It’s been a busy few days at Ford. Its UK chief is anxious about the future of diesel engines, saying the new ones were as clean as petrol power. That the decline in popularity is affecting the factories which make a million diesel engines annually. A few days later its US parent company announced that the 2025 target to reduce CO2 factory emissions by 30 per cent had been achieved with eight years to spare.
Then some bad news – complaints of engine failures on older cars with the one-litre Ecoboost petrol engine. Allegations were made that this was dangerous. Ford said owners had been asked three years ago to have their cars checked.
Meanwhile, in the hills behind Nice, Ford was nearing the end of a media event which started in March, launching new Fiesta and Mustang models and finally the new Focus.
The location was a fabuloso multi-star golf hotel with suites cascading down the hill. The breakfast buffet was €46. It is called Terre Blanche if you are in that financial frame of mind.
We were there to drive and enjoyed little of the amenities. Not even the horizon pool. The roads were the point, the circling route from Nice airport taking us into the high green bits of the map, beyond the perfume capital of Grasse.
Much of it was familiar from other car launches over the years. “We had lunch there,” said George, my star co-driver who only covers events which are abroad. Consequently, he has had lots of free French lunches.
The weird thing was the roads were now perfect. If they had been ravaged by frost and snow and HGVs, all traces were gone. They were fit for the modern Tour de France, smooth, not a single pothole or erosion seen.
This was not ideal. One wants to know how a car responds to such things, whether its steering is deflected, how badly it bucks – if at all? How much tyre noise comes from coarse surfaces?
We talked a bit about football. Ford of Germany was running the show and its team were yet to be sent home from Russia. We talked about Brexit. We enjoyed driving the Focus, the fourth Ford with the badge since 1998 when it replaced the Ford Escort. That Focus set new standards in hatchback refinement, with fine handling and driving pleasure. The next two changed the looks and the feel, maybe softening the manners. Last week’s all-new Focus reminds me of the thrill of the first Focus. Its steering response and balance should please most of us. The shape is stretched, lower and wider, on a longer wheelbase providing more usable passenger space but no increase in length. The screen has been raked back, giving a longer bonnet. The “look” is poised, sleeker, less chunky. It has lost the Aston Martin grille. Today’s Focus grille has something of a Suzuki Swift, a bit of Mazda3 – a car as elegant as this Focus.
All the old Focus has been replaced. There’s new rear suspension, torsion beam with the lighter engines, a new independent system for the heavier engines and the estate. There’s a continuously monitored system on top models which mitigates some of the impact from potholes and even warns the rear wheels of what is to come. That’s one to try practically anywhere in Britain. In these French hills it was superfluous. It also eases the car onto pavements for half and half parking – frowned upon here, common over there.
There’s so much new stuff the list could get tedious. A few, then. The first head-up display on a European Ford; far fewer switches, an eight-speed automatic gearbox; a push-button automatic parking system; stacks of new “connectivity” for phones and audio; headlights which don’t dazzle on full beam; road sign recognition; management of stop-go progress; lane centring; crash prevention and mitigation.
George was too quick for that intervention. Scene, the A8 autoroute. Speed 80-ish. George starts cursing. Not unusual. I Iooked up from my notebook. A black mpv was bouncing along the central barrier, trailing burnt rubber, skid marks and lots of body parts. To the right, stopping too, the truck it had veered into.
Deftly, George avoided it all. In a more critical situation the Focus would have braked. Maybe it was already helping with its impact avoidance system.
Verdict: Oh, err, the door pockets are too short. Otherwise, a cracker.