FORD: Inside and out, technology elevates Focus to a new level
17 January 2011
Guy Bird was offered a rare chance to meet Ford boffins in their Technical Centre in Cologne and hear first hand about the array of technology used in the new Focus
The next Ford Focus will be more aerodynamic, quieter and refined than any previous model while boasting an array of high specification top-end gadgets.
Think of a top-end car option you wouldn't expect to see on a lower medium mainstream hatchback and the chances are the new Focus offers it. Highlights include blind spot, lane-keep and driver fatigue alert systems, low-speed crash avoidance auto-braking, active park assist, traffic signage recognition, auto hi-beam headlamp alert, speed limiter, stop/start and regenerative braking. It's quite a list for an everyman compact car.
Of course, some of these systems have been offered before by other 'regular' marques - such as Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota - but Ford claims to be the first to offer the lot in a lower medium vehicle and with some improvements too. Take the active park-assist kit that helps work out whether a space is big enough for your car and then helps park it. Ford says its system has been developed to fit the Focus into smaller spaces than its competitors, only 1.2 times the size of the car. The Prius system for example will only contemplate shuffling into a space 1.4 times the size. As electrical systems engineer David Weinrauch told BusinessCar: "If I saw a space that size I wouldn't try it on the street."
In order to encourage the take-up of more of these gadgets, Ford is intending to bundle them together, so active park assist will likely come with front and rear parking sensors and folding mirrors for £275, as it already does on the C-max sister product.
Beyond safety, fleet drivers can also look forward to greatly improved interaction with the car's infotainment systems. Ford says the new Focus will offer greatly enhanced speech recognition and better MP3 connectivity so for example, iPod information will now be accessible from the car's main screen.
But the new Focus is not just about driver gadgets. The whole car has been thoroughly re-worked from an aerodynamic viewpoint to assist fuel economy and emissions. Far from a house brick in mk2 guise, the mk3 Focus has nonetheless improved its wind-cheating skills considerably. One crucial area is the addition of 'active aero' shutters in the top half of the centre front grille a few inches back from the exterior surface that automatically graduate from fully shut to gain the best aerodynamic effect, to many stages of 'open' when the engine needs cooling or as the climate control requires.
Other aero details include small 'speed lip' deflectors - a bit like Mini-mud flaps but at the front rather than the back of the wheel arches - to more rounded A-pillars and barely visible flat side sections to the otherwise curvy rear light clusters. All help achieve a drag co-efficient of 0.295Cd for the new hatchback (versus 0.318 for the old model) and 0.274 (vs. 0.304Cd) for the saloon.
Reducing weight to the body structure was another key factor for the new Focus (given extra gadgets adding weight elsewhere). The car's B-pillar behind the driver's head is a great example. Now each one is lighter by 1.4kg due to the use of high-strength boron steel and a new manufacturing technique that allows the pillar's structure to vary in thickness along its length rather than having to patch together heavier multiple parts.
"Closing holes wherever possible" has been one of the main aims of Dr Martin Hildebrandt, Ford of Europe's Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) boss. Thus the new Focus gets sealed inner trim panels, acoustic laminate in the windscreen, increased glass thickness all round the vehicle and lower wipers which at rest disturb the wind flow less. But not all noise has been reduced. The Focus has always driven superbly but the next one will sound great too. The petrol engine versions will benefit from having their best-sounding accelerator moments amplified through to the cabin while diesel engine variants' worst-sounding idling moments have been reduced so much that NVH specialist Dr Ralf Heinrichs says "you won't be able to tell if it's a diesel or petrol from inside the car". He also promises greatly reduced exterior noise.