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km : 2010 North American International Auto Show Preview

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11 January 2010

If, like us, you’ve been whining for years about how Ford never sailed the second-generation Focus over here from Europe but instead left us with the first-generation model, which only looked more sickly with each passing year and facelift, it’s officially time to shut up. Yes, Ford has just debuted a new Focus at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show and it isn’t just coming to America, it’s coming to, well, everywhere. When production starts in late 2010, with plants in Spain, Germany, Michigan, China, and Russia, the new “global” Focus will be offered in 122 different markets. It’s the most dramatic showing yet of Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” concept.



But is it still “Euro?” For the most part, yes. This new global Focus is an evolution of the current European Focus, which shares its platform with the Mazda3 and Volvo C30/S40/V50 sold here in the US. It was given its shape by Ford of Europe Design Director Martin Smith, who is responsible for all the other “Kinetic” cars in Europe, including the Mondeo and Kuga. Chassis dynamics were sorted out by global C-segment line director Gunnar Herrman, who is quite obviously German, and much of the development was done at a test track in Belgium. Ford even went so far as to show us a video of some very German men driving a mule quickly around a test ring.



“Look, we have Germans! They’re smart!”



Across the entire world market, Ford claims 80 percent of the parts are shared among all different forms of this new Focus, and the diesels that will not offered here (see, Ford left you something to complain about after all) likely make up much of that percentage. But it was designed to comply with both our front impact standards and Europe’s pedestrian safety laws, so the structure itself is identical.



If you’re of the mind that to qualify as “Euro” a car must be built in Europe, you’re out of luck here. Every car sold in the US – where it will be offered in both four- and five-door configurations – will be built at a plant in Wayne, Michigan. It’s where we were given our first look at the new car, and while the plant’s currently at its emptiest stage between its past life as an Expedition plant and its Focus future, the company is investing over $550 million in the place and will be bringing back 3200 jobs when production starts at the end of the year.



Even Esref Armagan (the blind artist who “revealed” the new Volvo S60 to the world last fall) could say this new Focus is a huge improvement in looks over the current US car, which to our eyes looks like some sort of FutureCar designed for a low-budget 1980s sci-fi movie. But does it look better than the very clean and elegant Focus sold in Europe? You can judge for yourselves—there are some elements we love and some others that frustrate us. The triangle elements of the front grille, we think, are too tall and narrow, and visually squeeze the Focus’s cheeks in. At the rear, we really don’t understand the trend of extending lights forward almost to the doors, with the five-door version being the bigger offender. I asked Martin Smith if there were any functional requirements that demand this, and he said no. “But it does visually shorten the rear overhangs,” he claimed. We disagree—it makes the rear bumper look longer to us. “Plus, it looks cool.” No, not really. It looks a bit better in spy photos, where the unnecessary part of the lens is covered up. But still, these are small details—it still looks light years ahead of the current car, and far better as well than its platform brother, the new Mazda3.



There are a lot of things we do like about the design, including the “Zoro flip” along the side, the way the accent line along the side cuts back, falls yields to a line lower down along the door, then flips back up higher at the rear. This is a main element of the “ongoing Kinetic design story,” as Smith put it. He says the Internet has been quite helpful in allowing designers to transition into global cars, as his team can look and see what customers in different parts of the world are saying about the different models currently sold in different markets. He must be reading the Internet; the first thing he commented on in his design lecture was the car’s “great stance.” Both cars seem to look the best from a front three-quarters view and from directly behind.



You might also notice that both body styles have a much sleeker roofline than you might have expected of a small, high-volume Ford. Smith was very excited about slipping that element in, and credits the taller C-Max model for allowing a sportier Focus. If you hadn’t heard, that model has also been green-lit for the US, along with the seven-passenger Grand C-Max.



Inside the cabin, we really have no complaints, at least in regard to the upscale “Titanium” trim we were shown. The shapes, layout, and materials are all quite fantastic – this is another page in the case file against American car company interior designers simply being lazy for the past few decades. Proof that the last Focus didn’t have to be that way. Martin Smith calls it an interior that is appealing “for the senses, not just appearance.”



If you’re looking for further evidence of European influence, check out the new Focus’ options list. It’s been the case overseas for some time, but Americans are just now — thanks a lot, Mini — realizing that small doesn’t have to mean cheap. Sure, there will be a basic, entry-level Focus starting somewhere in the mid-teens, but Ford is also offering a lot of choices, and don’t be surprised if a fully-optioned car pushes $30,000. Even the new Fiesta can cost as much as $23,000. Among those technologies offered will be keyless start, rain-sensing wipers, a rear backup camera, a powerful Sony audio system, auto park assist, navigation with an eight-inch screen, and Ford’s new MyFord Touch system, a tech-heavy evolution of Sync. Ford also promises a much more peaceful living space, including wind noise levels that are lower than the Corolla, the Civic, and even the Jetta.



That attention to detail will supposedly be evident throughout the car. A new “wet” paint process that applies primer, paint, and clear coat all at once before baking should give more depth and luster to the finish. Structurally, the Focus wears about 55 percent high-strength steel, including the most high-strength boron steel ever used on a Ford product.



As a fuel-saving measure, the Focus will also transition to an electric power steering system; cornering junkies should fear not, as we’ve been quite happy with Volkswagen’s system, and Ford of Europe has painstakingly tuned theirs to have good feedback and response. Over 250 different parameters are built into the steering program. Another computer program will control Dynamic Cornering Control, a torque-vectoring system operated not mechanically, but through the car’s stability control system. Stealing a page from BMW’s EfficientDynamics program, the Focus also has an active grille shutter up front that self-modulates and finds a happy medium between necessary cooling air and optimum aerodynamics.



Power for the Focus will once again come from a 2.0-liter inline-four, but it isn’t a simple carryover. This new all-aluminum, direct-injection, variable-valve-timed unit should be smoother, cleaner, lighter, and rev freer than the dull outgoing engine. It’ll deliver about 150 horsepower and while Ford won’t comment on fuel economy, we’re guessing they are aiming for best-in-class, so near 40 mpg on the highway. Helping in that mission is Ford’s Powershift dual-clutch transmission that’ll also be offered in the new Fiesta. It works like Volkswagen’s DSG transmission, but uses a dry clutch and is maintenance-free for the life of the car. A manual transmission will still be standard.



We’re just being optimistic at this point, but we expect an Ecoboost Focus, using a turbocharged version of the same direct-injection 2.0-liter, is just around the corner. The only question is whether Ford will pick the ST, RS, or SVT moniker.



As our President might say, “there is no longer a ‘crappy American Focus’ and an ‘awesome Euro Focus,’ but simply one global Focus.” Kinda makes you want to join hands with all your friends and sing “We Are The World.” Maybe not, but Ford hopes it will at least make you consider the Focus next time you’re out shopping for a new Jetta or Mini Cooper.


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