The Road Ahead : February March 2008
of the car's body being stiffer than its predecessors. Improved levels of torsional rigidity come via the adoption of higher quality metals in the frame. The Focus also shapes up with arguably the best handling in the class, highlighted by its consistently weighted and responsive steering, confident cornering characteristics, grip levels and balance. The only flaw is a hint of mid-corner steering rack rattle when a country road disintegrates into rough patchwork. There is some body roll but overall the Focus communicates that this is a chassis well tied down and not upset by sudden changes of direction. The Mazda has lighter steering with a little less feedback, particularly just off centre, but is equally secure and remains confident in the balance and grip stakes. Pushed harder, it seems a little underdone for damping over larger corrugations. The Lancer's road feel is not as good as the Mazda. The chassis is balanced and grip levels are fine, but it is slower to turn in than the others, especially the Mazda. It's a capable, but not inspiring, handler. Under brakes, the Neo confronts its rivals, offering progressive and effective pedal feel, in slowing from 80 km/h to zero in 25.2 m. The Focus took just 0.15m longer to stop, with testers agreeing the car felt a bit lacking for initial bite and pedal progression. The heavier Lancer, with the biggest brakes of the three, also produced a progressive pedal, pulling up in 25.6m. The Ford generally lacks the smoothness and refinement of the Mazda in terms of power delivery and its noise intrusion rated the worst at idle and 80 km/h. The Lancer's engine noise suppression was the best at idle but trailed the Neo at a constant 80 km/h and accelerating from 50-80 km/h. Conclusion While it might not possess the finesse of the Mazda and the standard inventory of the Lancer, the Focus still shows the way for handling and ride prowess. Then there's the inviting price tag. But it has more to offer than just low cost, entry level transport. If the dollars allow, consider going for the optional $1600 Safety Pack (front side and curtain airbags, dynamic stability control [DSC], traction control [TC] and emergency brake assist) and $1400 Smooth Pack (4 x 15-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured power mirrors, cruise control and leather steering wheel). By doing your sums accordingly, the Focus can be had for less than the Lancer fitted with a full complement of seven air bags (an optional $850) or the Mazda with combined $2330 Safety Pack (TC, DSC, front side and front/rear curtain air bags) and Power Pack (power body colour mirrors, power windows including one-touch for driver, and auxiliary audio input and auxiliary power). Ford has a focus on ride and handling, as well as useable space. And it's all delivered at a good price.
December January 2008
April May 2008