Next-Gen Ford Focus unveiled! U.S. and Euro models finally united
As we begin 2010, it looks like the compact C-segment is shaping up to be one of the most highly competitve segments in the auto industry. The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, VW Golf and Jetta, along with the new Chevrolet Cruze are fighting for the hearts, minds and dollars of the masses. And then there's the Ford Focus.
This week in Detroit, Ford is unwrapping an all-new Focus for the 2012 model year. When the original Focus debuted internationally in 1998 and then in the U.S. a year later, it was more or less a common design. The U.S. version, however, suffered from a series of manufacturing issues and recalls within its first year of sales. Meanwhile, the overseas model got a full redesign in 2004, but Americans kept the MK1 Focus until three years ago when it got an unfortunately awkward re-skin. This time around the new Focus is truly global and adopts the latest evolution of Ford's European "Kinetic" design language. Judging by our first exposure to the 2012 Focus, every other contender in the segment may have a real problem to deal with next year.
The new 2010 Focus sedan and five-door hatchback represent the third and fourth body styles of the new global C-platform from Ford. The European C-Max and Grand C-Max debuted last September at the Geneva Motor Show with the latter scheduled to land in the U.S. next year. Over the next year or so we will be seeing six more "top-hats" on the C-platform, including a station wagon, three-door hatch and hard-top coupe-convertible, some of which will be sold here in North America while others will only be available overseas.
With these new body styles being added and general growth in the segment, Ford hopes to double its current market penetration and sell about two million C-segment vehicles worldwide by 2012. In 2009 alone, one in four cars sold globally will be C-segment, a share that is expected to increase.
In discussing where Ford was going with the new Focus, company reps explained that the company's development philosophy is "Great to look at, Great to sit in, Great to drive," and this applied to the Focus just as much as it does to a Mustang. In recent years, customers have "downsized in terms of vehicle size, but not in expectations." That means customers don't want to give up any features and amenities that they've come to expect in an SUV when buying a compact car.
If Ford (and Chevrolet) can succeed in following brands like MINI in convincing Americans to pay more for well-equipped and attractive small cars, it will go a long way toward bringing this market in line with the rest of the world. Judging by our first look at the new Focus, Ford may be well on its way to a very strong position in the small-car segment in the U.S.
The 2011 Focus could be described as the first, second-generation Kinetic design from Ford, as the look has evolved a bit from the most recent batch of European Fords. Among the hallmarks of Kinetic design have been a large trapezoidal lower grille, bold wheel arches and a prominent character line running from the front wheel back to the rear quarter.
On the new Focus, longitudinal creases in the hood extend down between the upper grille into the trapezoid dividing it into three sections. The wheel arch creases now extend straight back from the top of the arch above the main lateral crease blending out a few inches behind the start of the lower line. A similar crease is echoed on the rear quarter with the overlap area at each end forming a "Z" that Ford refers to as a "Zorro flip." The rear quarter character line also forms a prominent rear shoulder area. Around the back, large tail-lamp clusters finish off the bold styling. Some might consider the styling a bit too bold or over-done, but it works quite well in person and certainly makes the new Focus stand out in this crowded segment.
This is hardly Ford's first attempt at a global design. The early '80s Escort, the first-generation Focus and the Mondeo/Contour were all attempts at "world cars" that went awry. Ford addressed the question of such world cars having failed in the past and why it might work now. First of all, each of those previous attempts ended up diverging because of different regional demands and tastes. However, Ford says that global tastes are converging in terms of design and vehicle requirements in this Internet age.
When the U.S. Focus was refreshed a couple of years ago, management opted to discontinue the previous three- and five-door hatchbacks in favor or a two-door coupe to accompany the sedan. In the intervening years, it's become increasingly clear that hatchbacks do have some appeal in this market if they're made desirable enough. As a result, the next-gen Focus, which likely will be labeled a 2011 model, will be offered to Americans as a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback just like the new Fiesta. The sedan also will get a swept roof-line and tall rear deck profile like the Fiesta sedan.
The new sedan is dimensionally about one inch lower than the outgoing Focus sedan but a little less than an inch wider than the current European model. The overall length and weight are claimed to be about the same, as is the interior volume. Speaking of the interior, the sedan that we previewed had an interior that takes compact cars to a whole new level. The car we were shown was a Titanium trim level, which is new to the U.S. market but has been offered in Europe for several years already.
After Ford started offering the Titanium trim in Europe, it was surprised at the popularity of such a premium finish in this class of car. As many as 40 percent of European buyers have opted for the Titanium trim level, and on the Mondeo it's up to 60 percent. The inside of the new Focus looks like something you would expect to find in an Audi or Lexus more than the direct descendant of the Escort. Will Americans be willing to pay prices up to the low $20,000-range for a Focus? We'll find out soon enough. At this point, we don't know what the base level trim will look like, but if the Fiesta is anything to go by, it should still be much nicer than any current Focus.
After being the debut vehicle for SYNC three years ago, the Focus will be one of the first Ford models offered with the optional MyFord Touch control system that debuts this summer in the new Lincoln MKX. In addition, drivers who opt for navigation will get a new eight-inch screen – by far the largest we've ever encountered in a small car.
When the first-generation Focus appeared a decade ago, it was praised for its driving dynamics and the current Euro model is considered among the best of its breed. The 300-hp Focus RS has been renowned as one of the most un-front-wheel-drive-like front-wheel-drive cars ever. While there are currently no plans for an RS model here in the U.S., North American Focus chief engineer Jim Hughes does promise that nothing will be lost in translation when this Focus hits U.S. roads.
Like other new Fords, the next-gen Focus also is getting an electric power assist system (EPAS) for its steering, which helps to reduce fuel consumption by cutting parasitic losses. Hughes claims the Focus dynamics team has improved the steering precision and feel with this EPAS system, something we'll have to judge for ourselves later in the year when we get a chance to drive it. Until now, EPAS has tended to be a mixed bag, with some applications like the Honda Fit having excellent feel while others have no feedback. Ford applications have generally done pretty well on this count, so we are hopeful.
One more interesting feature that will be available on the next-gen Focus is Dynamic Cornering Control. While torque vectoring has been increasingly used in high performance all-wheel-drive systems from Acura, BMW and Audi, Ford is applying the concept to the front-wheel-drive Focus. If it delivers, this should help provide even better handling balance with less understeer in the new compact.
American Focus buyers will get one brand new engine and two transmission options at launch early next year. Like other new Fords, six-speed gearboxes are now the norm for Focus with a choice of manual or dual-clutch PowerShift units available. No traditional torque converter automatic will be offered in the Focus, but the PowerShift will get manual shift capability unlike the Fiesta. Unfortunately, the manual control comes by way of a switch on the side of the shift knob – no wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The engine is a new 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder, which will also form the basis of the upcoming 2.0-liter EcoBoost. The normally aspirated unit will be rated at an estimated 155 hp and 145 pound-feet. Both cams are equipped with variable phasing using the same cam-torque actuation system as the Fusion's 2.5-liter and the new 5.0-liter V8 in the Mustang. Thanks to the charge cooling effect of direct injection, the new engine will have a 12:1 compression ratio, which should aid low end torque production. The new engine will also be E85 flex-fuel capable, a first for a DI engine. No one from Ford would confirm the availability of an EcoBoost engine in the Focus, but they did hint that the 1.6-liter GTDI would eventually be an option. Another feature that will be new to the Focus is automatic start-stop functionality that switches off the engine when the car comes to a halt. This will be one of the first such applications in the U.S. market in a non-hybrid vehicle.
The other powertrain that we'll definitely see in the Focus is a full battery electric option. The Focus Electric will join the lineup sometime in 2011 using a lithium ion battery pack and electric drive developed in cooperation with Magna International. The Focus Electric is expected to have a driving range of 80-100 miles.
Ford isn't talking mileage numbers for the next-gen Focus yet, but it clearly is a priority for the new car. With Chevrolet aiming for 40+ mpg on the highway for the the Cruze, Ford will surely be trying to match it. To that end, designers have also focused a lot on functional aerodynamics in addition to just aesthetic styling. One of the more interesting features are thermostatically controlled shutters behind the grille. At higher speeds when more air naturally flows through the radiator, the shutters automatically close and force air around the sides of the car.
The new Focus body has also been designed to meet crash safety standards globally with a common structure. In order to meet those divergent requirements without adding excessive weight, the structure is comprised of 55 percent high strength steels. The B-pillar is produced by a process known as tailored rolling that makes eight different gauge thicknesses across its length. This allows strength to be put where its needed while keeping mass to a minimum. As with all new cars, there is a plethora of air bags that can inflate from all directions, and new inflators allow them to deploy 30 percent faster than in the current Focus.
One of the reasons that the first-gen Focus encountered so many quality problems was untested production processes. Focuses built in Europe and North America were produced on completely different machinery with completely different processes, and Euro models never had the issues that occurred here. Going forward, the One Forward policy applies across the board including design and manufacturing. Focuses built in France, Spain, China and Michigan will all use the same equipment, work instructions and production steps.
Production of the Focus will start almost simultaneously in Wayne, Michigan and Saarlouis, France late in 2010, with additional production starting over the next two years in Russia and China. The media preview we attended a few weeks ago was held at the newly renamed Michigan Assembly Plant (MAP). Until early 2009, the plant was known as Michigan Truck Plant and housed Navigator and Expedition production. MAP is one of three truck plants that are being converted to car production and Ford is making a big bet that this is the right way to go. It will no doubt help the Blue Oval meet its upcoming CAFE obligations. Now it just has to convince consumers to buy all these cars its building. Things look promising so far with the Fusion breaking sales records, the Fiesta building buzz and now this, the next-gen Focus, which should take the fight straight to cars like the Cruze, Civic and Corolla.