Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Ford Motor Company”

All new Ford EcoSport Review – First Drive at Barcelona launch

All New Ford EcoSport

All New Ford EcoSport

The small SUV market has increased 400% in Britain in the last 3 years. It’s expected to grow exponentially in the future and Ford want their slice of this potentially lucrative pie. Bring on the EcoSport (pronounced ‘echo’, not ‘ee-co’, by the way).

Readers in South America will be well accustomed to the EcoSport as they’ve seen it enjoy massive popularity there since its launch in 2003, with over 700,000 units being shifted at last count.

The EcoSport we see here has been available in South America since 2012 and is the latest of Ford’s ‘World Car’ projects, being built in India, Brazil and Thailand – Britain will get cars built in their Indian factory – a first for Ford UK.

Aimed primarily at professional 30-somethings who’s lives are increasingly reliant on a constant online connection, the new EcoSport promises tempting collaborations to go hand in hand with their Microsoft based SYNC infotainment system, commencing with the likes of musical streaming giants – Spotify.

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport looks at its best on the move

The EcoSport is based upon the excellent Fiesta – as good a place to start as any. Styling cues are also quite obviously from the Fiesta, although it’s been raised and beefed up to provide the all important SUV style that’s currently so fashionable. Ford aren’t fighting the realities of this target market though; they’ve wholeheartedly accepted that the image which SUV ownership provides is all important – but the last thing these same buyers want is the expense of running an actual 4×4. It may seem quite perverse but why swim against the tide? To this end, Ford aren’t making 4WD an option on European EcoSports, even though it is available in foreign markets. That said, jacking the suspension up does give the EcoSport the ability to wade up to 550mm – not exactly Defender territory but very welcome when caught in a flash flood situation, I’d imagine.

In the flesh, the Kuga lineage is very apparent in the EcoSport’s styling, again no bad thing, but there are a few visual aspects that I found a little difficult to love; the front wings and wheel arches are a tad slab-sided and sit a fraction forward of the actual wheels, detracting from the ‘Sport’ look which is generally a wheel at each corner. The chrome front grill may not be to everyone’s taste either and removing it or requesting a different colour isn’t an option – that’s obviously fine if you like that kind of thing but, for me, it just screamed ‘towel rail’ a little too loudly.

Ford EcoSport sideAside from that, it’s a characterful, handsome little thing and it’s definitely one of those cars that looks better on the move than stood on static display. It comes complete with some natty go-anywhere touches such as its outboard spare wheel, which could undoubtedly have been accommodated in the standard position – behind the rear bumper – but it’s these features that contribute towards the all-important SUV image.

One aspect of the EcoSport that consistently rears its, somewhat unwelcome head is the fact that it was never designed for the European markets. There are constant reminders all over the car that it’s been designed and built to satisfy the less demanding markets in South America and Asia, and then re-jigged a little for our fussier tastes.

Not least of which is the interior in general. It’s inescapably Ford and is almost identical to the inside of a Fiesta, with its smartphone-esque styling and piano-black inserts. It’s the quality aspect that’s slightly lacking though; The grade of plastics used is scratchier than we’d like and the door pulls have a tendency to creak; Want somewhere to hang your coat or hold onto around a particularly lairy bend? – tough – grab handles are curiously absent; The materials the fairly unsupportive seats are covered in feel cheap and emit a certain glow, not dissimilar to a £25, machine-washable suit.

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The EcoSport tackles bends impressively, with very little roll

The worst offender however is the SYNC system itself; its size and quasi dot-matrix appearance leave a lot to be desired when compared to the units found in today’s Fiesta and Focus. Considering its capability to link with smartphones and provide access to Spotify and TomTom, amongst others, it’s visually lacking to say the least, the EcoSport seems to have been provided with a BBC Micro, as opposed to the Playstation 4 found in other Fords.

One aspect of the EcoSport’s interior that can’t be faulted though, is its living space for passengers, front and rear. I’m 6′ and whilst sat in the passenger seat, I moved it back to a position which meant I had to stretch considerably to touch the bulkhead with the ends of my toes, and there was still plenty of room behind me for an adult or child to sit in complete comfort. Now that’s impressive in a car in this class.

On the road, the EcoSport really comes into its own and reminds us exactly where Ford’s strengths lie. It’s available with either a 90PS 1.5 litre Diesel unit or a choice of two petrol engines – a 110PS 1.5 litre or the all-conquering 1.0 EcoBoost lump. The Diesel and EcoBoost engined models were available to drive at the launch and it’s quite clear that the peppy 3-cylinder is the one to go for. It may lose out a little in the way of emissions and economy to it’s oil-burning sister (125g/km vs 120g/km & 53.3mpg vs 61.1mpg) but it’s £500 cheaper and comes free with a great soundtrack and bucket-loads of character. If you absolutely require your EcoSport to change gear itself, you’re stuck with the 1.5 litre Duratec petrol, which at £16,495, becomes difficult to justify. The manual Duratec is the cheapest in the range at £14,995 but with CO2 emissions of 149g/km and 44mpg combined, it’s a false economy to go for this model.

Ford EcoSport doors openIf you do decide your EcoSport will come equipped with an EcoBoost(this IS pronounced ‘ee-co’, by the way), you won’t be disappointed with the driving experience as a whole. It has just enough grunt to keep the performance interesting, although the extra height and weight over the Fiesta does hinder progress somewhat and you’ll find downshifts from 3rd to 2nd become more regular. When things go from straight to twisty, the Ford heritage shines through spectacularly as, even with its considerably raised ride-height, it finds assured grip with only the slightest hint of roll.

It’s hard to predict what the European market will make of the EcoSport which has proved so popular elsewhere. My initial feeling is that Ford have rushed somewhat, fearful of missing this fruitful bandwagon. It’s certainly not the cheapest (£1500 more than alternative Nissan Juke), it’s not particularly economical or sporty, and with only 4 Euro NCAP stars and a slightly bargain-basement interior, I fear it could dilute the excellent reputation Ford have worked so hard to gain over the last decade.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford EcoSport Titanium, Engine – 1.0l 3-cyl EcoBoost petrol, Transmission – 5 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125PS, Torque – 170Nm, Emissions – 125g/km CO2, Economy – 53.3 mpg combined, Maximum Speed –  112mph, Acceleration – 12.7s 0-60mph, Price – £15,995 OTR

For full details of the EcoSport and all other Ford models, go to http://www.ford.co.uk

Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Ford Focus Front angle

2013 Ford Focus Zetec S

So, you’ve been on plenty of test drives, engrossed yourself in a small forest’s worth of brochures and come to the conclusion that Ford’s Focus, powered by their much-lauded 1.0l Ecoboost engine is the car for you and your family.

BUT THEN. You take one last look inside your steed of choice and that nagging feeling creeps into your head again, that sneaking suspicion that it may just be a little small for your needs.

C-MAX Ecoboost front

Ford’s C-MAX

So, what do you do? The prospect of starting at square one again is just one big headache but, don’t despair, there could be an answer and it comes in the shape of Ford’s C-MAX.

Launched in 2003 and originally labelled ‘Focus C-MAX‘, it did resemble exactly that; a slightly disproportional version of Ford’s ubiquitous hatchback whose good looks had faded during the transition process. Now simply named ‘C-MAX’ in its own right, it’s easily identified as part of the Ford stable without the requirement to cling so closely to the Focus‘ coat-tails.

C-MAX Ecoboost rear

Available in 5 and 7 seat (Grand C-MAX) flavours, the two models are easily distinguished by the more voluminous C-MAX’s, slightly van-like rear sliding doors. What we have here for your delectation is the, undoubtedly more attractive, 5 seat C-MAX in range topping Titanium X flavour, powered by that all important, diminutive lump, the 1.0l Ecoboost engine.

Although the C-MAX shares the Focus’ platform and is slightly enhanced in terms of both length and width (4380mm x 2067mm vs 4358mm x 2010mm), it’s the extra height it’s gained (1626mm vs 1461mm) that offers the C-MAX it’s justification over its little brother.

C-MAX Ecoboost side

High shoulder-line and less glasshousing makes C-MAX more purposeful

On the inside, the extra room is noticeable and adds a sensation of airiness, especially when combined with our test car’s panoramic glass roof. The trade-off for this increase in living space in MPVs is usually a more vast glass-house and a certain ‘gold-fish bowl’ sensation. Not so with the C-MAX, however. Ford have apparently raised the car’s shoulder line, keeping glass to a minimum, the result being a more purposeful stance and a less ungainly appearance.

So far then, it’s looking like something of a no-brainer: Why buy the smaller Focus when you can have the C-MAX? It’s well designed and economical, just like the Focus, but you gain a sizeable chunk of extra room to swing the proverbial cat around in. Game over. Decision made.

C-MAX Ecoboost Boot

661 litre boot is cavernous

Well, not quite. I’m the first to admit that I was wrong about Ford’s 1.0l, 3 cylinder Ecoboost engines. On paper, I wrote it off as some marketing stunt that couldn’t possibly work and would result in the most yawn inspiring range of cars that Ford, née, the world had ever seen. Having driven many cars equipped with this marvel of engineering, I could immediately see what the rest of the planet also saw – that it does work. It capably hauls the Focus around without any struggle and in the Fiesta, it’s positively fun.

I’m going to go out on a limb here though and state that I think the C-MAX may be a bridge too far for such a diminutive unit. On paper, the Focus and C-MAX are separated by just 0.1 seconds (11.4s vs 11.3s) in their race to 62mph and the larger model is alleged to achieve better mpg and Co2 levels. In the real world though, things just don’t work like that. The 6 speed ‘box in the C-MAX may go a long way towards achieving those impressive statistics but there’s no getting around the fact that if you want more space, you’re also going to get more weight and your aerodynamic qualities are going to suffer.

I felt that the extra weight of the C-MAX just took the edge off what is still a fun drive in the Focus. The difference is negligible, but to try to achieve adequate fuel consumption figures, the ‘change-up’ light seemed to be quite insistent on a move up the ratios at times, when my natural instinct was to hang onto a gear for a second longer.

Although Ford have done an admirable job of making a compact MPV handsome – no mean feat – the trade-off is an increase in ride height that affects the legendary Focus handling traits. It’s not a significant loss and it would be unfair to say the C-MAX wallows around like an old American police car, but there is a difference.

All this talk of performance and handling in relation to the C-MAX is perhaps unjust as, ultimately, that’s not it modus operandi. So let’s forget it’s Focus roots for a minute and just take it as a stand-alone car – does it score highly compared to its direct competition?

C-MAX Ecoboost interiorThe answer to this would be a resounding ‘Yes’. I’m going to assume that it’s the living space in a car of this nature that makes or breaks a potential sale and this is where the C-MAX excels. The layout and dash may be standard Ford fare but this should in no way be taken as a criticism; it’s attractive, well-built and, perhaps most importantly, simple to use. The theatre style seating will give any rear passengers that commanding view of the road they crave and the extra height of the C-MAX definitely adds an essential sensation of airiness and space – especially when combined with the Titanium X’s panorama roof.

If you’ll allow me to put my critical head back on, I still don’t fully get on with Ford’s Sync system as it seems easily confused but, in true Microsoft style, a simple turn on/turn off procedure seems to remedy any glitches. I’d also be less than 100% trusting of the C-MAX’s self parking system – my first attempt resulted in a collision with the kerb and a coming together with a lamp-post was only narrowly avoided when I intervened with the brake pedal. Some work still required here I feel.

To conclude, the C-MAX is a highly useable, well thought out car, but then most compact MPVs are these days. Where it excels though is its visual charm and it’s car-like drive, just don’t expect it to be quite as sorted as the Focus.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125ps, Torque – 200Nm, Emissions – 117g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 116mph, Acceleration – 11.4s 0-62mph, Price – £22,345 OTR, £24,020 as tested.


All-New Ford Ranger Wildtrak – Driven and Reviewed

Ford Ranger Wildtrak front

All-New Ford Ranger Wildtrak

Since Mr and Mrs Farmer/Builder/Gardener discovered procreation and their faithful pick-ups became redundant due to having only one row of seats, the ‘double-cab’ has become a regular sight on our roads. In the UK, the charge was probably led by the ultra-capable Mitsubishi L200, with other Japanese manufacturers – Isuzu, Nissan and Toyota following close behind. Possibly feeling like they’ve missed the boat a tad, the Westerners are now eager to grab a sizeable slice of the pie. Volkswagen have recently launched their Amarok with considerable success and Ford have waded in with their All-new Ranger which Driving Torque have been trying out for size in this range-topping Wildtrak guise.

Talking of size, that’s generally the thing that grabs you when you first come across the Ranger. It’s massive. By their very nature, double-cabs are always on the large side due to the need to combine a large enough cargo area with comfortable living space for five occupants inside. Scrimp on any of these factors and the result will undoubtedly be a vehicle that fails in every department – too little room for either luggage or passengers and the owner may aswell have bought a regular car or a more practical van.

Mitsubishi L200 Trojan Red Front view

Mitsubishi L200 Trojan

Just to put things into perspective, Driving Torque recently reviewed the Mitsubishi L200 Trojan and I can confidently say, that  never once felt small. This Ranger is 174mm longer, 35mm wider, 68mm higher and boasts a 220mm longer wheelbase than the L200 – that may not sound like a vast difference but, when combined with the Ranger’s high bonnet and shoulder-line, and chunky styling, the two seem worlds apart, both from the outside and in. When you drive past an Audi Q7 and mutter ‘it’s not that big’, you know you’re in something sizeable.

This particular Ranger is in range-topping Wildtrak guise which includes 18” wheels and various smatterings of spoilers and chrome to add to the imposing and rugged visual effect. On the inside, there’s part-leather heated seats and Ford’s previous generation infotainment system with Sat-Nav and a Bluetooth enabled media interface; not a bad unit per se – I’ve experienced worse, but not a patch on the new Ford Sync system developed with Microsoft.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak interior

This Interior is about as car-like as a pick-up gets

The Wildtrak’s appearance is deliberately striking and it certainly grabs attention wherever it goes. Combine its sheer size with  visual highlights including its metallic ‘Wildtrak Orange’ paint and disappearing in a crowd is rendered virtually impossible. 99% of comments from onlookers were positive with only a few not appreciative of the particular hue that our test car was shod in.

On the road, the Ranger’s ride is incredibly compliant and comfortable, as you’d expect from a vehicle with such a large wheelbase and amount of suspension travel. The rear leaf-sprung suspension on the Ranger harks slightly back to its industrial roots and it can make handling a little jumpy, especially when negotiating a corner on a stereotypically bumpy, weather-beaten British country road. All the controls have been designed with a familiar car-like feeling in mind and this is where the Ranger really belies it’s size and weight. The steering is precise and direct and even the automatic gear-selector is finger-light – Ford have gone to great efforts to make this pick-up as civilised and user-friendly as possible.

Ford Ranger engine badge

The Wildtrak spec is only available with Ford’s 3.2l Duratorq engine

In Wildtrak format, the Ranger is only available with Ford’s 3.2l Diesel Duratorq engine. Sporting 200ps and an impressive 470nm of torque, this relatively quiet unit also contributes towards transforming sluggish workhorse into, well, slightly nippier workhorse. It’s still not exactly rapid but being able to transport over 2 tonnes of 4×4 from 0-62mph in 10 seconds is no mean feat. A word of caution though; in 2wd mode and with hardly any weight over the rear axle, this hugely torquey engine is easily capable of fish-tailing the Wildtrak when pulling too enthusiastically out of a junction, even on a dry road. Now there’s an experience that leaves a mark.

Although some of the interior plastics are a little scratchy, with its driver aides and multitude of electric motors to assist almost every aspect of operator use, it’s very easy to forget that you’re ultimately piloting a semi-industrial vehicle. That is, until it comes down to parking. Sometimes the laws of physics just have to be adhered to and this means that parking the Wildtrak in your run-of-the-mill parking space can get a little tricky. The Ranger may not have the clever rear electric window of the L200 which was a huge help when reversing but it’s got an even neater trick. It sports a rear view camera, the image of which is displayed on a section of the rear view mirror. This may not sound like much but I found it really made a difference as the driver’s gaze is still relatively upright, not staring down at a screen on the dashboard. I’d say rear parking sensors are a must on a car of this size, although I sometimes found myself wishing it had front parking sensors too, as gauging where the very front of a bonnet of this size and shape is, can be something of a guessing game.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak uphill

Wildtrak comes with selectable 4WD and low ratio gearbox for all your off-roading needs

In a strange sort of way, I couldn’t help feel that the biggest problem with this Ranger was also what made it so attractive; the Wildtrak element. Yes, it looks great and has many, many useful extras (although, strangely, not a load cover which I’d say is essential), but for some reason, as I stated previously, Ford have decreed that if you want the Wildtrak extras, you must also have the 3.2 litre Duratorq engine. The sensation of driving a particularly fast block of flats is unquestionably good fun and if you really need 470nm of torque, the 3.2 is the engine for you. I’m inclined to think, however, that for the majority of Ranger buyers, the 2.2l Duratorq engine with its 375 nm of torque would more than suffice and would be far mor satisfying in the vitally important running cost stakes. Whilst I’m on the subject, the 6 speed automatic ‘box that our engine was mated too is impressively smooth but I felt that it regularly held on to a low gear for too long; a fact I started to resent as the fuel tank rapidly emptied itself of its contents.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak rearIn conclusion then, overall I found the Ranger a hugely user-friendly beast with Hollywood looks, previously unseen in this segment. For my money though, I’d stay away from the Wildtrak, save myself a couple of grand and opt for its little brother – the Limited. It may not be quite as visually dramatic or make as much of a statement, but it wins where it matters – in the wallet.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Ranger Wildtrak Double Cab Auto, Price – £30,353 inc VAT, Engine – 3.2l TDCI, Layout – Front engine,  4WDPower – 200bhp, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 10.4s, Maximum Speed – 109mph, Economy – 26.7mpg combined, Emissions – 274g/km CO2

Ford Focus vs Ford Fiesta; A Tale of Two STs

Ford Escort Mexico

The legendary Ford Escort Mexico

Since the dawn of time, well, since 1963 anyway, our quirky little island has been caught up in an unrelenting love affair. Yes, we’re quite keen on GTis, SRis, GTEs and various other alphabet-soup inspired monikers, but what we ceaselessly lust after is a certain breed of breathed upon family hatches and rep-mobiles, namely Fast Fords.

To suggest that every nutty Blue Oval has been fantastic would be somewhat ill-informed, there have been a few dogs. But through good times and bad, booms and busts, Ford have bravely persevered in their quest to bring affordable fun to the blue-collared masses.

So, in these times of double-dip recessions and soaring fuel costs, what do Ford have on offer to tempt out the cheque-books and exactly where does a Fast Ford fit into our precariously balanced lives?

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don't you believe it!

Have we seen the back of RS Fords? Don’t you believe it!

Well, the RS badged cars are currently conspicuous in their absence (only temporarily, apparently), so have Ford turned their back on their responsibilities? Are we destined to seek our thrills elsewhere?

They may not be RSs but, like steroidally enhanced buses, out of the mire appear two excitable, ST (Sports Technologies) badged hatchbacks to answer our question. Both are hellbent on not only getting you from A-B, ASAP, but also bringing the family along and thus extending the Fast Ford bloodline that can be traced back over 50 years.

Previous ST badged Fords have suffered something of an identity crisis. Most have danced around their almighty RS siblings, being careful not to tread on their toes and ending up waltzing in no-mans-land, stuck in limbo somewhere between ‘come and ‘ave a go if you think your ‘ard enough’ and ‘I’m awfully sorry if you hurt your knuckles on my face’. These two STs are different though, they’re currently at the top of the Ford tree and are unashamedly set in the nation’s psyche as THE Fords to have if you want to make a statement.

The question is, which one is ready to face the upcoming fight against the auld enemies – Peugeot (208 GTi), VW (Golf GTi) and Renault (RenaultSport Clio)? Driving Torque has driven the Focus ST and the all-new Fiesta ST to discover whether either are true heirs to the throne.

Ford Focus ST1

The 2013 Ford Focus ST

The Focus ST has been around for some time now. It first saw the light of day in 2006, sporting the adaptable 2.5 litre Volvo-sourced lump as seen in the loony Focus RS. It performed well enough and was updated visually to provide adequate impact but horrendous fuel and tax costs just weren’t going to cut it in today’s society. Step forward the EcoBoost. Without sounding overly dramatic, this range of direct injection, turbo-charged engines could be hailed as the future. Not only for Ford, but for petrol engines in general.

The 2.0 litre engine found in the Focus may lose half a litre of displacement on the previous model but, through various use of witchcraft, its output rises from 222bhp to 250bhp whilst, at the same time, pushing claimed economy figures up a third from 30.9mpg combined to nearly 40mpg! Perhaps more importantly, it’s quicker too, not only in a straight dash but it’ll tackle the twisty bits with added assurance, having lost some unsightly weight up front.

Fiesta ST garage

The three ‘ST only’ colours – Race Red, Spirit Blue and Molten Orange

It’s more difficult to draw a direct comparison between the Fiesta ST and its predecessor as the last incarnation was deleted in 2008. It hardly made a dramatic impact on the world and could undoubtedly be placed in the ‘must try harder’ bracket. This 2013 model has far loftier aspirations and, again, it’s relying on the EcoBoost engine to thrust it into the spotlight. What the 1.6 incarnation loses in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm and it uses all of its 182bhp to propel the lighter Fiesta ST to 60mph in 6.7 seconds; only 0.2 seconds slower than the Focus – barely noticeable in the real world.

Ford Focus ST2

Those exhausts are dual trapezoids – don’t you know!

Both models have ST-only noses grafted on, in order to further enhance the dramatic effects already offered by their ground-hugging body-kits and enlarged wheels. Looks are obviously a matter of personal taste but, whereas the Focus grabs attention at every turn (especially in the Tangerine Scream hue of our test car), it may take more of an automotive aficionado to pick the Fiesta out from its lesser-specced brethren. Head-turning may not be your thing, of course, but Fast Fords aren’t usually aimed at the shy, retiring types and if I’d just bought the Fiesta, I’d forever be wishing that it could dominate a scene like the Focus, with its fancy exhaust tips (dual trapezoids, in case you were wondering).

Ford Focus ST interior

Focus ST Recaros – possibly the grippiest seats ever found in a production car.

The modus operandi of these cars is to combine the practicalities of a hatchback whilst making the driver feel like Sebastien Loeb when the mood takes them. On the practical front, the Focus is head and shoulders above the Fiesta, not only due to its size advantage in every direction but also due to the fact that it’s only available in 5 door guise. The Focus and the Fiesta are both ‘global cars’ according to Ford and yet, the Fiesta ST will be offered in the US with 5 doors, two more than in the rest of the world. Ford must be saving a fortune by not making a 3dr variant of the Focus but I can’t help but wonder if their reluctance to sell a 5 door Fiesta ST in Europe is through a fear of sales being pilfered from the more expensive Focus.

Back to the important bits though – the way these cars drive. Turbo-lag is all but eliminated on both cars and the torque curve is steady and predictable – it really is hard to find fault in either power plant. In the past, Ford have utilised a clever bit of engineering called a Revoknuckle, in order to convince the front wheels that they really can multitask, handling the, not insignificant job of steering the car whilst at the same time, lassoing 250+ horses as they try to escape in unison, usually by torque-steering through a hedge into the nearest paddock. This Focus ST however is Revoknuckleless (?!?) and it leaves the job of keeping Red Rum et al on the grey stuff up to some very clever electrical aids instead. The result is admirable but by no means perfect – floor the Focus ST and there is a slight feeling of hanging on, as the arguments between physics and microchip are echoed through the steering wheel. Each front wheel temporarily breaks free before it’s reined in, leaving it’s opposite number to head for the horizon. I can imagine a child would enjoy a similar sensation if he were to sit atop Usain Bolt‘s shoulders – whilst he competed in the Olympic 100m final.

Fiesta ST cornering

Notice hardly any body roll in the Fiesta – thank the Nurburgring for that

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, suffers none of these problems. Less is, once again more in this case and the smaller, less powerful car can simply get on with the task in hand without worrying about being overburdened with power. The task, of course, being to provide maximum thrills to all occupants, and this is certainly what the Fiesta ST does. We were lucky enough to take the car to its max on the sublime roads above Nice and whatever was thrown at it was simply returned with interest. Ford have done an incredible job here; they’ve disguised all the electrical aids and excess flab that modern cars are cursed with and made a car that feels raw and unbridled. Acceleration is keen with the engine happy to rev, and the car simply handles whatever corners are thrown at it, without ever getting flustered or confused.

It’s a similar story in the noise department – an aspect I unashamedly place much importance on. Both the Focus and the Fiesta utilise a clever system called a Sound Symposer which, in simplest terms pipes the engine note directly into the cabin without being deafening at the exhaust and failing to meet stringent sound regulations. I found the whole thing a little frustrating in the Focus, sort of like hearing your favourite song on a radio that’s stuck on mute. The Fiesta’s system is turned up to 11 in comparison and provides a hugely satisfying soundtrack that gets better and better as you progress towards the red-line.

Fiesta ST Three wheels

The Fiesta ST doing it’s best impression of a Reliant Robin. This chassis is properly sorted.

So, which one would I take home? Obviously, if size and 5 doors are high up your list of importance, it’s a no-brainer, it’d have to be the Focus as the Fiesta just can’t compete. If it’s pure driver satisfaction that floats your boat though, I’d undoubtedly save a wad of cash and take the Fiesta – it’s just more satisfying. I’m not saying that it’s perfect – the furthest gears were a little hard to reach and the smaller Recaros pinched a tad after a couple of hours but, on first impression, these were honestly my only niggles. I’ll be fascinated to find how the Fiesta ST is to live with when I get my hands on it for a longer test but, for now, I’d go as far as to say that if Toyota’s GT86 represents a return to innocence for coupes, this Fiesta ST is it’s hot-hatch equivalent. Some accolade huh?

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus ST2, Price – £23,495, Engine – 2.0T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 250bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.5s, Maximum Speed – 154mph, Economy – 39.2 mpg combined, Emissions – 169g/km CO2

Specifications; Ford Fiesta ST, Price – from £16,995, Engine – 1.6T Petrol, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 182bhpAcceleration –  0-62mph – 6.7s, Maximum Speed – 137mph, Economy – 47.9 mpg combined, Emissions – 138g/km CO2

For brochures and details on how to order, please go to; http://www.ford.co.uk/Cars/Fiesta/Fiesta-ST

New 2013 Ford Kuga – First Drive at the European Launch, Valencia

Ford Kuga

Ford Kuga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it first saw the light of day in 2008, the Kuga has been something of a success story for Ford in Europe, selling over 300,000 units and, according to Ford themselves, attracting buyers who would previously have overlooked the brand. In such tough economic times, it’s tricky attracting sales at all so what’s the Kuga’s secret and does this new, updated model retain it’s predecessor’s magnetic pull?

New 2013 Ford Kuga

New 2013 Ford Kuga

Like it’s stablemate – the Focus, this new Kuga is a global car for Ford. It not only replaces our first generation model but is also sold in the USA under the moniker ‘Escape‘, replacing a much larger 4×4 of the same name. Think it’s impossible to tempt an American out of his gas guzzling pick-up? You may be surprised to read that the Ford dealerships in the US can’t get Escapes into their showrooms quickly enough – it’s an incredibly popular vehicle and, with 5 NCAP and also 5 NHTSA stars, incredibly safe too.

2012 Ford Escape

The Kuga is known as the Escape in the US. This is the previous model Escape

Visually, I always found the first generation Kuga very inoffensive with a certain ‘Tonka Toy’ charm that distinguished it from the opposition. It had real road presence, bulges in all the right places and a nice shiny pair of twin exhausts that hinted at a cheeky fun factor on the road. This latest Kuga has undoubtedly retained many of these endearing features but I can’t help but feel that, visually at least, it’s all got a bit grown up. Amalgamating the Kuga with the Escape has inevitably resulted in a slight compromise with it’s styling. Thankfully however, the US market have adopted our curvy Kuga more than we’ve endured their boxy Escape.

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully, sometimes

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully. Sometimes

The new model is longer (81mm) and marginally narrower (4mm) than the outgoing model which does give it a more sensible, upright silhouette and detracts from its previous squat image with its shorter, less cumbersome overhangs. Ford claim to simply be listening to market feedback who apparently demanded more luggage space. One can’t fault them for this but it just seems a shame that the trade-off for a larger boot (up 82 litres on previous model) is inevitably a loss in the looks department. On the boot subject, Ford are very proud of their new, automatic, hands free tailgate which is designed to allow items to be quickly stowed away, without fumbling around in the rain for the keys. With the ‘correct’ kick under the rear end, the system does open and close as advertised. Be warned though – looking foolish is easily achieved, either by adopting the wrong style of leg movement or, as I did, by solidly cracking one’s shins on one’s own bumper.

It’s that same story up front too. Here is where the influence of the US market is more obvious and the result is a far more angular, dramatic ‘face’. It’s all new, triangular air intakes are slightly reminiscent of Porsche‘s Cayenne – certainly not the prettiest car in the world but definitely one of the more striking.

Some fantastic design features inside

Some fantastic design features inside

Inside the new Kuga, there’s a reassuring air of quality that seems to be indicative of most current Fords. The standard of materials used and imagination in design are largely unseen in this price bracket and are testament to Ford’s commitment to forgetting mistakes made in the past and establishing themselves as a marque of quality once more.

Ford were keen to point out the various innovative features they’ve added to the new Kuga, all aimed at a more satisfying, safer driving experience. The AWD system now boasts Torque Vectoring Control, Torque Steer Compensation, Curve Control for over-zealous cornering and Active Nibble Compensation for, erm……

2013 KugaLearning the intricacies of exactly how all these systems work is both unnecessary and slightly boring. What isn’t boring however is what they all add up to on the road. Our test route, high in the hills above Valencia offered many bends with varying angles and elevations to really stretch the capabilities of a lofty SUV. Ford insist that the S in SUV stands for Smart in this instance and when it comes down to how the Kuga drives, I’m inclined to agree. Yes, the roads around Valencia offer a surface quality that we in the UK can only dream of but, either way, the Kuga was resolutely unshakeable. The AWD system on our test vehicle apparently analyses feedback from the aforementioned driver aids 40 times every 16 milliseconds and I could well believe it. The result is a sensation not dissimilar to Ford’s own Focus with its limpet like qualities; no mean feat for a tall 4×4 with running gear that’s designed to also be able to cut it off-road.

The new Kuga will be offered with a range of engines; 2.0l Diesels in either 140PS or 163PS guise and Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost petrol with either 150PS or 180PS. Our test cars came equipped with the Duratorq Diesel engine (163PS) and I’m sad to say, this is the Kuga’s weakest link. This Diesel engine is unusually keen to rev but, even with the Kuga’s valiant attempts at sound deadening in the cabin (including thicker glass), when pushed hard, the reverberations and clatter were intrusive, antiquated and completely out of sync with the car’s funky image.

New 2013 Kuga Rear

We like twin tail-pipes

The EcoBoost engines could prove to be a real highlight for the Kuga, not only by producing a more pleasant noise but by also improving handling further due to their comparative lightness. The only stumbling block may be that Ford have decided to offer the 150PS variant in FWD only, reserving the higher output lump for 4WD. Not that I’m envisaging the vast majority of Kugas ever experiencing much more by way of off-roading than a grass verge, but any potentially adverse effect on the 4WD model’s impeccable road handling would be a real shame. If, however, the FWD EcoBoost Kuga does tow the party line and sticks to the road like glue, it’ll surely become a common sight in the UK as its economy and CO2 figures aren’t a million miles away from its Diesel counterparts, with acceleration becoming far more spirited. Couple this with the entry-level Kuga being available for £20,895, a full £1,000 less than the equivalent outgoing model and it could be a great package.

Conversely, I feel that the 180PS model will sell in very limited numbers as it offers no hike in performance due to the extra weight of its 4×4 system, whilst fuel consumption and CO2 emissions stumble to unacceptable levels in this segment (36.7mpg combined and 179g/km CO2).

With improvements in almost every area, stunning handling and a very welcome price drop, the new Kuga has little to dislike and with this segment expanding 40% since 2008, I see very little reason why the Kuga won’t continue to take a hefty bite. However, Ford predict that it’s Diesel Kugas will outsell the petrol variants 3:1. Armed with the mighty EcoBoost, I’m not so sure. I definitely plan to get my hands on one soon though, to provide my full verdict.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications as driven; Ford Kuga Duratorq 163, Price – from £25,545, Engine – 2.0l Diesel, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 163bhp, Acceleration0-60 9.9s, Maximum Speed123 mph, Economy –  47.9 mpg combined, Emissions –  154g/km CO2

All New Ford Fiesta. How does it compare to its predecessor?

2012 Ford Fiesta

2012 Ford Fiesta

Fact; The Ford Fiesta has been Britain’s most popular car every year since 2009 when it knocked its big brother – the Focus off it’s well-worn mantle.

Near Certainty; Unless the price of oil is decimated and the car buying public decides that a 10yr old Range Rover Vogue, equipped with a 4.4 V8 petrol engine (circa £9975) makes more financial sense than Ford’s latest small hatch (from £9795 OTR), the New Ford Fiesta will march on triumphantly to the top of the 2013 charts.

How can I be so sure that the Fiesta won’t be knocked off its lofty perch? Well, Ford seemed to have taken the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and used it with consumate wisdom. There are definitely enough revisions and improvements to the 2013 model to justify the ‘All New’ tag, but the majority of the car is taken straight from the previous incarnation which was hardly looking long in the tooth itself.

All New Ford Fiesta

All New Ford Fiesta

I was in the fortunate position to arrive at the New Fiesta launch in Manchester in the previous model that I was road testing. This ‘out of the old, into the new’ situation is undoubtedly the best way to draw comparison as I had every last niggle and highlight fresh in my mind. In the blink of an eye, I was drawn to establishing whether this new car had simply improved upon the last formula, or whether the essence of such a successful model had been lost in the intricacies of launching a car with its own identity and character.

All New Nose

Visually, the new model pulls off the amazing trick of being very similar to its predecessor whilst, at the same time, looking completely different. That trapezoidal nose has actually graced the front end of many Fords, including the Fiesta, for a while now. By adding some shiny brightwork, giving the new model a facelift and swapping the smaller, secondary air inlet from above to below the main ‘mouth’, the resulting car is instantly transformed, not only into a new model but also into a part of the new Ford family image.


2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

2012 Fiesta Interior, a very pleasant place to be

Inside the New Fiesta, the changes are negligible which came as no surprise as, again, the previous model’s cabin was chic, funky and fresh, with all manner of eye-catching shapes and materials being utilised in a very similar fashion to the ultra cutting-edge Focus. The quality of materials used and overall attention to detail really have no right to appear in a car in this price bracket and Ford have been quite shrewd in ensuring that possibly the most memorable part of the car is the environment which the occupants see most; the cabin. It really is futile giving a car like this the world’s most attractive engine bay when the majority of its target market have no inclination whatsoever to ever open the bonnet.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

New interior, very similar to previous model.

That said, there were a couple of niggles inside the previous model Fiesta that have now been ironed out, the most significant being the multimedia unit. The unit in my test 2012 model wasn’t disastrously bad, it was just nothing to write home about either; it played CDs, it boasted multiple radio stations, it even had an incredibly useful USB port, into which one could plug one’s Iphone and merrily select tracks in MP3 format. The problems arose when the ‘shuffle’ mode was operated and a random selection of tracks were played. It would reach the end of one track and, instead of instantly choosing the next one to play, the first few lines of the subsequent song would be heard whilst it made up it’s mind. Sounds like a minor annoyance, doesn’t it? You try it, in no time at all it’s incredibly irritating.

Thankfully, Ford have decided to outsource the current multimedia software to a little company who apparently know a thing or two in that field; Microsoft. They’ve concocted a system called Sync and, speaking from first hand experience, it does exactly what it says on the tin, eradicating any previous issues that existed.


Another technological innovation on the new Fiesta is a system called MyKey. In a nutshell, it allows the vehicle to be programmed by its owner via the keys, altering settings such as maximum speed, audio volume and the low-fuel warning. The thinking behind this is that parents, worrying about their teenage offspring who are out driving, will be reassured in the knowledge that their pre-armed Fiesta will be working extra-hard to ensure their safe return home. Now, the memories may be getting a little hazy but I can remember enough about being a teenager to state with confidence that this is the last thing I’d have wanted in my car. I also know that, even though it’s generally not their money that’s buying their first car, with enough incessant whining, any teenager worth their salt will be able to influence which car is bought and potentially steer well clear of this ‘big brother’ technology. It’s certainly innovative and will probably attract buyers, my only reservation is that it could possibly deter buyers too.

2012 Model Fiesta Nose......

2012 Model Fiesta Nose……

Ford claim that, due to the state of the global economy, many buyers are choosing to ditch their larger hatchbacks and are opting instead for something Fiesta sized to keep costs down. The fact that their very own Focus was deposed from the top of the charts by the Fiesta corroborates this claim and Ford have decided to act upon it by adding a new range-topping Titanium X model, in order to reinforce that feeling of quality that the Focus driver had previously enjoyed. Combine leather and climate control with the fact that the Mk1 Focus was only 20cm longer than this latest Fiesta and it’s easy to see how a smooth transition can be achieved.

EcoBoost Engines

One monumental leap forwards in this new model is the introduction of Ford’s multi award-winning range of EcoBoost engines. I’d experienced this excellent little three-cylinder in the Focus recently, without disappointment, and I was itching to get my hands on the lighter Fiesta, equipped with the same powerplant. Does it work? Of course it does! I sampled both the 125ps and 100ps variants and both were huge fun with character to burn. I quite safely predict that this excellent engine/chassis/gearbox combination will only reinforce the Fiesta’s rock-solid reputation in the market as it offers a fun factor that it’s competitors can only dream of.

......and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

……and New Fiesta Nose. Some shape-shifting going on.

The official economy figures for the Ecoboost models are 65.7mpg combined, admittedly this isn’t a patch on my Duratorq Diesel test car’s 85.6mpg but there are other considerations to be taken into account here. The very nature of the free-revving Ecoboost engine when compared to a fairly reluctant Diesel is hugely important in my opinion and the throaty sound that resonates around the petrol-engined model’s cabin gives a real hot-hatch feel without the associated costs. I also found that the relatively small Fiesta struggled with the extra weight of a Diesel lump up front whereas the lightweight petrol engine made the car less nose-heavy into corners and really did justice to the extremely satisfying driving set up. As both models slip in under that magical 100g/km on emissions, there isn’t a VED issue to separate the two either.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, the Fiesta’s sales figures speak for themselves and it was going to take a series of huge errors for the updated model to ruin such a complete little car. That said, it wasn’t perfect, a fact that Ford weren’t too arrogant to acknowledge and remedy. With its niggles ironed out, it’s striking new look and, perhaps most importantly, the introduction of their EcoBoost engines, the Fiesta will undoubtedly go from strength to strength.

ST due to arrive in April - looks fantastic

ST due to arrive in April – looks fantastic

Oh, did I also mention that the ST model will be along in April, priced from £16,995? More on that to follow……..

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; 2012 Model as Tested – Ford Fiesta Zetec ECOnetic, Engine – 1.6 8V TDCi, Power – 95PS, Maximum Speed – 111mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph 12.9s, Economy – 85.6mpg combined, Emissions87g/km CO2, Price – £15,595 OTR.

2013 Model of choice – Ford Fiesta Zetec S, Engine1.0 Ecoboost Turbo PetrolPower – 125PS, Maximum Speed122mph, Acceleration0-62mph 9.4s, Economy – 65.7 mpg combined, Emissions99g/km CO2, Price –  £15,395 OTR

They always recognise their own, apparently

They always recognise their own, apparently!

Ford Focus Zetec S EcoBoost – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Ford Focus Front angle

2013 Ford Focus Zetec S

In the not too distant past, a car sporting the looks and dimensions of this Ford Focus Zetec S, coupled to a 1.0l petrol engine would usually be found lurking suspiciously in the classifieds, tagged with the highly undesirable moniker – ‘lookalike’ or ‘replica’. Back to 2012 however and Ford have worked some engineering wizardry and installed it in their latest Focus models, the results include the Zetec S model we have here which is propelled by a diminutive 1.0l EcoBoost engine.

EcoBoost Engine

Punching way above its weight, this tiny powerplant may only house three cylinders but they’re assisted by a turbocharger, its engine block is infamously the same size as an A4 piece of paper. Interesting pub facts aside, the EcoBoost provides a 20% decrease in emissions over a similarly powered engine of higher displacement. All of this obviously hasn’t gone unnoticed and Ford’s pocket-rocket is consistently winning more awards and titles than Titanic and Manchester Utd combined.

2013 Ford Focus Rear

Note the ‘Venturi’ rear splitter

Ford have always been the masters of visual drama and this Zetec S in Race Red is no exception. There are aerodynamically efficient spoilers and angles everywhere, from the jutting chin spoiler to the Venturi style rear diffuser.  Whether their potential is regularly utilised is somewhat irrelevant as their visual impact is undeniable even when the car is stationary. The optional 18” wheels and privacy glass on our test car only reinforce the impression that this car means business. I’d even go as far to say that this Zetec S model offers more visual drama than its big brother – the ST. Quite an accolade.

Chic Interior

2013 Ford Focus Interior

Dual Screens and many buttons – surprisingly user-friendly

It’s a similar story on the Focus’ interior, with the many controls and buttons laid out in a fashion that appeals not only visually, but are tempting in a tactile sense too. The ice blue illumination does provide a certain ‘vodka bar’ chic to the experience but I found it surprisingly relaxing when driving at night, it just seems to exude a feeling of calmness. I’m usually a ‘less is more’ type of guy when it comes down to buttons and dials and I have to admit, I initially felt a little intimidated with the plethora facing you from the Focus’ dash, especially the multi-function steering wheel. They are, however, very simple to become accustomed to and each one just seems to be positioned in exactly the correct place. The quality of materials used in the cabin are of a high quality, even in out-of-view areas. The Focus must surely be vying for the top spot in its class in terms of offering a pleasurable environment.

From a driver’s point of view

Power up the EcoBoost engine and it seems to operate in some manner of stealth mode. Below 3000 rpm, this three cylinder is so quiet that the gear-change indicator becomes an essential driver aid as the cabin is near-silent. Ignoring our environmental responsibilities for a second, the 1.0l engine will rev freely when pushed, providing unexpected levels of fun with negligible lag from the turbo. This same turbo also gives some much-needed grunt lower down the rev range  and I found that, even in sixth gear at relatively low revs, there was enough torque to increase speed without searching around the ‘box for a suitable ratio.

Come rain or shine, the Zetec S was reluctant to come unstuck and its handling was admirable. The latest generation Focus may have grown slightly when compared to previous models but the chassis seems well-balanced and easily capable of coping with the extra mass. Around town, the steering assistance is very welcome and makes manoeuvring in tight spaces a doddle.

Utilising a ‘sliding scale’ approach to power steering seems to be the norm these days and I’m not sure Ford have really got the hang of it with this Focus. I found the feedback from the front wheels to be a little lacking at higher speeds which led to some slightly unnerving guesswork as to their intentions. The same was true on motorways and the car just felt a little twitchy, with every minute movement from the driver being magnified through the steering wheel.

5 door only

Kids thumbs up in back of focus

Thumbs up in the back of the Focus!

Ford have taken something of a gamble with the 3rd generation Focus by dropping its 3dr option and making the hatchback available as a 5dr only. This may not have been a popular decision with their hordes of fast-Ford appreciators but it’s a huge signal of intention that this is, first and foremost, a family oriented car. The Zetec S model must surely represent something of a zenith in the family car stakes as it seems to please all generations. Children can be the harshest of critics but my own young daughters (3 & 4) were very keen to put their seal of approval on the Focus with no complaints about any lack of space, access or visibility in the rear.

Reinforcing this aura of attraction for the modern parent, the Zetec S comes packed with driver aides and safety features as standard. These include, not only familiar features such as traction control, now the norm on most cars, but also reassuring assistance from Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) and Torque Vectoring Control. We all assume that our loved ones will be ferried around without incident but it’s good to know that the Focus is capable of dealing with any problems that could occur.

2013 Focus free tax

First Year = Free tax

Our test car was fitted with a Driver Assist Pack option as an option. It includes Active City Stop, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Traffic Sign Recognition, Driver Alert, Auto High Beam and Blind Spot Info System, all of which are working in unison to keep us on the straight and narrow.  Priced at over £1,000, it’s not the cheapest of additions but then, what price safety? Whilst testing the Focus, I experienced first hand the advantage that most of the Pack offers and it’s undoubtedly justifiable. I would bear in mind though that, although very clever, the system is not infallible and in some situations, not entirely appropriate. The Blind Spot Info System, for example, illuminates an orange dot in the applicable door mirror if it detects an object in a blind spot. Although extremely useful on most roads, it came a little unstuck on country roads at night when it was flummoxed by the presence of nearby hedges and seemed determined to warn me of their existence. It was a similar story with the Lane Departure Warning which obviously didn’t appreciate the need to sometimes cross the white line, the Auto High Beam which seemed to hold onto maximum illumination for a little too long, resulting in some irritated flashes from oncoming traffic and the Traffic Sign Recognition which would occasionally get confused with stickers on foreign HGVs and insist that the speed limit on British motorways was 110 mph.  It’s important to remember though, that all of these aides can be simply switched off and sometimes, this may be the safer option.

In Conclusion

2013 Ford Focus front closeOverall, it’s very difficult to fault the Focus Zetec S, especially when fitted with the 1.0l Ecoboost engine. It’s safe, frugal and appealing, both visually and from a driver’s point of view. That’s not to say it’s perfect, and with the options our test car was supplied with, it’s price tag of over £22,000 may prove to be a little much for some wallets. If it’s head-turning, hot-hatch looks you’re after though, without the associated running costs, the Zetec S is the real deal.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford Focus Zetec S 5 Door, Engine – 1.ol EcoBoost, Transmission – 6spd Manual, Layout – Front engine, Front wheel drive, Power – 125PS, Emissions – 114g/km CO2, Economy – 56.5 mpg Combined, Maximum Speed – 120mph, Acceleration – 0-62mph – 11.3s, Price – £19,195 OTR, £22,320 as tested.

Optional Extras on our test car included – City Pack-Rear Park Assist and Powerfold mirrors – £525, Ford DAB Nav System – £750, Door Edge Protectors – £50, Privacy Glass – £150, 18” Alloys – £400, Cruise Control with Active Speed Limiter – £200, Driver Assist Pack – £1050

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