It doesn’t always have to be an expensive limousine if you want to enjoy music on the road. Contemporary new compact cars like the Ford Focus make in-car audiophile enjoyment affordable. Even a posh brand name such as Danish Bang&Olufsen is no longer expensive.
Captain Kirk would be horrified: This is no longer a starship cockpit – the current generation Ford Focus is back from the future. Gone are the days when Ford’s compacts forcefully go Space Odyssey with wild key arrangements. Today’s Focus looks tidy and intuitive inside. Every owner of a Ford Focus can be quite lucky that someone has cleaned up its dashboard following the no-frills-concept of the functional Ford Fiesta. The Fiesta was also a pioneer in terms of an affordable hifi system. It marked the beginning of a long-term, global collaboration with Bang&Olufsen that put a whole new spin on Ford strategy.
Ford Sync with App Link
The Ford Focus and Ford Focus Station wagon now feature an 8-inch touchscreen (depending on model) with contemporary app and smartphone integration (Ford Sync 3 with App-Link). Even if surface materials seem a bit rustic compared to the German premium manufacturers, the basic functionality goes a long way. The optimised ergonomics are complemented by a very fresh and dynamic body design.
But that’s nowhere near as much of a challenge to the Bavarians as the sound system in the Ford Focus: with its ten speakers, nine amplifier channels, 675 watts and elaborate twin voice coil subwoofer in the boot, the five-door model built in Saarlouis is fishing in the territory of the Harman Kardon system with which BMW’s 1 Series long dominated its class.
Successful sound tuning at Bang & Olufsen
As with the Ford Fiesta and the Ford Ecosport, Stefan Varga, Senior System Engineer Acoustic, Car Audio at Harman International, is responsible for tuning the B&O Premium System. For a reality check, he had put together a band with friends for the presentation of the current Focus generation and broadcast the concert live from the barn into the car parked in front of it.
The Ford Focus amazed me, although I was already convinced of the B&O sound by the previous test drive. Not only the tonality with its warm, rich timbres from the barn was preserved. The spatial imaging was also highly impressive. The stage was very high, wide and the great transparency of the system made it possible to pick out the bass or drums from the action without any effort, just like in a concert. The cover songs from Jamiroquai’s “Cosmic Girl” to various rock classics were a lot of fun to listen to in the 4.7 metre long Ford Focus Turnier (the 5-door model driven in the test is about 30 cm shorter). The dynamics and detail of the live performance were amazingly well preserved, as was the punch in the bass. As Varga said when testing the Ford Fiesta 1.0 l EcoBoost: His systems can drum.
Live transmission to the Ford Focus
But I was most amazed by an experience between songs. When singer Nico Gomez spoke something into the microphone, I instinctively turned my head to the right in the driver’s seat, slightly startled – so realistically and clearly localizable was the voice next to me – at eye level, so to speak. You could unabashedly call this 3D, although there are no separate height channels with effect speakers in the A-pillars or roof. Varga instead uses the disc reflections from the tweeters mounted far forward on the dashboard and the center speaker, in much the same way that Dolby-enabled boxes use ceiling reflections for phantom sound sources.
So the merciless reality check didn’t tarnish the thoroughly positive picture from the test drive in the Ford Focus 1.0 l EcoBoost with 125 hp, which is less impressive on paper than on the road. He even amplified it. Finally, the test drive for the B&O sound system was also somewhat of a challenge. In the new Focus, Ford not only relies on its EcoBoost three-cylinder engine, but also cuts out one cylinder of the 1-l petrol engine in certain phases.
But I like the 3-cylinder sound very much and you don’t really notice the shut-off – except at the petrol station, where the nippy Focus with the 6-speed manual gearbox, where the three gear ratios are somewhat close together, proved to be very frugal. Consumption of less than 7 litres was not a problem, despite the air conditioning, which was working at full capacity due to the high outside temperatures, and my somewhat lazy driving style on this day. In order to drive the nippy compact over 8 litres average, you have to give it a good throttle on the motorway. By the way: If you really want to save fuel, the Ford Focus is also available with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Many equipment lines to choose from
Remarkably, there was no reason to even activate the multi-stage volume adjustment to compensate for driving noise – a good testimonial for power unit and system.
But anyone who chooses a car like the Ford Fiesta with its sharpened dynamic appearance, especially in the sporty ST-Line version – clearly my personal preference from the five equipment lines – also expects a good deal of driving dynamics. And here, too, the amazingly powerful and rev-happy EcoBoost engine can deliver. Considering that most heavy motorcycles today already have more displacement and cylinders, you have to bow down to Ford’s engineers.
Of course, fuel consumption and driving dynamics benefit not only from the successful, lustily growling engine. You can feel in every position that Ford has shed pounds, and not just on paper. The various versions weigh between around 1.3 and 1.5 tonnes (according to EU standards including driver).
True, my own cars always had independent suspension even in the early 80s. But after many miles on winding country roads and fast-moving highways, I find nothing wrong with the twist-beam rear suspension – conceptually a semi-rigid axle. On the contrary, I like Ford suspensions and also the responsive, efficient brakes that do a very good job based on their price and performance classes.
The axle makes the fine difference
The top versions with over 200 horsepower like the Ford Focus ST even have a modern multi-link axle. But to be honest: With the 125 hp you can safely forget about it. The Ford Focus is not overengineered and therefore very light-footed and agile on winding roads and apart from that it is available from around 20,000 Euros.
Sure, if you mainly drive longer distances, you’re more likely to choose a compact with more displacement and cylinders from the premium brands in southern Germany. If you choose the Ford Focus ST, you won’t be paying for things you’ll barely be able to take advantage of in daily short- and medium-distance driving, but you’ll get the chance to invest in infotainment that costs peanuts by comparison. Would you like an example? For the Ford navigation system including Ford SYNC 3 with AppLink and 8″ touchscreen (20.3 cm screen diagonal), the Cool & Connect, St-Line, Titanium and Vignale equipment lines will cost just around 200 euros. True, Ford’s voice control isn’t on par with the BMW 1 Series or the Mercedes A-Class. But with convenient direct access to Siri from my Bluetooth-connected iPhone, I was able to get over that just fine.
The current vintage Ford Focus sounds rich, colorful, and has even higher, more precise imaging than many of its competitors. Some manufacturers would already talk about 3D sound here. The virtuoso Varga has managed to create an excellent staging without Dirac and other common high-tech algorithms by raising the tweeters placed far forward on the dashboard and the full-range driver, which has been enlarged from 6.3 to 8 cm compared to the Ford Fiesta, of the centre, which thus plays even less pressed, via disc reflections in the imaging. Also just in the back it sounds worlds better than many competitors. In the rear of the Ford Focus, it sounds more like something you’d normally only hear in a mid-size car. With an imaginary listening stage that is either at the very front or in front of the rear occupants, depending on the fader setting.
Conclusion about the Ford Focus with B&O Sound
The best-selling Ford Focus has never been as good-looking, user-friendly and, above all, great-sounding as it is today. Thanks to various design and equipment lines, everyone can individualise their Focus according to their personal focus. I did like the classy feel of the Ford Focus Vignale. But I was particularly taken with the Ford Focus ST-Line with its sporty but not riotous appearance. However, the special gem is the B&O sound system. Given the overall price of the car with all the relevant extras, that’s a hefty performance. In the past, every boy at the age of 18 wanted to have a hot 1,000cc Kawa, but today, on the congested roads with the many speed limits, it can be a 1,000cc Ford if the sound system rocks so much.
- Price Ford Focus: from around 20,000 euros
- Price B&O sound system: 500 euro
- More at: www.ford.eu
Stereo Guide Rating
+ Rich, balanced sound with natural voice reproduction
+ Very large image for this class
+ very small surcharge for B&O in relation to the sound result
- Staging is wide-ranging, but not overly precise in mapping
Price/Performance sound system9.5