At the moment, Ford's plans for the upcoming North American market launch of its new Focus are just a bit fuzzy. That's not the case with the car's handling dynamics, interior room, and cutting-edge appearance, which are remarkably sharp. Despite a few lingering questions with respect to its formal U.S. intro, extended time behind the wheel of several European-spec Focus models in Normandy, France, left us extremely impressed with the overall sophistication of this slick newcomer.
The first -and very welcome -surprise involved the many big-car features and exemplary roadgoing refinement evidenced in the Focus. For example, in Euro trim, it's offered with upmarket features like traction control, side-impact airbags, stability control, and even a traveler's aid system that utilizes a GPS package and a cell phone. But from a pricing standpoint, unless Ford intends the Focus to do considerably more than directly replace the existing Escort here, we can't imagine many of those items appearing on U.S. cars.
The Blue Oval marketing types have confirmed that the Focus will soon start rolling down the current Escort line at the Wayne, Michigan, assembly plant. But what hasn't been addressed is whether it will merely take the place of Ford's entry-level model and its Mercury Tracer cousin, or be recast into the more expensive Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique market slots, as well.
Official word is that a mechanically simpler version will debut here in a traditional four-door sedan, a sleek four-door wagon, and an edgy three-door hatchback. But there's a five-door hatch variant that may also make the leap across the pond. Interestingly, one Ford exec polled various members of the enthusiast press on which body variations would make the best SVT version. As usual, there was no clear consensus on the issue.
Motoring over a host of smooth, twisty, two-lane coastal roads, the Focus three-door felt reassuringly solid, with a ride more like an expensive sedan and a level of nimbleness reminiscent of a pure sport coupe. These highly desirable traits come courtesy of its extremely rigid unibody coupled with well-isolated subframes that mount low-friction MacPherson struts up front and a coil-sprung multilink axle in back. However, ideal driving venues -obviously chosen for their serpentine character and beautifully maintained surfaces -did little to help establish the suspension's rough-road capabilities. It seems that acid test will have to wait for the formal U.S. introduction.
The Focus' sweetly precise and nicely weighted rack-and-pinion steering also received Ford friction-reduction tweaks in an effort to sharpen communication to the driver's hands. But unlike many installations, this rack speaks with minimal kick-back, allowing precise lane positioning with minimal fuss. Another plus is the virtual absence of torque steer, the traditional bane of most small, powerful front-drivers.
Recognizing the importance of safety, Ford equipped the Focus with front airbags, side-impact airbags, side-door beams, and reinforced seat backs that protect passengers from rear impacts. Although a disc/drum brake package is offered in Europe, stopping chores on U.S. models will most likely be handled by front and rear discs paired with four-channel ABS.
European Focus buyers can opt for a full range of 1.4- to 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline or turbodiesel engines. In America, we're likely to see just one prime mover, an all-aluminum 2.0-liter/130-horsepower DOHC that can be mated with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. With manual gearbox, Ford claims the quickest Focus will zip to 60 mph in about 9 seconds.
Inside, the Focus makes a very positive first impression, highlighted by firm, supportive seats, highly legible instruments, excellent ergonomics, and large ventilation outlets that quickly and quietly move volumes of heated or cooled air. But underlying these obvious essentials is a higher level of graceful design than we've come to expect from a vehicle in this size class, again most likely due to its European development roots and the more upscale role it will play in that venue. We hope any cost trimming necessary for the American market won't undercut this high level of basic goodness.
Although the Focus sedan is but 1 inch longer than a current Escort and virtually the same width, the new car's 102.9-inch wheelbase dwarfs the Escort's 98.4-inch span -and it's nearly 3 inches taller. Those differences endow the Focus with a noticeably roomier interior -not to mention a huge advantage in legroom. Despite its fresh styling, we're of mixed judgment on the visual appeal of the hatchback model. Frankly, we preferred the somewhat staid, albeit more honest, sedan better -and liked the rakish wagon best of all.
Despite a number of lingering questions about its final stateside status, at the conclusion of our test drive, one truth was clear: Automakers competing in the North American market will be shocked at how far Ford's small-car engineering group has raised the benchmark when it comes to mechanical sophistication. Can the troops in Dearborn bring this cheeky newcomer to our showrooms at the right price? And will it ultimately be called upon to do double duty, replacing both the Escort/Tracer and Contour/Mystique? Whatever the outcome, Ford's new Focus stands as a first-rate exercise in technology, eminently capable of pleasing a wide range of potential buyers.
2003-2004 Ford Focus
The 2003 Ford Focus PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle), introduced today at the 2003 Los Angeles Auto Show, meets California's stringent partial zero emissions standard without requiring performance, fun-to-drive or economical sacrifices on the part of its owners.
"The new Focus PZEV is a technological breakthrough that delivers real-world environmental benefits without a single compromise for its owners," says Dave Szczupak, Ford Motor Company vice president, Powertrain Operations. "This super-efficient engine meets California's stringent partial zero emissions standard while delivering lively performance from a larger-displacement powertrain with enhanced torque."
The Focus PZEV is powered by an all-new 2.3-liter I-4 engine generating 148 horsepower and 152 foot-pounds of torque. This PZEV powertrain will become the standard engine powering all California, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts Focus models beginning later in the first quarter. A year later, the all-new 2.3-liter I-4 engine will be introduced in all non-SVT Ford Focus models in the U.S.
Increased Performance and Efficiency
The Focus PZEV illustrates one of the inherent strengths of the I-4 engine design, its combustion efficiency. Through careful design of the combustion chamber, coupled with sophisticated electronic controls, Ford engineers were able to meet California's stringent emissions standards in a no-compromise vehicle.
Specific emissions actions include close placement of the catalytic converters to the exhaust manifold to allow them to reach operating temperatures more quickly, and electrically controlled exhaust gas recirculation that recycles inert gas into the combustion chamber to reduce NOx emissions and improved fuel economy.
The 2.3-liter Focus PZEV is designed to provide dependable performance and high levels of driving quality throughout its useful service life. The objective of the Focus powertrain team was to give customers more of what they want – performance, drivability and smoothness – with reduced fuel costs, lower emissions and minimal maintenance requirements.
The new engine, part of Ford Motor Company's new global family of four-cylinder engines, represents both the future of Ford's small powertrain lineup and the future of engine manufacturing. The I-4 makes extensive use of lightweight aluminum components, which offer both a weight savings – approximately 40 pounds compared with the equivalent Zetec I-4 engine – and chassis dynamics benefits, such as improved weight distribution front-to-rear and higher power-to-weight ratio.
Cylinder head and valve train
The cylinder head's dual overhead cam (DOHC) design uses direct acting mechanical bucket (DAMB) tappets and an aluminum alloy "high flow" cylinder head with press-fit valve seats that help to improve long-term sealing.
Valves and tappets are individually graded for consistency. This assures their ability to maintain proper valve clearances over the engine's life, without the use of shims. Lobes on the chain-driven cast-iron double overhead camshafts are chilled during manufacture to harden them. These actions help eliminate valve adjustments throughout a useful life of 150,000 miles or 10 years in use. Each cam runs in five cam bearings, for smooth and quiet operation.
Intake valves are 35 millimeters, with 30-millimeter exhaust valves. They are mounted at an included angle of 29 degrees to each other in an asymmetric arrangement – the intake valves are 19 degrees from vertical and the exhaust valves are 10 degrees from vertical. This allows the spark plugs to be mounted near the center of the "pentroof" style combustion chamber, promoting circular flame propagation and improved fuel economy, especially under partial load.
The camshafts run directly in the aluminum cylinder head and are driven by a "silent" chain, which provides quieter operation. A spring arm maintains proper tension, and a hydraulically activated composite damper controls chain movement. The camshaft cover is made of cast aluminum alloy to contain valve train noise and assure warp-free sealing for life.
Along with durability and silent running, engineers worked to make engine components as fuel-efficient and lightweight as possible. A good example of this is the new, highly durable piston, ring and connecting rod assembly, which provides about 15 percent weight advantage vs. other modern engines, resulting in lower overall weight, superior NVH, lower friction (or parasitic losses) and a free-revving engine characteristic.
To enhance fuel efficiency, the engine uses 5W20 SAE (ILSAC GF-3) grade oil for reduced resistance to flow, and operates at a relatively low idle speed of 700 rpm. Maximum engine speed is 7,000 rpm.
Engine noise, vibration and harshness
A host of low-noise features enhance engine refinement. These include a single, service-free poly-V accessory-drive belt made of composite rubber, an automatic belt-tensioner, an alternator with low noise, dual internal cooling fans and a fully length-symmetrical intake manifold.
The deep-skirted, closed-deck sand casting of the block features cast-in-place, cast-iron bore liners with tightly controlled geometry. A die-cast aluminum bearing beam and cast structural aluminum oil pan provide a strong and stable bottom end.
Engine assembly contributes to quiet operation, as components are select-fit to more exacting tolerances. In an example of attention to detail during construction, all 10 bolts that secure the lower bearing beam are tightened simultaneously, to assure even torque over the entire structure every time. This assures that the bearing beam isn't warped during assembly.
The electronic distributorless coil-on-plug ignition includes an optimized cylinder knock-control system that continuously adapts the engine's operating parameters in real time to optimize performance and economy.
New intake manifold
The computer-designed intake manifold is a prime example of the attention to detail that went into engineering the new engine. It is fully symmetrical, lightweight and made of friction-welded plastic to reduce flow friction and stay cooler than cast metal. This design allowed engineers to "sculpt" the sound of the 16-valve engines to be sporty yet refined.
Within each of the intake manifold's four runners is a butterfly valve that restricts the air passage at low speed. This improves low-speed efficiency through inducing a "tumble" or turbulence by accelerating the air/fuel mixture into the combustion chambers. At higher speeds, the butterfly valves open fully, to meet the engine's requirement for air flow. At these higher flow rates, the port shape itself ensures proper "tumble" of the air/fuel mixture for best combustion.
The intake system also features a new, solid-state temperature and pressure sensor, which makes more precise air mass measurements. These are constantly relayed to the electronic engine management module for efficient engine operation.
A new four-hole fuel injector design delivers a highly atomized-spray pattern directly toward the twin inlet ports of each cylinder, for more spray penetration, better atomization and less cylinder wall wetting than a single-hole injector. This in turn translates into good drivability and lower emissions. Sequential electronic fuel injection control injects precisely measured quantities of fuel into each cylinder individually, at the optimum point in each combustion cycle.
Global Development, Production
Ford Motor Company's new global family of inline four-cylinder engines, developed with Mazda Motor Corp., represents both the future of Ford's small powertrain lineup and the future of engine manufacturing.
The I-4 represents Ford's first truly global engine development program, which drew on the company's engineering, design and manufacturing skills worldwide. In a measure of its global significance, the new I-4 engine will be built in four plants on three continents.
Wide-range of cars and trucks
As an example of the new engine's flexibility, a variety of Ford and Mazda brand vehicles currently offer or will offer the new engine in both "east-west" and "north-south" configurations for front- and rear-drive applications. In addition to the new Ford Focus PZEV, they include:
- The Ford Mondeo in Europe with 1.8- and 2.0-liter versions, built at Ford's Chihuahua Engine Plant in Mexico.
- The Ford Ranger pickup with a 135-horsepower 2.3-liter variant built at the Dearborn (Mich.) Engine Plant in the U.S.
- The restyled Mazda MPV minivan – introduced in April and built at Mazda's Hiroshima plant.
- The all-new Mazda6 midsize sedan, sold in North America, Europe and Asia (as Atenza), offering three displacements: 1.8-liter, 2.0-liter and an advanced 2.3-liter with Mazda's Sequential Valve Timing (S-VT) for performance efficiency.
- Many more products set to be introduced around the world over the next few years, such as Ford Escape hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) to debut in late 2003.