C346 Ford Focus EcoBoost Adelaide 1

Facelifts, by and large, are mostly mundane affairs, normally consisting of the odd exterior nip and tuck, mild revisions to the interior and a bit of tightening to ride/handling. The changes can usually be viewed as refining that from lessons learnt, or in the occasional example, correcting oversights that happened in the first place.

In the case of the facelifted third-generation Ford Focus, which was revealed in February 2014 ahead of its working debut in Geneva a short while later, it’s a mix of both – the mid-cycle reworking drawn out for the C346 is pretty comprehensive, much more than a usual refresh job.

Aside from a mild exterior restyling and modifications to the interior, new tech has also been introduced and the ride refined to bring it closer to its primary European competition. More significantly, both powertrain and drivetrain choices seen on the pre-facelift (which was launched in Malaysia in September 2012) have been replaced, which is a move beyond the ordinary.

There are reasons why some of these have come about, notably with the transmission, but do the changes amount to great significance and inject new life into the C-segment offering? Following its ASEAN debut at the IIMS and GIIAS shows in Jakarta in August, we try the new car in Adelaide at its Asia-Pac regional drive to find out just how it shapes up.

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First, let’s look at the styling changes, which has brought about a tighter look with it – the exterior’s redesign work is primarily concentrated at the front, and it’s quite cleverly done, the redrawing. The split front grille on the current car has been replaced by a one-piece frontage, with the Aston Martin-like trapezoidal honeycomb grille – first seen on the pre-facelift Focus ST – now integrated on the upper part of the assembly instead of that before, when it was presented in separate triangular fashion.

The grille on the facelift has a smaller aperture than both pre- and facelifted STs, but is arguably better resolved visually, and its size also presents a cleaner placement area for the licence plate on the bumper.

The new bumper also offers sharper-looking fog lamp cutouts, again honeycombed for effect. New slimmer headlamps and a revised bonnet – replete with powerdome – complete the reworked front end, which would best be described as taut. Certainly, it gives the car more character and better presence.

There are also changes to the rear, though they’re not as immediately striking upon first glance. Look closer though, and you’ll find that the tail lamps have been scaled down in terms of height, lending a sharper profile to the rear.

The reduction in surface area is significant, the difference easily visible by gauging it in relation to the petrol filler flap – the old lights were flush in line with the lower end of the cutout, while the new ones (which of course have a redesigned layout) sit higher, by more than a couple of inches.

As a result, the tailgate has also been tweaked to accommodate the profile of the new lights, and the central plastic rib panel of old is gone, the Ford logo now sitting cleaner on the deck line. The rear bumper has also been reprofiled, with larger rear fog lamp/reflector assemblies. The unit also features a new diffuser pattern – there are actually two different diffusers in use, depending on trim level.

Speaking of trim levels, there are three available in Australia – the previous entry-level Ambiente level has been dropped from the new line-up, so the new baseline offering for the car Down Under is the mid-line Trend, followed by the Sport and range-topping Titanium, a model range that is mirrored by Indonesia.

There are some differences in kit though, specifically for the Trend. The Australian variant features as standard 16-inch five double-spoke wheels with 205/60 tyres (Indonesia, 17-inch), a SYNC 2 infotainment system and corresponding eight-inch central screen (Indonesia, original SYNC and 4.2-inch screen) and six airbags (Indonesia, two), but otherwise looks similarly equipped.

Other items found on the Trend include a standard rear spoiler, a six-speaker Ford audio system, fabric seats, manual climate control, rear view camera, active grille shutter, ABS, dynamic stability control (DSC) and Hill Launch Assist. The Trend retains a keyed ignition, and bulbed pilot lamps make do as DRLs.

The Sport adds to that found on the Trend, with daytime running lights being of the LED variety – these sit on the upper part of the headlamp assembly; though not a full strip across the lamp, it’s bright enough for the task at hand. Also on, a body styling kit consisting of side skirts, front and rear diffuser extensions (for the latter, replacing a simpler-looking monotone panel on the Trend) and a rear sports spoiler.

Other bits include a nine-speaker Sony sound system, keyless entry with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, auto headlights and wipers, dual-zone auto air-con, ambient lighting, rear LED tail lamps, a four-way manual adjustment driver’s seat. Seat upholstery continues on with cloth (Indonesia, leather), and the Sport rides on 17-inch multi-spoke alloys and 215/50 profile tyres.

The top-of-the-range Titanium gets a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, leather inserts for the seating, and is shod with 18-inch five-spoke alloys and 235/40 rubbers, the last identical in profile aspect to the ST. The new 18s do look the business though, and give the regulation Focus a rather nice set of legs.

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The variant also adds on an assortment of safety and driver assist tech – Active City Stop continues on, though the collision avoidance system has been revised, now operating at speeds of up to 50 km/h, up from 30 km/h in the current version.

There’s also Blind Spot Information and Rear Cross Traffic Alert in the mix, and Active Park Assist now gets an Enhanced prefix and new tricks – the system now supports reverse perpendicular parking, as well as Park-Out Assist to help drivers exit a parallel parking space.

Ford’s MyKey technology is present across the model range. This enables owners, or parents, to programme a key for younger drivers, tailoring it as such that it can restrict the top speed, reduce the maximum volume of the audio system or disable the vehicle altogether if driver and passengers are not using safety belts.

A quick aside on the headlights, which on the entire Australian model line-up are complex surface reflector halogen units (the same was also seen on the Indonesian debutants). It’s strange that the range-topping Titanium variant doesn’t get bi-xenon projectors, like that seen now on the current Sport+ hatch and Titanium sedan.

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It remains to be seen if the higher-specification Malaysian cars will go the bi-xenon route – only a solitary facelifted sedan was spotted during the event, and it wasn’t part of the drive, so we have no idea if that one had halogens or bi-xenons.

Next, we move on to the items that set an entirely new tone for the car. Engine first – the 2.0 litre Duratec 20 normally-aspirated Ti-VCT GDI engine is history, replaced in markets across the entire Asia-Pac region by a blown Sigma-derived mill, the EcoBoost 15.

The 1.5 litre GTDI four-pot is essentially a variation of the 1.6 EcoBoost, downsized to provide the automaker with the necessary entry point for markets like China, which offer specific tax relief for vehicles with engines of 1.5 litre capacity or less.

Also currently seen on the 2015 Kuga SUV, the unit – which is built in Romania – offers better output numbers than the 2.0 NA, its 180 PS at 6,000 rpm and 240 Nm at 1,600 to 5,000 rpm shading the latter’s 170 hp at 6.500 rpm and 202 Nm at 4,550 rpm.

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It’s not just better in terms of output, but also in fuel efficiency – the claimed rating for the Focus equipped with a 1.5L EB is 6.2 litre per 100 km, six percent better in fuel economy than the 6.6 litres per 100 km offered by the 2.0L GDI. The new lump also presents lower emissions.

There are some improvements and changes from the 1.6 litre (which is assembled at Ford’s Bridgend plant in Wales), and as the linked photos show, the 1.6 litre and 1.5 litre are actually distinguishable by sight.

Features on the EcoBoost 15 include a new integrated exhaust manifold and a water-cooled charge air cooler, which offers a more efficient feed of air into the unit. The unit is also the first Ford engine to incorporate a computer-controlled clutch on the belt-drive water pump, which helps reduce engine warm-up time.

Next, the other significant change, that of drivetrain. Sometimes, the novelty of technology doesn’t quite match up to the idea, with things falling short of the promised land. Case in point – the dual-clutch transmission, or more specifically the Getrag 6DCT250 dry-clutch unit. To say that the execution hasn’t quite live up to the intent would be putting it mildly in describing the particular PowerShift gearbox.

Yes, the Blue Oval’s issues with its dry-clutch DCT (none really with the wet-clutch 6DCT450 as seen on the Mk2 Focus diesel) isn’t quite in the same realms of that endured by a certain German automaker and its similarly-styled dry-clutch unit, but they have been there – the low-level performance of the DPS6, as it’s better known by, has definitely been contentious, and issues of noise and durability have also persisted.

The chief program engineer for the Focus in Asia Pacific, Mark Rampling, who was present at the event, mustered a defence for the unit, saying it isn’t a bad gearbox, and that it will remain as an option in other markets, where it will work with the normally-aspirated 1.6 litre Duratec Ti-VCT engine that has been retained in the line-up. He stated that the move towards a torque converter automatic was in line with the switch to the turbo mill, where its smoother low-speed characteristics would better serve the workings of the engine.

The chosen transmission is the SelectShift 6F35, which has actually been around for a while – the six-speeder was designed in collaboration with GM more than a decade ago (the GM equivalent of the 6F is the Hydra-Matic 6T series), and is in use on the C520 Kuga and the facelifted CD391 Mondeo sedan. The rather toy-ish gearknob manual override SelectShift buttons have been retained, but there was mention of paddle shifters (finally!) being available for some markets – we might not see it though.

Other mechanical changes and enhancements concern areas involving steering, NVH and ride/handling. The level of steering assist to the EPAS has been retuned to offer better characteristics from off-centre, lighter in feel but no less in response, weighing up as more lock is dialled in.

As for improving NVH performance, attention has been given to quietening and refining aspects of the ride – new bits include revised liftgate and mirror hinge seals, while carpeting with improved isolation finds its way on, as does new door trim and front wheel arch liners. The Focus also features new suspension bushes to reduce horizontal movement, making for a tauter scope.

Plenty in the way of change then, and so it was a bit of a downer when weather conditions took a turn for the worse on the day of the drive, as reflected by the photographs. It didn’t help that the drive itself around the outskirts of Adelaide felt rather hurried, in that there was very little time to study the car exterior-wise in greater detail. The rain also meant that driver changes ended up being very quick affairs.

Curiously, despite the drive being segmented into many road-going sections, there were no vehicle swaps, so we were all left driving whatever we started out throughout the entire day. My co-driver and I ended up in a top-spec Titanium, which provides the basis for the report.

The significant amount of time spent in the car did offer a more exacting view of the reworked cabin, or rather the attempts at correction, and it looks as if Ford’s interior design folk have done the best they can to salvage things. If there’s an inherent weakness in the third-gen Focus, it surely must be with regards to interior space – for an amply-sized C-segment offering, the cabin isn’t exactly cavernous or generous, specifically to perceived volume for occupants.

Having lived with the pre-facelift for some time, albeit in ST form, space is definitely something left to be desired with this one. Things are also decidedly too busy on the original car, especially with regards to the audio switchgear and central stack.

The revisions tidy the overall presentation a fair bit. Changes include the handbrake being relocated off the front half of the centre console and placed further back. The console itself now has a narrower profile and more uniform look compared to the pre-facelift.

Meanwhile, the 12V socket is now placed forward of the gearshift, and in line with the new slimmer profile, the exposed wide-position dual cupholders of the original C346 have been replaced by a more streamlined tray where the cupholders are now positioned in a fore-aft layout, complete with a sliding cover. The downside is that the new central box at the end of the console has less storage space than before.

Elsewhere, the Sony system ditches the button-fest and now has only minimal function switches, and the AC system controls have also been redesigned. Anoraks will spot a new three-spoke steering wheel and a new glovebox layout, which is now a one-piece assembly as opposed to the latch and horizontal stowage area design previously. Elsewhere, the silver trim on the centre stack has been dropped, the new uniform black finish refining visuals and making the bulbous central dash area less pronounced.

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All the changes don’t really alter internal volume, which continues to be at best challenging (especially the rear), but it significantly reduces visual clutter, adds some polish and also presents a better perception of space in the front half of the cabin.

Performance-wise, there’s much to like about the engine/transmission pairing, even though the impact isn’t as immediate or striking as I expected it to be – no complaints about take-up response from the EcoBoost 15, even in slow, urban use, but there’s a graininess to its low-end tonality that takes away some of the shine. Counterpoint to this is the behavioral pattern of the 6F35, which feels far more responsive from standstill in its application here compared to on the Mondeo, where it arguably feels too languid.

It’s not the fastest and seamless slush box out there, but coming in from the likes of the DCT, it’s an ace – transitions up and down the range are clean, and most importantly, low-speed operation is smooth. The engine, meanwhile, perks up considerably once going. It shows good punch when you stand on the pedal, and the note also picks up to a growl at higher running speeds. More importantly, midband push is inherently superior to that of the Duratec, and it feels more effortless running across the entire low to mid-range.

The remapped steering is also a plus. Coming in from the heavier set ST rack, the facelift’s feels unnaturally light upon initial turn, but there’s no sacrifice to response and feedback, which is a boon.

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Ride – via the 18s – is firm, but interestingly not to the point of jarring. Likewise with the 17s on the Sport, which offsets the reduced wheel size with a sports-oriented suspension; another journalist who was in the Sport said that was firm too, but not harsh. There’s no doubting the primary rebound characteristics of the suspension, but secondary rebound aspects are surprisingly very good, at least on Australian roads. How it will actually present things here remains to be seen.

Though the rain masked any real attempts to find out how much quieter the facelift actually is, road noise – always a prevalent feature of Oz blacktop – didn’t feel intrusive. As for handling, there are marked improvements despite having only a limited number of areas and occasions to trial it on the drive, and you can see the intent from the brand in attempting to best the benchmark, the Volkswagen Golf Mk7, its primary competitor on the global playing field.

The Focus has always been a keen handler, but now feels that much more dynamic and incisive. There’s a crisp, deft feel about it that makes the current one feel a bit lazy. Indeed, in terms of turn-in response (and steering speed), it arguably even runs the pre-facelift ST very close, and that’s saying quite a bit. Whether or not this, as well as level of ride comfort, will better the Golf is something that has to be explored in closer fashion when the car finally arrives here, but the Focus, it would seem, looks to be definitely up for it.

Quite a bit of change, then, all good enough to carry the Focus on quite happily until the fourth-gen appears. As far as MY-specifications go, we could be looking at the hatch to come as a Sport variant and the sedan as a Titanium, as is the case now. The only thing to fret over is price – it’s almost a certainty that the facelifted C346 will cost much more than the current one, but the question is by just how much.