It wasn’t that long ago you had to spend six figure sums if you wanted a car with semi-autonomous capability.
But not now. Get in your $35,000 Ford Focus Titanium small car, hit the right buttons and it will transport you down the freeway hands-free…briefly.
Its sophisticated tech and it does work, even if only for a few seconds at a time in deference to legal concerns. And it delivers an idea of what the Titanium’s selling proposition is all about; pocket-sized luxury.
The autonomous capability is new, but the concept is not. Cars like the Titanium have been around for a while, trying to tempt empty-nesters and others to downsize into something cheaper to purchase and run than their big six-cylinder sedans.
It hasn’t really worked. Instead they’ve bought SUVs of all shapes and sizes, and cars like the Focus Titanium have languished. But Ford keeps trying.
What is it?
This is the fourth generation Focus and it’s been on-sale in Australia since late 2018. This is the second generation Titanium variant, sitting at the top of the range.
Like most Focus models sold in Australia, the Titanium is a five-seat five-door hatchback, and there’s also a single wagon.
Built in Germany, the Focus is an orthodox front-wheel drive small car that offers no major technical innovations compared to its opposition.
There are a couple of eyebrow lifters though. Apart from the semi-autonomous ability, the Titanium comes with a 134kW/240Nm 1.5-litre triple-cylinder petrol-turbo engine, the sole powerplant on offer – triples are pretty rare in Australia.
At the other end of the innovation scale and in the name of cost-saving Ford has opted to abandon independent rear suspension and revert to a beam axle for most models in the new generation line-up. Train-spotter stuff maybe, but it does have an impact on ride (more on that later).
It wasn’t that long ago this tech was restricted to buyers of German luxury saloons.
Why is it important?
It should be more important, to be honest.
Focus is a bit player in the small cars sales race and Titanium is only a small contributor to that total.
Both Focus and Titanium really should do better. Some people who buy SUVs should buy a Focus instead. So that’s on us, but also on Ford because it can’t seem to sell anything in volume in this country apart from Ranger utes and V8 Mustang coupes.
How much does the Ford Focus Titanium cost?
The Titanium is a single eight-speed automatic model that is priced at $34,990 plus on-road costs.
The other Focus models are the $23,490 Ambiente, $25,990 Trend and $28,990 ST-Line hatches, the $30,990 ST-Line wagon and $29,990 Active high-riding hatch. Soon to arrive is the $44,690 ST hot hatch.
In the broader Ford range the Titanium sits in size and pricing between the smaller Ecosport Titanium SUV and larger Escape Titanium SUV.
Among many others, logical small-car opposition includes the $36,990 Mazda3 G25 Astina, the $33,635 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid and $35,490 Hyundai i30 Premium.
What does the Ford Focus Titanium get?
Compared to other Focus models, the Titanium alone gets leather upholstery with heated front seats, a nine-speaker Bang ' Olufsen audio system, configurable ambient cabin lighting and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Titanium also includes adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition, lane centre assist, evasive steering assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert and adaptive LED headlights. These safety features are optionally available in the lower grades.
Safety stuff the Titanium shares with some or all other Focus models includes a full suite of airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, a reversing camera with rear parking sensors, hill-start assist and a post-impact braking function.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, SYNC3 infotainment and voice control, LED daytime running lights, a headlight cornering function dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and wipers, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, keyless entry and start and wireless phone charging are also shared equipment
The Titanium comes with a five-year/unlimited warranty and service intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months. The base price for the first five services comes out at $1541, although some consumables come on top of that.
A temporary spare tyre is standard, as is a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
What do we like?
Considering the Focus is less than 4.4m long, Ford has done a good job maximising interior space, notably in the rear-seat and in the 377 litre boot. If you’re thinking of a small car as family transport then the Focus deserves to be on the list.
The Focus also displays decent handling traits, which is expected of a small Ford. Maybe light but deft steering and sure grip aren’t talents at the top of your list of requirements, but they will be in an emergency situation.
Combine lithe handling with compact size and the Focus Titanium flits around the ’burbs like it was made for them…which it was.
The semi-autonomous capability is delivered with the help of radar, cameras and digital smarts that allow autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and lane-keep assist to function. It needs well-marked roads such as freeways to operate and isn’t intended to be left to its own devices for long periods. But it will sit the car in its lane and maintain a gap to the vehicle in front.
Of course, this is no longer breakthrough tech, but it is impressive at the price and it proved to be more reliable in the Titanium than some more expensive systems we’ve tried.
Triple cylinder engines have a reputation for being noisy and prone to vibration, but Ford’s also ticked the box here. It’s pretty smooth and impressively responsive as peak pulling power kicks in from 1600rpm.
It meshes well with the auto, which admittedly has plenty of work to do finding the right gear in hilly terrain.
Fuel economy comes out in the 7-8.0L/100km range compared to the 6.4L/100km claim.
What we don’t like
Sadly, there are some noticeable issues with the Titanium.
Ford hass replaced the traditional gear lever with a rotary dial in an attempt to eke out more storage space in the centre console. First off and less importantly, it takes a while to acclimatise to the different system.
The big issue is the lag built into it. Dial R for reverse and…wait, dial D for drive and…wait. It’s annoying in isolation and positively worrying when you’re attempting to manoeuvre in an active traffic stream. At least you can change forward gears manually via paddles on the steering column.
The other major issue is the ride. Remember that beam rear axle? Well, add in low profile tyres with shallow sidewalls and the Titanium tends to bang and crash across the road more roughly than a small car with a luxury skew should.
The interior presentation doesn’t quite carry off the luxury – okay, call it prestige – feel either. The leather looks vinyl, the trims are predominantly dark, highlighted only by the occasional flash of faux chrome.
Buy it or not?
The Focus Titanium is an essentially decent small car trying to convince us it’s something more than it really is. Fair enough, no shortage of that in new-car showrooms dotted across this wide, black, smoking land.
Forget about the luxury pitch, take note of the shortcomings and if you’re still interested go and check out a decent-value small car hiding under the faux chrome and big wheels.