Jan 13, 2010
Ford’s new Focus has been unleashed a full year ahead of it’s European on-sale date and it’s already generating substantial comment in the sphere of the blogs. Ed Stubbs and Dustin Shedlarski have both written interesting critiques of a design that I, personally, find a little schizophrenic. But let’s face it: when you’re trying to design one C-Segment product for two markets – one that’s been downsized for decades and another that’s only just coming to terms with the concept – things are bound to get a little hectic.
There isn’t much that neither Ed nor Dustin have covered, from the lower DRG composition (clearly inspired by the maniacal Focus RS but failing to relate to any of the other DRG elements) to the nicely resolved, if busy side surfacing and the fuel flap on the 5-door that relates neatly to the tail lamp (no matter that said lamp looks to have been lifted from a rejected Renault Megane proposal…).
It’s clear that, no matter what your take on the car as a whole, the exterior design of the new Focus provides a strategically sensible, dynamic counterpoint to the impeccably premium Golf, the premium arriviste Astra and the dull, crap Megane. It certainly can’t be called conservative and boring, as the previous iteration was at launch.
Yet in pouring over the images of the new Fords, it wasn’t thoughts about C-Segment competitors that were running through my mind, nor Ford’s swanky new touch-infused HMI solution (I hope to look at that in more detail soon), but rather how the side surfacing fits into a trend started by, and so far limited to, BMW and it’s SAV products.
Having a 1st generation BMW X5 in the family, I’ve had ample time to pour over the car and have often chuckled at that way the side surfaces were composed to give the impression of a sporty, lithe estate car cloaked in butch body armour. It’s a trick that BMW employed again on the second X5 and now on the X1 to even more dramatic – some would say bizarre – effect. Next time you see one, stop and take a minute to let your eyes wander over the car and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean if the pictures above don’t make it clear.
Now, it would seem, Ford is using the same stylistic device on the Focus. Take a look at the rear 3/4 shot of the sedan or hatch and tell me you can’t see a smaller car being shrouded by enormous fenders… it’s an effect not to dissimilar to Wallace wearing the Wrong Pants.
The rationale is clear: the Focus is a pan-Atlantic car and needs to appeal to US and European tastes. To that end Ford has created a car with a centre section that speaks of compact european dynamism, a rear end that is full of American mid-sized mainstream and a front that is an amalgam of large car, small car, sports car and family car. All of which sounds – and looks – like a classic case of design by committee on a car that needs to be small (to keep the Europeans on side) but big (to make Americans feel comfortable buying a smaller car) but small (to introduce Americans the benefits of a small car). Whereas BMW focused on combining two clear typologies that are universally understood – estate and 4WD – and interpreted the mix in a typicaly BMW way, the Focus struggles to adequately and simultaneously satisfy American and European expectations of what a compact Ford should be.
All of which, no doubt, will be irrelevant when the car comes to market. The interior looks bang up to date and of substantially improved quality, the HMI should be fantastic and, dynamically, it will more than likely take the class crown, continuing the proud tradition of it’s predecessors. I just wish it wasn’t wearing the wrong pants.