I recently had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver to take part in the Ford Focus Challenge. This is an event designed to make getting to know the Ford Focus as much fun as possible. I only got to spend about 6 hours with the car, and so my review won’t be as in-depth as it would normally be. I’m going to tell you what I found out about this car, based on my observations and experience, as well as through the different educational components of this event.
I flew to Vancouver early in the morning. I started out sitting behind someone who chose to adjust his tray continuously causing me to threaten him – I advised him that his crotch would get intimate with my hot coffee if that kept up. Luckily Carol McBee (@TheBossyMama), from BossyMama.ca, was on the same flight and rescued me from performing incriminating acts and invited me into her row – it was great getting to know her, and I didn’t have to resort to my movie-laden iPad once during the flight!
The Focus Challenge started at 12:30 PM at the Granville Island Hotel in Vancouver. This was the view awaiting the participants as we arrived.
We got to meet the other participants, and were divided up into our teams. My team consisted of Carol, Rebecca Bollwitt (@miss604) – who is the famous Miss604.com and is clearly the most connected person in the Vancouver area – and myself. I think the organizers must have got into our minds before the event, because our team was a perfect fit! Rebecca was the absolute last word on everywhere we were going – she knows everything about Vancouver and its surrounding areas. Carol was the good driver and our cheerleader. I was, um, well, I was the idiot in the back seat. For the most part.
We were advised that this event is not a race, that we were to have fun and put safety first. We were given some basic instructions and then it was go time! Our team was the first out of the gates. We were driving a silver SEL sedan, which appeared to be pretty much loaded except for leather seating. I priced it out and it would retail for about $23,641, but you’d be seeing over a $1000 in rebates, reductions, allowances, etc.
The 2012 Focus starts at a very reasonable $15,999 for the S trim level sedan, and goes up to a still-reasonable $26,355 for a loaded, Titanium trim level 5-door hatchback. All 2012 Focus models include the new 2.0 litre inline-4 engine. It’s a modern unit, using direct injection and some other goodies to make a decent amount of power, and to be extraordinarily fuel efficient. The engine cranks out 160 horsepower at 6500 RPM and 146 lb.ft of torque at 4450 RPM – these numbers are enough to make this an agile little car, and I never found myself needing more to do anything we were up to during the challenge. To be honest, I haven’t really driven a lot of the competition in this class, but I would venture to think that the balance between flexibility, power and fuel economy is near the top of the class.
The 2012 Focus draws on what Ford calls “Kinetic Design” language, which talks about the flow of energy, blah blah blah. In subjective terms, I would say I appreciate the new styling direction. It’s a nice, modern take – it has character without taking too many risks and possibly alienating buyers. I prefer the hatchback over the sedan. Both share the same front end, with its menacing trapezoidal grille treatment – they definitely look like they mean business. I really like the rear end of the hatch – it has a little spoiler and just the right kind of curves to make it look spicy. It’s really difficult to make a compact sedan look spicy, because there’s always the nasty business of a trunk. Ford uses wrap-around tail-lights which look great on both, and they also use a wrap-around headlight design which they call Dragon Eye design. That’s a bit rich, but still, it’s a nice look. It’s aggressive, modern, sleek and it works. I noted that the wheel choice really makes a difference on the Focus – and they’ve got some good ones. You can opt up to 18″ rims on this car, which looks hot.
Our first stop of the day was right in Granville Island, where we stopped under the steel bridge for a photo op and learned about the use of boron steel in the new Focus’ body, adding strength and allowing for some weight savings, which help with handling and fuel economy. I should note that we had to collect puzzle pieces along the way – each stop gave us one or more piece, which we’d need at the end of the challenge.
Speaking of fuel economy, the Focus is rated at 7.2 L/100 km in the city (about 33 mpg) and an astounding 4.8 L/100 km on the highway (I converted this to 49 mpg, but the Ford literature says 59 mpg). Either way, those are impressive numbers and Ford says it’s an 18% improvement over the previous model’s economy. All this is with the automatic transmission. And this automatic transmission isn’t the old-school one – they’ve brought some new goodness to the table here as well. It’s Ford’s new 6-speed PowerShift dual-clutch unit – I found the shifts to be quick and relatively very smooth. The transmission did seem to be quite economy-centric, and I felt it liked to head for the higher gears more often than I wanted during spirited driving. The upside is that this car (according to Ford’s notes) can drive 977 km (607 miles) on one tank of gas on the highway. That’s pretty rad! There is an S setting which would, logically, stand for Sport and should hold the gears longer – I got an opportunity to use it at our second stop of the day.
After driving through Vancouver, we ended up in the parking lot of the Silver City theatres in Richmond. There is no way we could have done this without the help of Rebecca – she knew every intersection and turn before it was even on the horizon! As we made the turn into the parking lot, we realized that it was ours. ALL OURS! The entire parking lot was set up for a mini road course, including painted lines and orange cones. There was a slalom, a 90 degree turn, a couple of hair-pin curves, a nice straight and an emergency manoeuvre section. Before heading off into the course, we learned about the new electronically assisted power steering which is substantially more flexible and adjusts to the driving situation. It’s nice and light in slow driving, like a parking lot, and it cranks up the assist when it needs to. I thought it felt like a well-balanced system throughout the day. We were also told about the new Focus’ torque vectoring differential. This pushes torque to the wheel with the most grip, and makes a big difference in performance driving. Torque vectoring isn’t a brand-new concept, but I think it might be exclusive to the Focus in this class of vehicle. You’ll find it on more expensive, performance-oriented cars, but it’s refreshing to see it on this vehicle.
Although it was a short course, it gave us an idea about what the Focus could do when pushed closer to its limits, and we were encouraged to do just that. My team-mates and I bagged that poor Focus, and it took what we dished out. I was impressed by the balance of the car. There was some serious body lean, but the circumstances would be considered extreme compared to everyday driving, and the car retained its grip in almost all situations. I found some typical understeer around the 90 degree turn and the hairpins, but again, considering the car I was in, you can color me impressed. Each of us got 3 turns to go around the circuit, and were told to get on it each time. The goal was not the fastest speed, but rather to avoid taking down any cones along the way. I’m sorry, but I think we all treated it as a race – and we all had fun doing it. We were also treated to a ride from a pro driver, which was to demonstrate the true capabilities of the car. And finally, I did get a couple of laps with a manual transmission equipped Focus – I appreciated the ability to shift, and the clutch was positive and pretty forgiving. It’s not made for competitive driving, but it would be an ideal manual transmission for everyday driving. After the driving component, we headed into the hotel across the parking lot where we competed in a Wii Skiing challenge – we got a couple of shots at the slalom, and I don’t really want to talk about how I did. But it WAS fun!
I wish I’d thought of this, but I didn’t. Here is another team’s Go-Pro footage of a lap around the little track – thanks to Ed Lau (@edlau), Michael Kwan (@michaelkwan) and Stephen Fung (@stephenfung) for sharing. They were Team Yellow, but I’m sure Ford wasn’t trying to say anything by that. 😉
We headed off to our next stop, the sweet smell of burnt rubber infusing our car’s cabin and our clothes. It was quite a drive again, and after cruising down the beautiful Marine Drive, flanked by mansions of every size, style and character, we ended up in a valley, and at our destination – the Southlands Riding Club. This was a tony little place, with young and old alike cantering around the area, including the neighbouring streets, on their mounts. I felt like I’d just driven into the English countryside. As we pulled up, we were told to leave the car running – one of the facets of this challenge was to drive as efficiently as possible and we were rewarded with points for how miserly we travelled from one waypoint to another. We were led to the end of the parking lot where we were introduced to Simon. Simon was definitely the biggest individual we met that day, and he carried his weight well. All 1600 pounds of it. Simon is a massive horse. I mean this horse made me feel even more insignificant than I really am when I was standing beside him. His function, other than to remind us of our place in the animal kingdom, was to let us know how many horsepower the Focus has. Clever, no? Once we met Simon, and got to feed him his specially-formulated horse treats which, incidentally, will look exactly the same coming out, we were shown to the club house. Here we learned about some of the niceties around the Focus’ new engine, and a spanky little innovation that they call active grille shutters. The car figures out exactly how much fresh air the engine requires at that particular point in time and adjusts the grille to open and close as it sees fit. That allows the engine to warm up quicker, and therefore more efficiently – and this will also slightly aid in the car’s aerodynamic presence whilst driving. An interesting concept, to be sure. How much impact it has, I can’t say, but it certainly is food for thought.
Speaking of food for thought, we were treated to a lovely BBQ buffet at the club house, and we were off again. We continued to follow Marine Drive through the incredibly scenic university area and along the gorgeous beaches. It was easy to see why Vancouver is rated the top city to live in. I was a back-seat passenger during this leg of the trip, and it allowed me to take in my surroundings inside the Focus for a short while. The materials used in this car are upscale in terms of this class, and the dash was fitted with a soft plastic with a nice texture and grain on it. I felt that the fit and finish were exemplary throughout the cabin, as far as I had time to look. As I’ve noted before, I do like the ambient lighting that Ford offers in its recent models.
We had the cloth seats, which were manually adjustable as well as heated for the front passengers, and highly comfortable. On that note, I did have a look at one of the leather trimmed Focuses and it was a very nice appointment and trim. I felt that the space in the car, again for its class, is generous. Seating room in front and back was great – I’m not tall, but I did have plenty of knee room in the back.
Storage space seems limited, but it’s not a big car. You’ll find two cupholders in the centre console. There is a glove compartment and a centre console bin, and that’s about it, short of small door pockets which incorporated little cupholders, in hard plastic, and the standard seat-back map pockets for the rear seat passengers. I didn’t take the time to open our trunk, however I did have a look at the space in the hatchback, and it was impressive.
The dash is well-designed – it has some interesting twists and turns, and tries to do some normal things differently – I liked the new shapes and contours I saw, and everything was relatively user-friendly. The instrument cluster is simple – two big easy to read analog gauges on the outside, flanking a small centre screen which is above two small gauges. The information screen is controlled by steering wheel buttons, and gives you access to trip meters, fuel economy information, system settings, etc as well as outside temperature, odometer reading and shift lever position. There is an eco mode, in which you can earn green petals around a plant, as you drive more economically. I was unable to delve deeper into the whole eco-mode thing, but I did note that, at one point (obviously I wasn’t driving), we earned an “Eco Champion” trophy for our economical driving! I’m guessing you can continue to rack up “points” and earn further incentives to continue on your path of being Gordon Lightfoot and saving the planet by driving your fossil-fueled Focus efficiently.
We soon ended up at our next destination, the sports fields and the International Youth Hostel. Or more specifically, the parking lot adjacent to it. Here we met a gaggle of support people, and came upon a row of Ford vehicles parallel parked with a couple of parking spots conspiciously left in between.
We were enlightened about the finer details of what makes one of the cooler options on the Focus work – the Active Park Assist feature. Yes, it’s optional, but it’s a complete no-brainer. Once it is turned on, with a switch that seems poorly placed at the bottom of the centre stack, behind the shift lever, it uses sensors on the right side of the car to figure out possible parking spots. And from there, you simply follow the directions on the screen. It will tell you when to stop, put the car in reverse, stop, and put it in drive to straighten out. The magic comes in the fact that you do not have to touch the steering wheel. And I kid you not – it’s magic. It will put you about 4 inches away from the curb, perfectly parallel, every single time. I can’t imagine buying this car and not opting for this feature. It’s available on a number of Ford vehicles at this time, and I would consider this a solid selling feature. I did grab some video of Carol McBee and the Focus working together to parallel park – check it out here, and ignore my girlish enthusiasm if you can. I got a little over-excited, but you have to admit, it is cool. This reminds me of another little goody – our Focus had the moonroof, and Carol was asked to put her hands in the air. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she had experience as a sorority girl. Wait. What?!
Next, we moved on to a couple of demonstrations – first the MyKey technology and then the voice-controlled navigation system. The MyKey system is a great idea – and I’ve talked about it in other Ford vehicle reviews. It allows parents to program their kids’ keys to limit the top speed of the car, as well as allowing them to control the maximum volume of the stereo system AND the stereo remains muted until the seat belts are buckled up. They’re certainly not draconian measures, and although they’re likely to piss off the average teen, it’s a small price to pay to be able to take the car out, and it would give me peace of mind as a parent. Good thinking! The voice-controlled navigation system did not cooperate in our car, even after resetting the system and turning the car off and on again. Any and all attempts to convince the system otherwise resulted in it asking us to speak an instruction, and even though we were (in different volumes, accents, etc) it never registered. These Focuses were all early builds and it appears to be a software issue – it worked on the other teams’ cars, and upon arriving at our final destination, the system in our car worked for the Ford tech.
While I’m talking about some of the tech, I should mention the Focus had the MyFord Touch system. I’ve talked about this system at length in my previous reviews, especially with the Lincoln MKX, and I continue to have the same opinion of it. It’s promising technology, but there are enough issues with the response time, and too much layering of access, to make it a great system. The potential is huge, but until they figure out how to implement it in a better way, I prefer Ford’s combination of hard buttons and touch screen, such as in the F-150. The system does control 4 major areas of function – the audio/media system, the navigation system, climate control and the phone functions. The screen is located at the top of the centre stack, and is easy to read and to reach. Integrated into the screen is the rear-view camera which shows distance markings and the very useful trajectory lines, and is paired with audio warnings from the distance sensors. The stereo is a Sony-branded system, which sounds pretty good – it integrates AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio, as well as USB-based media in terms of thumb drives or iPods/iPhones. I only found one visible 12V plug – right in the middle of the centre console along with the USB plug. Climate control is a nice, simple dual-zone system that was very accurate. Our sedan had a 3-setting HomeLink transmitter for your garage door opening convenience.
Our next stop was at Kits’ Coffee Co. where we were treated to some spectacular baking (I had a cinnamon bun that was roughly the size of Simon, the largest horse on the planet, and an iced chai latte – stop in there sometime if you haven’t – it’s a great place, and I know someone who said it’s a nice place to break up with people, so what more do you want?) From there, we walked down the block to Mavi Jeans. Apparently the tie-in was recyclable materials – Mavi Jeans uses it in their jeans, and boy, does Ford ever use it in the Focus. They actually use recycled jeans and cotton in the carpet backing and sound-dampening materials, and I believe in the seats as well. In addition, a huge number of components throughout the Focus are made of recycled materials, and are further recyclable after the life of the vehicle. They are also using greener materials, such as soy foam seat cushions – I’m certain that would delight the granola, tree-hugging crowd if they were ever stranded with a Ford Focus and had to start eating it.
Between here and the last stop we were asked to fill up the car at a gas station where the attendant “humbly” asked us, or rather some of the event coordinators, not to take pictures or video. The humble request was not honored. I did appreciate the cap-less fuel filler – no cap to undo, or forget about afterwards. Why doesn’t every auto manufacturer do this? It seems like the best solution to a simple problem. If you consider it a problem.
After that, we were off to the final destination – back to the Granville Island Hotel. We had to do a final test, applying the Focus knowledge we had gleaned throughout the day, and we had to assemble the puzzle of all the pieces we collected along the way. By the time we sat down to do the test, we were fed an incredible variety of tapas by the staff at the hotel. And by the time we completed our puzzles, our tests, and mingled with the other teams for a few minutes, the event coordinators were already showing us a video and slide-show montage of the day’s events on a big screen, as we got ready to eat – again. It was a pretty close competition, but in the end, the team of uber-energetic and efficient radio host Sandra Klaric (@sandraklaric), community events gal Cat Barr (@catherinebarr) whose hair and energy is likely unsurpassed in all of humanity, and the cool dude that’s with Cat, beat us all, and were awarded iPads for their efforts. I have a feeling that Cat’s excitement over the win is still ringing through the hallowed halls of the Granville Island Hotel.
There was plenty of time to get to know new people, and it was a pleasure chatting with Megan Stewart (@MHStewart) and Sandra Thomas (@sthomas10) from the Vancouver Courier, as well as a number of the organizers from JGK Integrated Solutions, Peak Communicators (@PeakCo) and Ford Canada. What a great group of human beings and what a crazy amount of behind-the-scenes work! Also, I want to thank Dean Heuman (@dheuman) and Focus Communications (@FocusCom) for thinking of me for this event.
All in all, it was an incredibly fun experience in which I learned a lot about the new Focus and about Vancouver. Thanks, Ford, for the opportunity to take part in the Focus Challenge – it was a blast! And thanks to all the other “competitors” – I know it wasn’t a race, but it was still fun competing, and most of all, getting to know all of you!
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.