Ford Focus VS Holden Spark
- Refined styling
- Roomy interior
- Advanced safety equipment
- Blind spot warning standard only on Titanium
- Auto transmission can seem indecisive
- No manual gearbox
- A cut above from behind the wheel
- Plenty of cool tech
- Not cheap for its segment
- Lacks niceties for backseat passengers
Ford has just released its new-generation Ford Focus. Do you know what that means? It means we're at a monumental point in history that, while nobody will ever really remember it, could impact you greatly.
Because like the automotive equivalent of planetary alignment, we are reaching a moment when Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford will have all brought their latest-gen small cars to market at about the same time.
Okay, you may not find that exciting. But it means you've now got the most current technology, styling and safety features to choose from right across the board, with Ford the latest to throw everything it's got at its new small-car contender.
All that and more as we take you through the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus, where we tested the hatch in the Trend and ST-Line grades, and the new wagon, too.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the updated Holden Spark LT with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The micro-car segment in Australia has driven off a cliff. We are shunning our smallest cars in a way we never have before, and nobody seems to be entirely sure why.
The strength of the second-hand market is one suspected culprit, while another is the tempting price point of vehicles that are one size bigger, with city-car shoppers able to upsize for relative peanuts.
Whatever the reason, the segment is stuck in neutral and halfway along Struggle Street. It needs a spark. And Holden's hoping theirs is just the ticket.
Now you might recognise it as a Barina, but Holden dropped that part of the moniker when this new model launched in March. It is now simply known as the Holden Spark, tested here in top-spec LT guise and wearing a sticker price of $18,990. It sits above only the entry-level, bargain-basement LS ($13,990 manual, $15,690 automatic) in the two-model Spark range.
Designed and built in Korea, the Spark seems to have little to do with our unique marketplace, but Holden promises us this new model couldn't be more dinky-di if it ran on vegemite. Australia had crucial input into its design in Korea, while Holden's Aussie engineers put the new model though its paces on the company's proving ground, tweaking the suspension and steering for Australia's road surfaces.
So the question now is, is the Spark bright enough to lure buyers back to the micro-car segment?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Different but more refined looks, a smaller but powerful-for-its-size engine, plenty of advanced safety equipment and more room than ever before, the new Ford Focus is much better than the model before it. And it has to be – the competition is fierce.
The sweet spot in the range is the ST-Line hatch with its long list of standard features, comfortable ride and impressive handling.
Is the new Focus a car to take on the might of Hyundai and Toyota? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The marvels of local engineering strike again: the Spark LT definitely feels a cut above some of its budget competition from behind the wheel. It is well-equipped, too, and packed with connectivity and technology features. In short, it could be just the spark Australia's city-car segment needs.
Would you consider a small city-car like the Spark? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
This new-generation Focus is completely new, and that goes for its design, the structure of the vehicle and the platform that underpins it all.
That grille, though poutier than before, still makes this new car recognisable as a Focus, but the rest of the car’s styling is a fairly big step away from the look of the previous model. The nose looks more elongated and turned down, and the headlights have an irregular shape (which somehow works) and they're helped to look more defined by the LED running lights that sit above each headlight like an eyebrow.
That front-end may take some getting used to, but I think most will like the rear exterior styling straight away. The hoisted-up style to the rear of the previous car is gone and the illusion is now a car which sits lower and level. I particularly like the Focus badging across the tailgate, too, which is reminiscent of Fords of the 1960s.
The car’s profile has changed, too, with the window structure simplified. Previous versions of the car had rear quarter glass; a small porthole which looked into the boot. That's now been incorporated into the door glass, which means the rear passenger aperture is larger.
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of its galaxy of buttons, and that busy interior has given way to a more minimalist design with many of the functions moved to the large dash-top screen. That said, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons for my liking or need.
Telling the grades apart may not be obvious at first, but the ST-Line car is recognisable thanks to the blacked-out grille, more aggressive bumper treatment with its air-blade style design around the fog lights, and its twin exhaust. The car itself sits 10mm lower on sport suspension.
You can pick a Titanium from the inside by its leather-accented seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and the B&O sound system speakers.
The ST-Line’s seats are upholstered in a mesh-fibre material with leather accents and red-stitching, and there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic brake and accelerator pedals. The wagon version of the Focus only comes in the ST-Line grade, and it comes with roof rails and a cargo cover.
The Active grade is the most recognisable of the Focus family due its higher-riding stance and its plastic wheel-arch cladding. The Active suspension has it sitting 35mm higher than a Trend grade, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the overall affect is quite dramatic, giving the Active a true SUV-like appearance.
There are nine colours to choose from, including Ruby Red, Orange Glow, Desert Island Blue, Blue Metallic, Shadow Black, Magnetic, Moondust Silver, Metropolis White and Frozen White.
At 4378mm end to end, the Focus hatch is 18mm longer than the previous model, while at 1454mm tall it's 13mm shorter, and it's 1979mm wide including the wing mirrors.
There's only so much that can be done with a car in this bracket (there's hardly an abundance of surface metal to play with), but Holden's Korean design team have done an admirable job of inserting some excitement into what is traditionally a fairly bland category.
A powerful front end, with two fog lights sitting below the headlights, is dominated by a vaguely Kia-esque grille. And when viewed side on, the Spark looks to be sitting low, courtesy of standard 15-inch alloys that fill the wheel arches and tarmac-kissing side skirting that runs front to back. Two fairly heavy body creases also break up the metal monotony, running along the front and rear doors.
It's an energetic-looking package, and even more youth appeal arrives courtesy of a huge array of personalisation options, with Holden promising 33 different changes a buyer can make, including the wheel inserts, wing mirror caps and roof rails.
Inside, the focus is more on connectivity than luxury, so you can expect fake leather, hard plastics and fairly ordinary seat cushioning, but it's all nicely put together, and the basic feel is broken up by some well-placed style elements, like the coloured insert that runs the length of the dash.
The new Focus is longer by about 18mm, but it’s the wheelbase which has increased the most dramatically (by 52mm) and that means more space inside.
I’m 191cm tall and I can just sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seatback – I wasn’t able to do that in the previous Focus. Headroom is also great for me in the backseat.
The entire cabin feels roomy, actually. For this new model the dashboard was moved 100mm further forward, opening up more space in the cockpit. Even the gear shifter being a rotary dial has freed up room.
Storage throughout is pretty good, with a deep centre console bin covered by the armrest and a hidey-hole in front of the shifter, plus two cup holders and big bottle holders in the doors up front. The door pockets in the back are big, too, but there are no cupholders in the second row.
Boot space is for the hatch is 341 litres packed to the cargo cover with a space saver spare, while the wagon’s cargo capacity is 575 litres. With the back row down, the hatch can fit 1320 litres and the wagon can do 1620 litres.
Nope. This is a pocket-sized car, namely because it has the same cargo capacity as your pocket.
Holden has stretched the space between the wheels to maximise passenger space, and as a result there's actually plenty of room in either row. But to add space somewhere, you need to take it from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the boot, where you'll find a mere 185-litres of luggage space. The situation is improved by dropping the 60:40 split rear seats, but you'll be forever choosing between passengers and luggage.
Front seat passengers share a pair of cupholders, but rear seat passengers get none. They don't get room for bottles in their door pockets. Or door pockets at all, for that matter. The backseat does, however, get two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
Price and features
Ford has priced its new Focus competitively compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3, but its most affordable grade does kick off at a slightly higher level than the entry-level cars for those other brands.
That start point for the Focus hatch range is the Trend grade, with a list price of $25,990. Above it is the ST-Line, which is a sporty spec, for $28,990. And at the top of the hatch range is the $34,490 Titanium. There’s also a wagon version of the Focus in the ST-Line grade for $30,990.
But wait, there’s more. Ford is offering an SUV-style version of the Focus for the first time. It's called the Focus Active, and it'll cost $29,990. We’ll cover the physical differences between it and the rest of range in the Design section below.
Coming standard on the Trend is an eight-inch display screen with sat nav, Ford’s Sync3 voice activated media system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hot spot, single-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rotary-style gear shifter, LED running lights, paddle shifters, halogen headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec ST-Line takes the Trend’s features and adds dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, floor mats, puddle lamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys wheels. There’s also the sports suspension, which we’ll cover in the Driving and Engine sections.
The top-of-the-range Titanium brings a B&O 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, leather accented upholstery, roof rails and LED headlights.
While the cheap and cheerful entry-level Spark, the $13,990 LS, plays smack-bang in the middle of the micro-car segment, the top-spec LT has bigger, and considerably more expensive, shoes to fill. At $18,990, the LT sails perilously close to its bigger and equally well-equipped competition.
For that money, the Spark needs to arrive wanting for little, and in most respects it does exactly that. For a start, a CVT automatic is standard, and is joined by some stand-out features in this segment, like cruise control, keyless entry with proximity unlocking, push-button start and a fake leather trim that Holden calls Sportec.
Engine & trans
The new Focus has been given a new engine! It’s a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol, but don’t let that put you off - it makes as much grunt as the four cylinder in the old Focus. Actually, at 134kW, it makes 2kW more power and the same amount of torque (240Nm). Cylinder-deactivation allows the engine to run on two when not under much load, which is even more frugal.
The old six-speed auto has been replaced with an eight-speed automatic – it’s not a dual-clutch, it’s a traditional torque-converter auto. The Focus doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, and is front-wheel drive.
According to Ford, the three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the Focus will use 6.4L/100km of fuel after a combination of urban and open-road driving. My mileage in the Trend grade, according to the car’s trip computer, was 9.4L/100km after 487.9km of country roads.
Not all of those kilometres were mine, mind, but that was the average after four different drivers had been behind the wheel.
Spring for the LT, and that's paired with a CVT automatic transmission, with Holden promising that combination will sip a claimed/combined 5.5L/100km (though we recorded a less impressive 8.0 litres on our test).
The Active and Titanium grades weren’t available to drive at the Australian launch of the Focus, but I did get to drive the ST-Line in hatch and wagon form, as well as the Trend hatch.
The ST-Line hatch is the sporty one in the Focus range, even though it has the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Trend (and the Titanium). What makes it sporty is its sports suspension. Does it work? Absolutely, although I didn’t realise just how well until I drove the Trend hatch after steering its ST-Line brother for a few hours first.
Three-cylinder engines tend to have a satisfying little burble to their exhaust notes, but the ST-Line hatch I started in had a particularly deep growl to it at idle. While the ST-Line does have a dual exhaust, the engine output is the same as any other Focus, and so the gravelly voice is more theatrics than suggesting the car is any more potent than a Trend.
What the ST-Line does do without any drama is handle well, because even though it has a torsion bar set-up in the rear (like the Trend), it also has a lowered ride height and a sports suspension tune. It’s not Focus ST-level of agility by any means, but the ST-Line hatch felt nicely pinned down in the bends, with excellent steering feel and accuracy ensuring it is a genuinely fun car to drive.
What I didn’t know until I drove the Trend hatch is that the firmer sports suspension actually gives a more comfortable ride in the ST-Line than the base-grade car. The Trend, like the Titanium, has softer suspension, which you’d think would offer the best ride, but I found that over the bumps and bruises of country roads, the Trend’s ride was comfortable but bit bouncy, while the ST-Line was more composed and meant the occupants weren’t jiggled around as much.
The award for the most comfortable ride and best handling of the three cars I drove goes to the ST-Line wagon with its sports-tuned multi-link rear suspension. Yup, the cargo hauler of the range was also the best to drive from a comfort and fun perspective, with its compliant suspension keeping life civilised inside the cabin over bumps, while also feeling planted in the switchback and hairpins that cut through country Victoria.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic (you can’t get a manual), but it’s super keen to shift to a higher gear as early as possible, and when sitting at about 100km/h on a motorway, it was indecisive about which gear it wanted to be in; go 104km/h and it shifted up, drop to 97km/h and it shifted down. Up, down, up, down, up... well, you get the idea.
When it came time to drive roads which went all bendy, the transmission still tried to take the fun out by shifting up and bogging the car down in lower revs. The solution was to leave the car in Sport mode, which instructs the gearbox to cling to lower gears for longer. I kept the Trend and ST-Lines in Sport mode most of the time I drove them – it didn’t affect the ride (the cars suspension isn’t adaptive), but the throttle response and shifting was perfect for all driving, whether I was flinging through the winding country roads or trundling through town centres.
All three – the Trend hatch, ST-Line Hatch and ST-Line wagon - performed well, with the ST-Line duo feeling like they were approaching or even matching Volkswagen Golf levels of agility and composure.
At no point did I feel that the three-cylinder was under powered - it’s a surprisingly responsive and grunty engine.
Holden's Aussie engineering team say they were able to get their hands all over the new Spark pre-launch, launching lap after lap of the company's proving ground as they tweaked the steering and suspension tune to better suit local conditions. And the results are very good.
The 1.4-litre engine doesn't generate a huge amount of power (though it is good for its class), but it's delivered in a way that makes the Spark feel like it's punching well above its weight, rarely feeling underpowered in everyday situations.
The Aussie magic sprinkled over the suspension and steering transforms the way the Spark LT drives, both in the city and further afield. The ride nudges the firm side of the spectrum (but not enough to bother you over inner-city ruts and bumps) which translates to a low, flat feeling through corners.
All in all, the little Spark more than holds its own on more challenging roads. The steering, too, helps the Spark outshine the regular city commuters, with a naturally engaging set-up that always feels connected to the road below.
There is a certain skittishness to the way it drives at times, though, with the gearbox wanting to continue lurching forward for a split-second after you take your foot off the accelerator, which takes some getting used to.
The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Standard across the range are seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition - the latter of which can read speed limits for you.
The Titanium comes standard with a lane-centre system, which I tested and found it works seriously well – drift out of your lane and the system rapidly yanks you back in again. Only the Titanium comes with blind spot warning, which is odd considering the impressive advanced safety tech that’s already standard across the range
Auto parking is optional only on the Titanium, and can be used for parallel or perpendicular parking. Also standard on all is a 180-degree split-view camera, but front parking sensors are only available to option on the Titanium – again, that’s a bit odd.
A space-saver spare is found under the boot floor for all grades. For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts in the second row.
The new-generation Focus was developed in Europe and built in Germany.
Standard safety fare comes courtesy of six airbags, along with hill-hold assist, ABS and ESC, but it does miss out on more advanced technologies like autonomous brakes.
Springing for the LT will add rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and cruise control as standard fare, though the lot can be added to the entry-level LS as part of Holden's Driver Assistance Pack.
The Spark range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested early this year.
The Spark range is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and requires servicing every 15,000kms. The Spark range falls under Holden's lifetime capped price servicing scheme, with trips to the dealership capped at $1,145 total for the first five services.