Starting a new trend

 

When Focus was first introduced to South Africans, it was, at the time, a radical departure from the ‘norm’ in terms of car design but, like many other groundbreaking designs, has rather become the very norm it was seeking to leave behind.

In the hotly contested ‘C’ segment of the market any edge could be a winning one for a manufacturer, which is why good looks  are quickly copied and sometimes improved upon – hence Ford’s all-new ‘Kinetic Design’ styling philosophy that carries across its various models, already entrenched locally by the Fiesta.

In fleet terms the Focus is a major player for Ford in a market featuring opposition from almost every other automaker and the new-look Focus comes at the right time with most of those other players having launched (or about to launch) their own revisions.

A chiselled jaw, sleek profile, rising character line and taut rear-end, all contribute to the hatchback’s purposeful stance, the more fleet friendly sedan version looking, perhaps, a tad more conservative at the rear.

A streamlined shape and steeply raked windscreen contribute to reduced drag, while optimised aerodynamics help reduce wind noise at speed and contribute to improved fuel efficiency. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels have been reduced and driving dynamics improved by the increased stiffness of the body structure, with 30% greater rigidity than the previous Focus model.

The interior moves upmarket with better detailing and higher quality materials. The busy central console and sculpted dashboard provide more of a driver-focused interior than the Golf, but will not convert those who prefer the more conservative minimalism offered by its German rival. Rear-seat space feels little different to the previous generation, with enough room to accommodate two medium-sized adults in comfort and three at a pinch.

Where the Focus moves things forward is through the selection of driver aids and safety. Some of the driver aids include cruise control; ‘Hill Launch Assist’ that prevents the car from rolling backward when the driver’s foot transitions from the brake to the accelerator, as well as Voice Control, which recognises numerous commands to control functions like the radio, CD and electronic climate control.

Passive safety features include a new generation of advanced air bag restraint systems with driver and front passenger air bags, side front air bags and side curtain air bags (only available on the Trend and Sport models) for front and rear-seat occupants, as well as a strong and light steel body shell. The driver’s front air bag features enhanced chest protection technology designed to help reduce driver chest and rib injuries.

With the latest generation, Ford’s engineers have introduced a completely new Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) system, stiffening up of the body to improve handling, as well as updating the suspension system. Also key, is the introduction of a new ‘Torque Vectoring Control’ system, which behaves like a limited-slip differential constantly to balance the distribution of torque between the front wheels, resulting in reduced understeer, improved traction and better turn-in.

Ford engineers have also retuned and enhanced the innovative suspension concepts from prior models, developing optimised new designs for the Control Blade Independent rear suspension and the semi-isolated front sub frame.

From the very first incarnation, the Focus has always been a driver’s car. This latest generation retains that feel. While the diesel sedan was never intended to be a robot dragster, it nevertheless provides a positive experience for the driver, feeling sure-footed in all conditions with just enough spirit to want to straighten out the curves on a mountain pass.

Steering feedback is positive and inputs are precise and rapidly responded to. Even on the smaller, standard tyres, it feels well connected to the road and overall has no bad habits. All round visibility is excellent, making it easy to handle in town and in tight spaces.

A completely updated 2,0-litre Duratorq TDCi common rail turbo-diesel engine powered our test car and this now produces 120 kW and 340 Nm of torque, while sipping just 5,3 l/100km on average and emitting 139 g/km of CO2. The engine is mated to the latest six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission, which works particularly well with the diesel engine.

The Trend specification gains 16-inch alloy wheels, curtain air bags, steering wheel operated cruise control and audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity with voice control, driver and passenger one touch up/down power windows and rear power windows over the basic standard kit and a ‘Trend Option Pack’ (R6 300)  buys rain sensing wipers, auto headlamps, follow-me-home lighting, an auto dimming rear view mirror, global close functionality on power windows, leather steering wheel and 17-inch Alloy wheels.

Focus customers will enjoy a comprehensive 4-year / 120 000 km warranty and 5-year / 90 000 km service plan. Added piece of mind comes in the way of a 3-year /unlimited km roadside assistance plan while service intervals are staggered at 20 000 km intervals for both petrol and diesel derivatives.

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Big not always better

 

We have a problem with the Jaguar XJ! We love the comfort. We love the ride. We love the power, the handling and the abundance of features it has to offer.

However, there is something missing.

With its J Lo bum and Junoesque curves, the XJ is, quite simply, too big. The lines and styling follow the stunning work done to create the XF but somehow in the XJ have lost the plot to over inflation – and in so doing have lost the whole Jaguar ethos, the very DNA that is so integral to the British brand.

Let’s go back a decade or so to the previous XJ – one that simply oozed the Jaguar ethos. It may not have been the prettiest car on the road, but it was unmistakeably a Jaguar. Then, along came the S-Type – a plump and soulless car that too exuded none of the Jaguar ethos.

With the XF, Jaguar had returned. Stunning styling coupled to impressive performance from all derivatives and, most importantly, the sense that this was (is) something special, something very Jaguar.

Admittedly, our feelings about the XJ are a lot more subjective than objective in terms of the look and feel and, having made out soapbox point, we will defer to objectivity from here on in.

What is particularly pleasing is Jaguar has elected to offer its cars ‘as is’, meaning the spec is all built-in and the buyer is not assailed by a shop full of options at the time of purchase – and, anyway, it is very difficult to think of a possible option, since nothing has been left out.

From the driver’s seat the most striking feature is the blank dash that spring to life when the car is fired up, speed, revs, temperature and all manner of information digitally displayed either directly in front or on the central colour screen – the entire concept taken from the Range Rover.

Interior highlights of the new XJ include chrome and piano black detailing that provides an eye-catching contrast to the leather and veneer surfaces with the dash layout and wood emulating the famous Riva powerboat look.

The XJ is constructed using Jaguar’s aerospace-inspired aluminium body technology, which makes the XJ lighter than its rivals by at least 150 kilograms. Features such as air suspension, Adaptive Dynamics (continuously variable damping), Active Differential Control and quick ratio power steering, deliver the blend of responsive, dynamic handling and refined, supple ride expected from a Jaguar.

Apart from its power and performance, the all-new Jaguar XJ brings new standards of sustainability to the luxury vehicle segment. The lightweight aluminium structure – with 50 percent recycled material – underpinned by a lifecycle approach to vehicle design and manufacture, enables the new XJ to minimise its carbon footprint. This alone creates a potential saving of three tonnes of CO2 per vehicle, compared to a bodyshell made from aluminium.

Our test car was the 5,0-litre unblown V8 and even in this age of political correctness, there is still nothing more emotive than the chooglin’ boogie of an idling big bore V8 just waiting to be let off the leash – this version offering 283 kW and 515 Nm of torque with top speed limited to 250 km/h.

For business users this is probably the best petrol choice – the potential resale likely to be safer than the supercharged versions where down the line buyers have a concern about the potential failure of an expensive blower.

Mated to all engine variants is a six-speed ZF torque converter transmission with the usual ‘sport’ option and steering wheel paddles for manual override. There is no stick because of the JaguarDrive’s rotary selector.

Unlike most paddle shifters however, this one holds on to selected gears long enough to do what is wanted. Another increasingly common feature is the ability to choose different driving behaviours to suit circumstance and mood. In addition to ‘normal’, Jaguar offers a wet weather mode marked with a snowflake and a dynamic option marked with a chequered flag. This is the fun version.

Dial in ‘S’ on the rotary selector and hold the chequered flag button down for a couple of seconds. The virtual instruments on the electronic panel turn red, the seatbelts tug in a notch tighter and the XJ drops into ‘fight’ mode.

Suspension settings stiffen, throttle and steering responses sharpen and, despite our reservations about the dimensions, it is all Jaguar, doing what Jaguar is meant to do; simply defying any curves thrown at it, majestically conquering mountain passes – in short, owning the road.

Though the fun part of driving the car, it is the more mundane daily trudge through the traffic where it will most be used and here it provides a docile, cocooned environment that does take some of the stress out of heavy traffic motoring. Easy to manouevre thanks to the light-touch power steering it is also easier to squeeze into tight spaces than its bulk would suggest.

Despite its size – and nearly our last comment on that – the rear legroom is less than one might expect. Not uncomfortable, mind, just not quite a dancefloor.

All-in-all it is everything one could want from a premium executive saloon – if only it could shrink by 10 mm or so in the wash.