped into life, finally understood my command and began dialling. On the other end of the line was Amit and he felt the full brunt of my fury. “This… Focus… is driving me… MAAAAD!” I asked him to take it off me. He declined, and this did little to calm my temper. I would have offered it to Sony or Dejan, but the system wouldn’t let me call them.
Now, I’m not a technophobe just in case you’re wondering. I do own one of those cleverphones. But you’d need a degree in every subject under the sun to understand the overly complex Sync Gen 2.0. It recognises 10,000 commands, none of which are swear words. It can be infuriatingly slow, which is surprising since it has a new processor that’s supposedly 50 per cent faster than the one before.
This five-door hatch, no matter how pretty (and it is very pretty) was testing my patience. Thoughts of stepping out of its delightful cabin, going into Hulk mode and smashing that athletic body were becoming ever more appealing as I tried in vain to access the basics such as the sat-nav or just tune the stereo. I’d now got the voice recognition to work, only it was calling the wrong people — people who I hadn’t spoken to for years. It was quite uncomfortable. “Hey, err, Richard! It’s me, Imran! We went to high school together… Remember?”
No, I was not impressed thus far into the test drive and I kept finding more things that bugged me. Like the eight-inch touch screen. Yes, it was big and colourful, but it had way too many options — rendering it all too confusing to bother with, although I suspect the far more technical-savvy younger generation would tap into its full capabilities without any issues. Older folk like me appreciate the simple things in life, or we Hulk-out. Being out on the open road is at the top of my little list and the good news is the Focus drives like a dream.
Whether you’re steaming down the highway or just making grocery trips, it performs admirably. Powered by a gutsy 2.0-litre four-cylinder DOHC with twin independent variable camshaft timing and mated to a Powershift six-speed automatic, it produces 160bhp and 198Nm of torque. Granted, those figures won’t exactly light up the track but it’s the way this car handles that I really enjoyed.
Weighing just 1,337kg helps make the front-wheel driver feel much peppier and it tackles corners with aplomb. That’s partly thanks to the torque-vectoring control technology that changes the speed of individual wheels to be able to handle those pesky bends.
The silky smooth ride is accentuated by a well-padded and almost silent cabin, which remains in peace even when you’re thundering along at 120kph. Greater efforts have been put into the dampening to noise and vibration in the smart interior but it’s so well padded that the drawback is you feel a little detached from the road.
The electric power-assisted steering is a little vague but the suspension (independent MacPherson struts at the front and a control blade multilink independent with stabiliser bars at both ends) soaks up all the bumps on the road. You can’t argue against this sort of everyday comfort and reliability and it’ll go on to make the new Focus a massive hit. And if you don’t rag it, you’ll easily see a return of around 6.0 litres-per-100km. Its frugality stems from the direct-injection engine and improved aerodynamics.
Talking of which, I love the new look, penned with Ford’s kinetic design language. It’s 16mm lower, 21mm longer and 16mm narrower than the outgoing model. That striking, sleek and aggressive face is supported by a muscular profile that boasts a rising character line. Even though the radiator ducts are not functional (they’re completely blocked off) they help create an illusion of this being a sporty car. It isn’t far off. Its stance is akin to a wrestler’s squat while the chunky rear and 17in wheels round off what is a neat exterior.
The interior is treated with equal respect. Swathed in lots of shiny black plastics and silver trim, it certainly doesn’t lack in style, though it feels a little on the small side. Hulk-sized occupants would, naturally, feel squashed in the rear but ordinary-sized folk won’t be turning green with rage for it’s spacious and comfortable back there.
Sure, the Sync device has its gremlins as do similar systems in other cars, but all was forgotten thanks to the brilliant Park Assist. Now, I take pride in being able to squeeze a car backwards into the tightest of spots, but I didn’t need to bother as the Focus can park itself. Push a button and it gets to work. Relying on a bunch of sensors and your throttle and brake inputs, it manoeuvres the steering with precision until you’re home and dry. Very impressive.
By now, my rage had all but gone and so it was a good time to test the new Powershift tranny. The dual dry-clutch automated manual adds a sporty feel to the Focus by giving you control of the electronic gear shifts with a toggle switch on the lever. Steering-wheel-mounted paddles would have been better, but either way you get a bit more out of the motor when flicking it up and down as you can hold onto gears longer.
It isn’t a surprise that since its launch back in 1998, the Focus has sold an incredible 10 million units. People love this car, whether it be the saloon, the estate or my favourite, the hatchback. It’s as honest as they come and offers good performance, is as safe as houses and, above all, is fun to drive. All these attributes have been enhanced for the 2012 model and no doubt, you’ll be seeing loads of these around. If you have problems with, say, the voice recognition, remain calm and try again. If that fails, try the Hulk smash.
Engine 2.0-litre four-cyl
Transmission Six-speed auto, FWD
Max power 160bhp @ 6,500rpm
Max torque 198Nm @ 4,450rpm
Top speed NA
Price Dh92,000 (as tested)
Plus Great new looks, practical, comfortable
Minus Faces stiff competition in the C-segment