There’s no denying the Focus is a strong seller for Ford New Zealand, with the ST-Line leading the pack in sales. While the Focus Trend is the base, the ST-Line makes for the sporty-looking model, and the top-spec Titanium grabs the luxury model moniker.
But is there something missing in the range? Ford NZ thinks so, and in October will be selling the new Active model, aimed at people with an active lifestyle.
THE FIRST DRIVE
We headed off to Byron Bay on the Gold Coast to check the Active out. The first part of the launch was a two-hour drive to lunch from the airport, in the new model. Sitting there in the car park, the height difference was obvious, as was the protective plastic skirting around the wheel arches. There’s different wheels too, unique to the Active model. Other than that it looks that same as the current gen Focus, launched in 2018. Our first drive car was finished in Ruby Red, and looked great.
Driving out of the airport as a passenger, the Focus still impresses with quietness, and the obvious performance potential with that sweet little 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder EcoBoost turbo engine. Driving on the motorway was almost serene, although if the driver floors it to pass a car, the engine takes on a nice growl to let you know it’s working harder.
We got to our lunch location, and it was time for a talk from Ford Australia’s marketing people on the changes to the car, and how it slots into the market.
Ford says the Active is not considered a crossover, but instead adds capability to the existing car. They feel car buyers are more informed and particular, and want to express themselves – and this includes the car they choose to drive, as it makes a statement of who they are, and who they want to be. That’s where the Focus Active aims to be.
Probably the biggest mechanical change in the car is the moving from a torsion beam rear suspension, to fully independent rear suspension. The front has been lifted 30mm, and the rear 34mm to give it some better capability for those with active lifestyles.
As mentioned, there’s unique 17” alloys with higher profile Hankook tyres, as well as unique springs and stabilisers bars, and revised suspension geometry.
Mechanically, there’s some extra drive modes; the Active adds the option of Trail, and Slippery. Trail helps maintain momentum on surfaces like mud and sand. Slippery mode is for snow, ice, grass or gravel, and reduces straight-ahead wheel spin.
Visually, there’s unique Active bumpers, a front grille and LED fog lights are fitted. Also as standard are roof rails. There’s special interior trim with Nordic Blue stitching, Active scuff plates, and Active door appliques.
Thankfully, Ford New Zealand have specced the single model they are going to sell here with adaptive cruise control (with Stop/Go function), autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and an 8” colour touch screen. There’s also SatNav at standard, with a Breadcrumbs feature. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also fitted as standard.
The New Zealand-spec cars will also have a Lane Centering function, as well as Road Edge Detection and a lane keeping aid, traffic sign recognition, and a 5-star ANCPA rating.
Engine-wise there’s no change from the 1.5-litre EcoBoost motor, putting out 134kW of power and a decent 240Nm of torque. It also has cylinder deactivation to save fuel, which will disable the first cylinder, running the car on two cylinders when it can.
In New Zealand, the Active will cost $36,990 +ORC. Yep, it’s the same price as the delicious ST Line. For the time being, we’ll have just the one model and if there is demand, an up-spec model may be introduced later.
It will be available from October this year.
THE SECOND DRIVE
After lunch, we hit the road again for another two-hour drive to our night’s stay in Byron Bay. Again, the Focus Active impresses, as I take the wheel. It has the same rotary transmission shifter as the new Endura SUV, and it’s a bit of a love/hate thing.
The steering though – so direct, and although this car sits 30mm higher than the standard Focus, it still feels sporty as you chuck it around the bends. Helping things along here is that engine; with 240Nm of torque, it’s a real joy to drive and that growl it makes when you wind out a bit is bliss to the ears.
The ride is excellent over most surfaces, and some of the back roads we were sent on really hammered the car. We couldn’t believe the state of the roads we were going on, but the Active took them in its stride.
I kept thinking of how much different it handles than a standard Focus – or does it even handle differently? Yes, there is more body roll if you push it a bit too hard, but on the whole Ford have done well. With the increased height, it’s not that much different. Perhaps that’s the new independent rear suspension and revised suspension geometry doing their thing.
The next day it’s a more direct drive back to the airport, but with a stop on the way for some light off-roading through some deep sand. One car did get stuck – not enough momentum – but the rest fair sailed through the sand without drama. No doubt the increased ground clearance of the car helped here.
After that small drama, it was on to the airport via more back roads, suburbia and the Gold Coast’s motorway system.
Will the Active succeed against cars like the FWD version of the Mazda CX-3, and other front-wheel-drive small SUVs, taking buyers away to something as familiar as the Focus?
Own our verdict will need to wait until we get a test car for a week, then we can really see if it’s a worthy option for those seeking an active lifestyle.