Ford's fresh Focus on hot new bod

By Liz Dobson

The 2012 Ford Focus goes back to its attention-seeking roots - but with subtle improvements. Photo / Supplied
The 2012 Ford Focus goes back to its attention-seeking roots - but with subtle improvements. Photo / Supplied

In his parents' garage in England sits Christopher Svensson's first car. Not the first car he bought, but the first car he designed that went into production - Ford's Ka.

Now based in Melbourne at Ford's Australian HQ, Svensson is the director of design for Ford Asia-Pacific and Africa, and has created the latest Focus sedan and five-door hatch, due for sale in New Zealand in November.

But in 1992 Svensson had just graduated from England's Royal College of Art with a master's degree in vehicle design and was hired by Ford for its studio in Koln, Germany.

The company wanted to produce a hatchback, the Ka (pronounced "car"), so asked its six worldwide design studios for ideas. Svensson's sketches were the most radical because of the design's wedge shape and rounded boot. The bosses were so impressed they gave his design the green light - and in 1996 Svensson was one of the first owners of the newly launched hatch.

Since then he went on to hold such roles as chief designer of commercial vehicles in Europe and successfully designed the Puma and Cougar. But it's the Ka that he remembers fondly - hence it's permanent parking spot in his parents' garage.

It's his British family who, in part, helped with his career choice.

"My father and Sweden-born granddad were both artists, so I was always interested in design. I've also always loved cars," he told me exclusively at the Focus Australasian launch last week in Melbourne.

"So when I left school I went to Sunderland Polytechnic to do an art and design foundation course. I then discovered you could have a career designing cars for a living and found a course to do this."

Three years ago he began work on the third-generation Focus, determined to go back to the original's attention-seeking design beloved by buyers.

"The first-generation Focus was a radical departure from the Ford Escort that it replaced ... However, the second-generation Focus addressed some of the customer feedback from the product, such as improving the quality and craftsmanship to bring the car up to a premium level of execution," said Svensson.

"This refinement, rather than extreme change, prompted some comments from the media. During the development of the new Focus we identified a new design DNA that signalled a redirection in our aesthetic for our vehicles, and the new Focus has benefited from the redirection of our styling."

The result is what Ford calls kinetic design - "energy in motion" styling that incorporates a streamlined effect that looks as if the 2012 Focus has had some lipo-sculpturing at a plastic surgeon, or has spent hours working on its abs in Ford's gym.

The dart shape across the top of the doors and angled contour lines at the base of the doors puts it in line with fellow "gym buddies" and competition, the Kia Elantra and Hyundai's i45.

But it's the distinctive front grille with triangle shapes near the fog lights and the narrowing of the front of the car that gives the Focus some va-va-voom.

Ford New Zealand is bringing a variety of hatch and sedan versions of the Focus and won't release prices until closer to sale date, though the current models start from $32,292.

Coming here will be the base model Ambiente (with not-too-shabby standard features such as Bluetooth, iPod compatibility and a slew of safety features); the Trend with rear parking sensors; a Sport hatch with an upgrade to 17-inch wheels and the flash Sony audio system; and the top-of-the-range Titanium with power-start button, sunroof and Active Park Assist.

Engine-wise there will be 1.6 and 2-litre petrol and a 2-litre diesel, but Ford NZ is only bringing in the PowerShift six-speed auto across the range and has ditched the manual.

The PowerShift gives you the option of shifting gears manually but rather than moving the gearstick up and down or via paddles on the steering wheel, Ford has opted for a small rocker switch on the side of the T-bar.

And here's my complaint - not only is the switch system in the wrong spot as it's on a clumsy angle but you don't have same sense of control as you have using the gear-stick or paddles.

Flinging the 1.6-litre petrol hatch around some dirt roads north of Melbourne became hairy as the auto struggled to move down a gear to cope with tight bends, and using the switch to manually change gears was awkward.

But on the technological upside is the Titanium's Active Park Assist, which you'd recently only have found in expensive European cars like BMW's 5-Series, and it makes parallel parking a breeze.

You select the programme, the car searches for an empty carpark spot and then backs into it for you.

The only downside I saw, as taxi driver to my teenage children and thus frequenter of many malls, was whether the car would detect pedestrians while manoeuvreing automatically into the spot.

I did "volunteer" one of my colleagues to stand in the way during the demonstration of the assist programme, but the Ford bosses were reluctant.

Performance-wise, the 2-litre diesel engine was the most impressive at the launch. Available in New Zealand only in the five-door Trend hatch, if I was looking for a new work vehicle I'd be begging Ford to bring in a Titanium diesel sedan.

And talking of work vehicles, will Svensson be buying his Focus and plonking it in his Melbourne garage?

Well, at the moment there's no room as he's restoring an equally impressive vehicle - a 1957 Porsche 356A.

- NZ Herald

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