NZ-bound Focus moving up

Elevated ride height is one potential of the new Ford Focus. Elevated status, through a big lift in tech and change of sourcing, might also arrive.

ANY thought about New Zealand being exposed to something new in the Focus model line - an elevated version of the hatchback – is being kept under wraps by the brand.

Ford New Zealand says it does not intend to discuss the derivatives of the all-new model, revealed globally last night, until much closer to the time of its release here. It has cited the final quarter of this year as being the intended launch timeframe.

“More detailed specification will be announced closer to the Ford Focus’s New Zealand launch,” spokesman Tom Clancy said.

The new raised model, named the Active, appears to be in response to the consumer shift toward crossovers and SUVs.

While it doesn’t seem to have any particular off-road potential - the sole four-wheel-drive Focus would still seem to be the RS hotrod – it adopts a rugged look with 30mm extra ground clearance, protective black wheelarch and rocker claddings, silver front and rear skid plates and rocker inserts, a bespoke front-end design, and textured interior materials and surfaces.

Active might also be well-named if it appeals to an important audience wanting to keep getting out and about. It could provide a heightened hip point - a plus for older buyers with creaking joints – and also raised visibility, to match the road view crossover consumers crave.

The tall hatch is an alternate to the regular height edition, which will continue. Focus also comes out in sedan and wagon formats.

Ford’s New Zealand’s reluctance to talk is a bit pointless given that our choices align with Australia’s, which might be the reason why there’s a reluctance by the Auckland office to speak – it might well be awaiting the Melbourne operation it reports to act.

Ironically, press reports from across the Tasman suggest this has happened, if perhaps through unofficial channels.

Australian media are today saying their market will certainly see the hatch and sedan, with a 110kW 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and eight-speed automatic – but are also suggesting the wagon and Active are subject to further evaluation.

Clancy was also close-lipped about conjecture from across the Tasman that two grades – the mid-level Trend and the Titanium that has long served as a mainstream flagship will come first, with an entry-level Ambiente, sport-focused ST-Line and the Vignale, a new addition with an even higher luxury focus than Titanium, arriving next year. Another RS is also set to be served up, but not until 2020. British publication AutoCar reckons the racer will next time use a mild hybrid powertrain, which could bump outputs up to 298kW and 576Nm.

The only subject related to the fourth generation Focus the Auckland outpost is happy to discuss is another big change, the switch of production away from Thailand and back to Germany.

The massive Saarlouis plant that will supply NZ and Australia has been subject to a $960 million upgrade and supplants a factory in Thailand that is the current sourcing point for all current Focus editions, save for sports models.

The plant at Pluak Daeng will still have a Ford future; it is from now on concentrating on outputting the Ranger ute and related Everest sports utility.

Germany provided the first and second generation Focus to NZ, but then announced that it would take Focus to Thailand as part of a One Ford globalisation pitch that, it said at time of the current car’s initial release, it would shorten delivery times and allow for more potential for local (meaning Australasia) tuning.

So what’s changed?

Says Clancy: “The implications are the all-new Ford Focus will be manufactured using industry-first processes at Ford’s Saarlouis assembly facility, Germany – delivering best-yet Focus quality and craftsmanship.

“A new 6000 metre hot-forming facility enables ultra-high-strength, lightweight boron steel components to be manufactured on-site, and is the first hot-forming production line in the industry to feature fully automated unloading for optimised efficiency.

“Also, the decision to source Focus from Germany is not based on price, but on the availability of a broader range of Focus from the Saarlouis plant.” 

The Focus is certainly high-tech in every department and also debuts Ford’s newest platform, dubbed C2, that will ultimately underpin some 3.5 million Fords per year across dozens of models.

How this step up, plus an improvement in driver assist tech, influences the price structure that presently spans from $35,340 (Trend EcoBoost petrol hatch) to $52,840 (ST hatch) in mainstream formats at full RRP has yet to be discussed by the brand.

At present, it seems possible Focus is already in run-out, given that all models save the $72,990 RS seem to subject to aggressive discounting that slashes between $6500 (Ambiente petrol wagon) to $9900 (Titanium hatch) off those RRPs.

Obviously, the Vignale with its satin-aluminium finish for its roof rails, fascia and rocker inserts, fine-grain wood trim and premium leather upholstery is likely to sit above the mainstream crowd.

What else can be told about the new car? One factoid is that it is said to be future-proved for total and partial electrification, but for now all we will see is the latest petrol engine that, cylinder count aside, has achieved not just idle-stop but also a cylinder deactivation system – the latter an industry first for a three-pot unit.

C2 ushers in what the brand describes as a “human-centric” philosophy for its clean-sheet exterior and interior designs, as well as a 40 and 20 percent increase in front crash load capability and torsional rigidity respectively.

Weight has also been reduced by up to 88 kilograms in like-for-like variants and aerodynamics are impressively sharpened not simply through it having a new shaped but also all sorts of wind-cheating enhancements: An active grille shutter, air-curtain inlets, an optimised rear spoiler and window strakes, plus additional underbody shielding.

Focus will also feature five driving modes – Eco, Eco-Comfort, Comfort, Normal and Sport – that allow the driver to adjust throttle, transmission, suspension, electronic power steering and adaptive cruise control settings.

Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD) monitors suspension, body, steering and braking inputs every two milliseconds and adjusts damping responses to suit. A twist-beam rear suspension without CCD is available with some variants offered overseas.

Ford’s suite of advanced driver-assist safety technologies, dubbed Co-Pilot360, has been enhanced, with the adaptive cruise control system adding stop and go functionality, speed sign recognition and steering assist.

Park assist now features fully automated support – including gear selection, throttle and braking – for parallel and perpendicular parking spaces, as well as an exit function for the former.

The autonomous emergency braking system now detects cyclists as well as pedestrians, rear cross-traffic alert has been enhanced with automated braking and it achieves post-collision braking. Evasive steering assist improves drivers’ ability to manoeuvre around a slow-moving or stationary vehicle if a collision is imminent. The reversing camera now provides a nearly 180-degree view. Also, the model has adaptive full-LED headlights with high beam assist.

Inside, the centre console set-up is simplified, has an electric park brake and it seems Ford has taken a leaf from the Jaguar land Rover book of design by installing, in place of a regular gearstick, there’s a rotary dial for gear selection.

The Sync3 infotainment system offers satellite navigation with live traffic, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support and voice control. Connectivity steps up thanks to the addition of a WiFi hotspot with support for up to 10 devices, while the FordPass mobile application support – including vehicle locator, status and remote start – and wireless smartphone charging are also on offer.

A head-up display also makes its debut, with it showing current speed, navigation, entertainment and safety information. A 675W 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen Play sound system is also available.

The ST-Line grade is distinguished by its aggressive rear diffuser, larger roof-mounted rear spoiler and front apertures, and unique lower wing elements that direct air to the air-curtain inlets, while its interior has carbon-fibre-effect trim and red stitching.

It also sits 10mm lower than regular Focus variants and has unique springs, dampers and stabiliser bars.

Rear legroom has improved by more than 50mm, to 81mm, while shoulder room is up by almost 60mm. A panoramic sunroof is optional.

The wagon features a hands-free power tailgate, allowing access to its load area which offers more than 1650 litres of cargo capacity when the second row is stowed. The current wagon sells wholly to fleet, Ford NZ says.

Focus achieved 1525 registrations last year, a result Clancy says Ford NZ was pleased with.