Lifehacker Tests The Ford Focus 2011: This Is The Future Of Cars

Lifehacker Australia was offered the opportunity to sit down for a chat with a couple of Ford executives and test drive the new 2011 Ford Focus last week. I was the lucky one who got to get behind the wheel as the only member of the team with a full driver's licence. One week, 800km and $70 worth of diesel fuel later, I was reluctant to give the keys back purely because of all the mind-blowing tech I'm about to show you.

Note: This is not a review of the car itself. It's just a look at some of the car's tech features and my hands-on impressions.

Design

The model I drove was the 2011 Ford Focus Titanium turbo diesel sedan with all the bells and whistles of the optional Sports Executive Pack. Ford is launching the sedan alongside the hatch, and in my eyes it's more sophisticated-looking than the five-door hatch variant. This is unusual as traditionally the sedans tend to come out some time after the hatch, and often it looks like they've just attached a boot to the rear of the car without giving any thought to the overall exterior design.

Simon Brook, Exterior Designer for Ford Australia, says the 2011 Ford Focus was developed using a European surface language known as Kinetic Design. "We've really moved on from the previous generation of Focuses. This one is much more dynamic and fluid, the proportions are much more modern, and it's all about making the vehicles look like they're moving when they're not."

Driving

While industrial design nerds are sure to drool over the 2011 Ford Focus' looks, the features we were most excited about were what was inside the car and underneath the hood: Active Park Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control. Adam Frost, Ford's Chief Engineer, talked us through the latter.

It's a much better version of cruise control. When you're in [normal]cruise control and someone pulls in front of you, or if the traffic slows, you've gotta either brake or adjust your cruise. With Adaptive Cruise Control, it uses radar. So say you've dialled in 100km/h and the traffic slows to 80km/h, the car automatically slows to 80. It maintains the same distance between you and the car in front all by itself. It's unbelievable when you first drive it. It's almost like there's a rigid bar between you and the car in front. So if they slow, you slow, and if they speed up, you speed up. So you can imagine when you join traffic, it's a lot less stressful.

We drove down to Kiama and up to Terrigal over the course of the week, and the Adaptive Cruise Control made what would have been a boring drive on the freeways into a fun one. You can toggle the distance between you and the car in front, and you can even override the system temporarily by speeding up when, say, you want to overtake someone. But once you touch the brake, the Adaptive Cruise Control went into standby mode and you have to set it up again. Having never driven a car with cruise control before, not having to worry whether I was stepping too hard on the accelerator and breaking the speed limit was amazing.

Ford's partnership with Sony has also seen the introduction of high-end audio gear across its range of vehicles, with a 3.5-inch dot matrix display, steering-wheel mounted controls and Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Parking

While reverse parking sensors are pretty mainstream now, Ford's Active Park Assist is an incredible solution to parallel parking nightmares. It proved to be a cool party trick, and 9 out of 10 times it worked perfectly. On the odd occasion it would park too far from the kerb, which I suspect may have had something to do with the car parked behind me being too far out, and it was hopeless on curved kerbs. It took a few tries for me to fully trust it -- many times it would reverse into a spot in such a way that made me think the front left corner was too close to the car in front. It really makes you realise that the car doesn't need as much space as you might think to manoeuvre itself in small spaces.

It also raises the question of whether in the future we'll be required to show RTA testing officers that we can parallel park at all. If the car can do it for us at the press of a button, will our children still need to prove that they have the skill in order to get their P plates?

Having said that, I would prefer that the Focus had built-in satellite navigation over the Active Park Assist. From what I can see on Ford Australia's website, you can't even add it as an option. Being OK at parallel parking but having a poor sense of direction, this confuses me.

Unfortunately, the Active Park Assist only comes standard in the top-of-the line Titanium models, and the Adaptive Cruise Control requires you to purchase the optional Sports Executive Pack. So for all the coolest features, you're looking at well over $35,000 drive away and over $40,000 for the upgrade to turbo diesel. The technology is not exactly affordable for the masses just yet -- I certainly can't afford one -- but the 2011 Ford Focus is a good indication of the direction passenger cars are heading.

Would you benefit from a self-parking car or cruise control with brains? Share your motoring wish list in the comments.

Editor note: We run full disclosure here at Allure, so if this was a sponsored post (as some commenters are randomly suggesting below), we'd have noted it. It isn't. Our editorial team got offered the chance to test the car, and accordingly looked at how technology was used in it. Judging by the number of people reading it, people are finding that a worthwhile exercise.

Lifehacker Australia night editor Elly Hart is a firm believer that everyone, including her bosses, should get their damn licences already. Lifehacker's Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    When I see the ad on TV I'm skeptical, but if it gets it spot-on 9 out of 10 times, it's better at parallel parking than I am! I prefer to reverse-park when going shopping - can it do that automatically too?

    Also, IMHO in-car GPS is less useful than an in-built shelf or somesuch for one's smartphone. Updated maps and customised routes/landmarks are all so much easier to do on your smartphone of choice, which can be Bluetoothed into your car stereo anyway.

      Park Assist on my Golf works very well at parallel parking, it can fit into very tight spots that I would otherwise ignore for fear of embarrassing myself with my crap parking ability. It only needs 0.5 metres clearance (front distance plus back distance). I don't practice parallel parking enough to get good at it :)

      The Active Park Assist doesn't work for reverse parking -- it's only got reverse sensors to rely on for that.

      Park assist in my three year old VW Tiguan works great. Parallel parks like a champ

    In other news, Ford Focus copies Volkswagen Golf's Active Cruise Control and Park Assist features and then tries to claim they are breaking new ground in small car technology.

      I did see that Volkswagen had similar -- if not the same -- technology. Do you know if they come standard in all their vehicles, or is it an add-on option?

        It's an add-on option (think it's about $1200 or so).

      Heh, if we're going to throw stones - Mitsubishi actually had the first adaptive cruise control pushing 20 years ago, and more recently Mercedes had the first ACC available in mass scale.

      Don't get me wrong, Volkwagon make a good car in the Golf, but they're not doing anything that hasn't been done before them.

      boris the fervour of VW fans (great cars in the main) never ceases to amaze me. This tech is all mostly third party anyway (probably Bosch in this case), but VW did NOT introduce this prior to Ford in Australia, especially at this price point. The 2009 Ford Mondeo was the first mainstream car to introduce Adaptive Cruise actually, well before VW did on the Passat which was quite recent. Similarly, here it is on the Focus, but not yet available at ANY PRICE on a Golf. Park assist, yes, VW were probably first mainstream brand to market with that. Dont forget the current crop of small and medium Fords are effectively German products, so they have all the same tech - the generally accepted fact is that VW cars are a little better finsihed, but the Euro Fords are substantially better drives.

    As a motorcyclist, does the adaptive cruise control work if instead of a car or truck is in front of you, there's a motorcycle? Or am I going to have to be more worried about getting rear ended while going down the freeway now?

    Does self parking and adaptive cruise control create complacency and make a bigger issue later down the track when people can't park themselves or aren't able to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front?

    I'd rather less tech and stricter licensing requirements!

      The Adaptive Cruise Control uses radar, so technically it should detect motorcyclists too. In reality, I wouldn't be able to tell you for sure since I never ended up behind a motorcyclist.

      Regarding the complacency issue, it's a good point and important one to make. As I mentioned in the article, it raises the issue of skills that we need now no longer being required in the future. There's an argument for saying that the technology can make us better drivers since we can concentrate on what's on the road as opposed to the speedometer.

        But the motorcyclist has a much smaller cross section, so it's harder to detect with radar (which is what the Air Force/Navies of the world want with their planes/ships, you minimise the cross section and make up the rest with radar absorbing materials.)

        As far as I can tell, there are no standards for these sorts of systems either, so it's what ever the manufacturer wants to implement...

        As for the argument for this tech making us better drivers through allowing us to concentrate on the road more, well, just because it enabled that, doesn't mean drivers will take advantage of it, instead some might choose to do more risky activities, like talking on the phone.

        Also, these systems might not work in more adverse situations (heavy rain, dust, etc) which is when they would probably be the most useful. So those skills need to be kept, and allowing complacency in them will cause major issues when these situations arise!

          As a motorcyclist I share your concerns.

          It's bad enough already with many drivers only looking out for "car sized" vehicles and not noticing the motorcyclists on our roads.

          I can only hope that this new (and, might I say, fantastic) tech will be treated as an extra safety measure that that doesn't replace existing devices - Much as air bags have not replaced seat belts, despite some early calls for that to happen.

        For the skills to be no longer needed the technology that supercedes them would need to be available in ALL vehicles. So let's give it maybe 10 years to be in all new vehicles. Then there's the fact that people drive around in old vehicles of 20+ years old (I've a 23 year old one sitting in my drive at the moment). Add to that a bit of a lag for the authorities to change their requirements and you're probably looking at 35 years or more before we don't require those skills to be tested. In summary, don't put off taking your test in the hope that you don't need to do the trickier stuff!

      @Ginji - Don't quote me on this, but I don't think Standards Australia would allow such technology to be used in street legal cars in Australia if they were going to be a threat to other street legal traffic - including motorcyclists and bicyclists.

      @Elly - Out of curiosity, what's the minimum speed that the cruise control can be enabled at? I can see a major safety concern for pedestrians if you're able to enable it at 60-79km/h; because no doubt some doofus would end up using it in stop-start suburban traffic.

        I only ever used it on the freeways, and the Ford manual says that's only when you should use it. But from what I saw you could have it on from as low as 60km/h, possibly even lower.

    1972 BMW Turbo concept car built for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Only two built and still owned by BMW.

    The car had a radar to warn of being too close to other vehicles: http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/548/BMW-Turbo-Concept.html

    Nice to see other manufacturers slowly catching up. Of course I realise that technologies have vastly changed since 1972...

    "at well over $35,000 drive away "

    Not bad considering....

    And that active-park thing.. I'd love it. I can reverse/parallel park but it's something I don't do "all the time" so I get out of practise and I sometimes need a few goes at it.

    I'm assuming the Park Assist will advise you if there is not enough space before it even bothers?

      If there's not enough space, it won't tell you that you can park there. You press the button when you start looking for parking, and if the space is too small, it'll keep going until it find a spot big enough.

        Can you explain thefull details of how you work this piece of the tech? I am curious about how it goes...

        You say you press the button when you start looking.. then what? is there an auditory alarm to tell it found a possible spot? What do you do then? etc

          Sure, so after you press the button and the car finds a spot, in the centre console it'll say that a parking spot has been found and you'll here a tinkle. It then tells you to drive forward until your car is positioned next to the car you're trying to park behind. Then it says to put it in reverse and let go of the steering wheel. The car takes over the steering wheel and reverses into the spot -- all you control is the speed with the accelerator and the brake. Check out the video in the article -- you can see it all happen there.

    What ever happened to learning to reverse park properly?

      The 2011 Ford Focus still requires you to reverse park yourself. The Active Park Assist only works for parallel parking.

      Actually, now that I think about it, I don't remember having to do a reverse park on the test to get my P plates.

        So we are removing the skill from driving?

        call me old fashioned, but if you cant park or drive then you should not be on the road, regardless of whether the car can do it for you or not.

          +1

          if people don't have the interest to actually learn how to drive their cars properly, they shouldn't be allowed on the road at all. same goes for people that don't know how to drive a manual car, or are incapable of over 80km/h on a 110km/h freeway.

        I assume you're in NSW?

        They randomly select 2 "parking types" before you start the test. Reverse perpendicular, Front perp, Front parallel, reverse parallel, curb-side stop, 3 point turn etc (i'm sure there are official names)

        Oh and your question: "will our children still need to prove that they have the skill in order to get their P plates?"

        yes, yes they will. Not all cars have parking assist, and reversing shows you have a good understanding of the controls of the car.

          I was on of the lucky ones doing my P's test. I practiced reverse parallel parking everyday for two weeks before the test. Wasn't even asked to do it on the day.

          Turns out that coming from a rural town, the test has been the same for years!

    I'm sorry, did I miss the "ADVERTISEMENT" tag at the top of this so-called article?

      I know, I was looking for it too. How much did Ford pay Allure for this article?

      We weren't paid for this article. It could have been a negative piece if that had been my experience.

    Car of the future? It's diesel.

    Insight fail.

      I think if they had made it hybrid or electric, you'd be looking at a price range well outside of the Focus' target market.

      It's also more fuel efficient than I thought it would be. In the week that I had it, despite driving a fair bit, I only had to fill up the tank once.

        Urgh, the concept of a hybrid annoys me. It's already been demonstrated that larger capacity conventional petrol engines can be more fuel efficient than hybrids - it really comes down to driving style.

        Jump into a Prius and drive like a hoon and you'll soon go through more fuel than your grandad does in his old HZ Kingswood.

        Electric isn't feasible until more charge stations become available (theres 1 in Sydney. ONE.) - and with electric price crisis's going on across the country, can you really afford to plug it in anyway?

    pee eff eff tee

    Never would i be caught dead in one of these. Sad excuse for a car! Give me my XR6 Turbo or 2.8D Turbo Hilux any day over this crap.

    Seems to be that the "Park Assist" censor is the most talked about feature, well i hope you all realise you can have a much better device connected to your current car for ~$700 installed (500 if you do it yourself); and have it work 100x better!

    This is not a good car in any way shape or form, there are a lot "tech" gadgets but beware as these have only been implemented half-arsed'ly you are better off getting the base model and spending your own money on third party devices.

    DO NOT BUY!! DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY!

      Um what proof do you have that they were "implemented half-arsedly"? I pretty much lived in this car for a week and I can promise you the tech features were part of the car's design from the word go.

        no doubt they've been implemented from the word go.

        But the devices fitted are not available commercially because they are a sub-standard product. Ford has to purchase tens of thousands of these so do you
        think that they are going to be purchasing quality products? nope, they'll be purchasing the charlie's cheapie version to save every dollar they can.

        Its hard to take your opinion seriously as this is obviously a paid advertisement - in your week of living in the car did you ever actually think of purchasing one?
        Would you really plonk down your own hard earned cash on this 35k "gadget"?

        Every feature you mentioned can be done to ANY other car on the cheap (with better support & features)

        Parking - $700 and you will have a system that customized to your liking (add another $300 and you can have reversing video cameras)
        Cruise control - $600 on an aftermarket part and you get all the features this one offers.

        Maybe you dont have a clue about what you're reviewing...

          Fair call about Ford trying to save money, but wouldn't this apply to every car manufacturer?

    WANT!!!!!
    I'l start saving......yesterday

    I drive a 2007 Peugeot (turbo diesel) and get 1,100km's for $70.

    Congratulations Ford, you're now only 4 years behind in fuel efficiency.

      Peugeot diesels have always been great. A friend had one over 20 years ago that knocks spots off many current diesels for fuel efficiency. VW have got some pretty decent ones too, but Ford diesels do tend to be pretty lack lustre and come across as a "me too" feature.

    This was a disappointing advertorial, and read as one written by someone with very little idea about cars, and the technology in cars.

    Both the features you discuss were available in the Prius introduced TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO, not to mention all the other amazing technology that car offers.

    Also, the rear park assist in the Prius lets you parallel park, as well as reverse park.

    Not to mention crash avoidance systems only available in $200,000+ luxury cars, solar panels, and heaps more.

    Also, you guys are LIFEHACKER: surely you know factory installed satnav is prohibitively expensive, and as mentioned by other commentators is done much better by smart phones and specialised units.

    One last thing: you've never driven a car with cruise control? Seriously?

      It sounds like nobody in the Lifehacker team is really qualified to do car reviews. I wonder why the Ford marketing department decided to loan them the car? Maybe they thought the inexperience might lead to a glowing review due to the fact that it has technology that experienced/qualified motoring journalists know is not new or uncommon? It looks like it worked - "Oh look! Shiny, shiny!"

      We weren’t paid in any way to run this story. Ford just let us test drive the car for a week. It could have ended up as a negative article if that had been my experience, and I do point out that it's not cheap.

      This article is not meant to be a review of the car itself. Our editorial interest was in the design and tech aspects, which is really all I concentrated on in the article.

      And yeah the Prius might have these features, but the Prius is hardly a car that appeals to the masses, while the Ford Focus is aimed at a wider market. The point I'm making in the article is that the high-tech features that you see in cars like the Prius are coming to regular passenger cars.

        I've not noticed anyone claiming you were paid, though getting a car to run around in for a week could count as incentivising. "I was the lucky one" does at least hint that it wasn't something you were doing against your will.

        Whilst the review could have been negative, would that have been likely? What benchmark do you have for a comparison? To me the review didn't really come across as negative or positive, more a comment on the features. The article itself did come across as an advert though, partly because Ford is quoted verbatim, but mainly because of the title "Ford Focus 2011: This Is The Future Of Cars". All that was missing was the fanfare and the flashing lights to announce the article.

          Indeed it wasn't against my will to write this article. We were given the opportunity to check out the car -- unrelated to any advertising objectives -- and I volunteered after making sure we had an editorial angle.

          I'm not trying to pass the article off as a full-on review I'm not making comparisons to any other car -- all I cared about was the high-tech features in a mainstream passenger vehicle and like you said that's all I commented on.

        Elly, your lack of knowledge regarding cars shines through this article. Please take this as constructive criticism of this article, and not a personal attack. I am a big fan of Lifehacker, but if I want information about cars I'll read Autoblog. Please consider this before making the same mistake twice.

        If you're reviewing a car, or the technology in it, you should have some frame of reference. To say "the Prius is hardly a car that appeals to the masses" is ignorant, especially considering it is the NUMBER ONE selling car in Japan, and they have sold more than 2 MILLION units worldwide.

        Not only that, but the Prius pricing is only marginally higher than the model of Focus that you tested, and it comes with a full HYBRID ELECTRIC system (a little bit more "car of the future" than diesel), touch-screen satellite navigation, moonroof and an EIGHT year warranty on the powertrain, AND cheaper servicing. (I did some homework before writing this comment, perhaps some homework should have been done before WRITING it!)

        DISCLAIMER: I OWN a turbo-diesel Ford Mondeo (the Focus' big brother), but to say it's the "car of the future" is seriously misguided.

          Nowhere do I claim to be an authority on cars. Again, this article is not a review or comparison of anything -- just a look at some tech features in what's meant to be a regular car. We're not a car blog, we're a tech site and wrote the article in that context.

          My comments regarding the Prius were in relation to Australia. The Prius is not a car that appeals to the masses in this country. And in any case, two million units worldwide is nothing. For every one Prius that is sold, millions of other cars are sold.

            Globally, about 10 million cars (give or take a million or two) are sold every year. So, by your figures, Toyota manage to sell about 10 Priuses each year.

            Elly, it's great that you spend the time to respond to all these posts, but it appears you're getting less rational and more defensive. I don't think you're going to change anybody's mind about the appropriateness of a car review (even if it's only the fairly common technology it uses) appearing on LifeHacker. Even if you did, any car manufacturer will most certainly think very hard before offering a car for LH to review in the future.

    Sorry but golf in the same price range with the same features ... i pick gold over this any day ...

    unless you guys are getting paid for this 'story' there is no story ford just got up to date with the rest of the market...which is nice but still no story here

      i pick *golF* over this any day …

    "... as the only member of the team with a full driver’s licence."

    Nobody else at Lifehacker has an open license? How very embarrassing.

      Hilarious, is everyone else 15 years old?

      Well there's just the three of us. Angus refuses to get a licence, and our publisher Danny is in the process of getting his. I got my licence as soon as I was old enough!

    kato
    I’m sorry, did I miss the “ADVERTISEMENT” tag at the top of this so-called article?

    Like!

    Surely it's not totally crazy to think that if the decision of who should conduct a new car review comes down to finding the only person on the team who has their open license... that publication probably shouldn't bother reviewing cars?

      Let me clarify that I'm not reviewing the car. We were purely interested in the high-tech features and the fact that they're making their way -- slowly but surely -- into mainstream passenger cars.

    "...having a poor sense of direction..."

    MUST. NOT. MAKE. RACIAL. STEREO. -TYPE!!!!

      I would have thought it was more sexist than racist :P

    Bah! Such a chicks car. Maybe an XR5 variant would be worth a second look at.

    I recently purchased a new 2011 of the previous shape Focus. I CANNOT RECOMMEND STRONGLY ENOUGH TO ANYBODY, DO NOT BUY A FOCUS. Ford's quality control is non-existent. Or, site the actual car you are taking before you sign the contract, or you will be stuck with a poorly finished piece of crap.

    I was going to write a comment on how it seems a bit left of field for Allure/LifeHacker to run this story, considering the type of content that usually gets posted here – but it’s already been said (multiple times) above me, and I know the Elly is just doing her job and doesn’t deserve getting beaten up from readers speculating about commercial arrangements they know nothing about. Hell, as a Data Analyst, I wouldn’t complain if a motoring company leant me a car for a week so I can crunch some numbers on statistics about it – even if it had nothing to do my regular job working for a utilities company.

    I know Elly is particularly prolific in reading/responding to the reader comments on her articles – so I’ll leave it at, nice read, good job, and – I’m bloody jealous someone didn’t give me a brand new car for a week!

    I work at a ford dealer as a detailer. We park the finished cars on the wall of our shed and they get driven down to the dealer by another person (we work offsite)

    We actually tried the park assist and it did work. The problem with it was it took us that close to the wall and actually picked up the tighted spot and went for it. When it come to removing the car we got it out but if you cant put yourself in there by yourself how the hell are you going to get out. I know a few people who would use this and get stuck untill 1 of the 2 cars moved.

    The build quality compared to the previous shape focus is unbelivable. The last focus was a cheap sh*t box compared to this.

    Im no ford man ether i just work with them i would prefer a holden anyday so i wouldnt say this is coming from a ford person.

    I'm amazed by the dash, so ugly, way too many buttons and the little screen squished up on top, why not enlarge that screen and turn it into a car multimedia system and incorporate all that dash into one screen, look so much better, and chuck gps in, it wouldnt cost that much extra and its a bigger selling point. Besides that the park assist looks pretty good, its good that you control the accelerator and brake during the operation.
    Good article.

    Geez, what a bitchy crowd - "my golf is better" "my prius is better" "my pug is better" "where's the advertisement sign?" etc.

    Memo - the author drove the car, liked it a lot, and said so. Sheesh.

      Thank you Ford shill but let's look at the facts. Ford LOANED the fully optioned car to Allure Media staff for review, which was a glowing, tech-bent one (they know their audience here) and several days later we see a front page advertisement on Lifehacker for...the new Ford Focus!
      Not cool and LH just lost several points of respect in my book.

        You do realize that the majority of items they review are given to them at no cost (and they always state as such) and no one cries shill then?

        No one seems to care about the w7 advertising on the site either. Nor did anyone cry foul at the last phone review.

        If anything I find it amusing that no one has really talked about the review at all.

    Move along Trolls.
    There's no need for being like that.
    It seems that we're all big people on the Internet.

    I'm in the process of buying a new car for my partner. We drove everything in the "small-mid" size range. This included cars like the focus, holden cruze, kia cerato, hyundai elantra, honda civic etc.
    personally we are looking at the sub $25k price range so after we found out how much the new focus is we quickly discounted it.
    I think i was quoted somewhere round 28-30k drive away and that was for the second lowest model. I think the titanium diesel will be way over $40k.
    But auto parking and smart cruise control aside, the base car was not impressive (I drove the Trend).
    The interior looks like a space ship. That can be a good thing but in this case its not. It's all angular and sticks out very far into the "cockpit". Might be personal taste I'm not sure. The dashboard is HUGE. There is a massive screen in the middle that will show you what door is open but they didnt bother putting in a digital speedo. The drive was also very stiff and sporty, again probably personal taste but if I wanted a sporty car I would go buy a sporty car. It's like the focus is trying to be too many things at once and therefore does them all poorly.
    If the golf has all the same features for a similar price i would take that every day. The focus doesnt even have a closable center console compartment - the one thats usually an arm rest.

    IMO the 2011 KIA cerato is fantastic. It's got everything a car should have inc rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers. 5 year unlimited km warranty and its only $25k for the top model. Which is also a 2L petrol giving 115kW - best in class.

    I dont know about you but I wont be paying $10-$15k more for a car that drives worse, is less powerful and has a horrible interior.

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