The small car segment is the hardest-fought at the moment. And getting harder. Which gives the new Ford Focus an even bigger job to do, in trying to gain some ground on the classy VW Golf, sales-leading Mazda3 and a battalion of other strong contenders.
The base model Ambiente’s price has been kept at $21,990, with all the equipment you’d expect – and some added goodies thrown in. There’s Bluetooth with voice command even in the entry model. Of the other trim levels, the Focus Sport has a greater emphasis on driving enjoyment. Key features include sports suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, sports front seats, dual zone climate control and a Sony audio system with 4.2-inch colour screen and multi-function display. Sport also scores the Convenience Pack as standard equipment.
Explore the 2012 Ford Focus Range
It is more comprehensively equipped than the outgoing Zetec model. Titanium has even more goodies and sells from a starting price of $32,590. But one omission – or more truly, latecomer – is the satnav, which won’t join the range until later this year.
The dynamic new look has real cut-through on the street and a classy new interior featuring Ford's acclaimed kinetic design language. Two distinctive bodystyles are available, sedan and hatch, each with its own appeal. Drivers will no doubt appreciate the cockpit-style driving environment, but while the cabin has lost none of the comfort and practicality, the centre stack and surrounds are starting to look overdesigned..
Five stars in crash testing, with six airbags and a raft of technology to try and prevent the crash in the first place. There’s also a stronger body with extensive use of high-strength steels. New Focus also features a patented front chassis subframe, which de-couples during severe frontal impacts, avoiding deformation in the passenger cell footwell area. Pedestrian protection has been boosted by the addition of a "soft" cowl design in the front body structure and Ford has also relocated the windscreen wiper system to help further reduce injury risks.
The basic line-up for the 2011 Focus is simple: hatchback and sedan bodies, three engines - 1.6-litre petrol, 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre petrol - with five-speed manual and six-speed DSG PowerShift auto.
The double clutch Powershift manumatic would be difficult to overlook for everyday and sporty driving as it offers the best of both worlds and an extra gear over the manual which is five speed only. What happened to the six-speed manual?
The hero car for the Focus will be the next RS. But what’s arrived this week already bodes well for a future hot hatch. In a brief stint over rough dirt roads and snaking blacktop, the new Focus showed good grip and agility.
The smaller 1.6-litre petrol engine needs to be egged up the rev range to get any sparkle, but the 2.0-litre is more enthusiastic – no surprises there. But it is the 2.0-litre turbodiesel that we spent more time with that looks to be the best all-rounder, developing 120kW/340Nm – 20kw and 20Nm more than the last Focus TDCi we drove. The six-speed automatic transmission is a good worker, but the button on the side is fiddly and awkward to use.
For full drive impressions, see Carsguide this weekend.