automatic for the people...maybe not

fords focus auto proves a bit of a jerk

4y ago

To me at least, it seems barely conceivable that in 2 years time 20 whole years will have passed since the first Ford Focus hit the streets. Sure it’s changed shape a little over the past couple of decades, but in principle it retains the same original form and the same sharp, dynamic drive of the original pre-millennium car. Only as with all the best things in life, with age has come added refinement. Well, that’s sort of true, as long as you pick the right version.

We’ve talked about Ford’s amazing little 1.0 Ecoboost petrol engine before. It’s got bags of torque, offers great fuel economy and spits out very little in terms of emissions. With a manual gearbox, once I’d got used to the fact that it seems to like being driven best at low revs, except in stop start town traffic I was barely out of 5th ever. However, I’ve driven around 400 miles over two days in both a manual Focus and one fitted with Ford’s current automatic gearbox and I’m afraid the same praise cannot be heaped on the latter.

Automatics have changed over the past 10 years or so. In the olden days they made almost any car slower and thirstier than their manual equivalent and it was regularly the case that one box wouldn’t see out the lifetime of the car it was fitted to.
With the advent of clever “double clutch” technology as with VW group’s DSG automatic, all that’s changed. Some automatics are quicker than manuals, use less fuel and indeed there are cars where a manual gearbox isn’t even offered as an option.

Ford have been a little late to the game with their offering called “Powershift", which is based on the same Volkswagen technology. The Ford box has 6 gears with one clutch operating 1st, 3rd and 5th and a second preengaging the remaining gears simultaneously. The result should be a smoother and quicker gearbox than that of old-school autos - And in most cars with these types of gearboxes that’s the case - That’s only true to some degree with the Focus Powershift I’ve just driven.

Pop the shift into D for Drive, and off you go. Uneventful so far. There’s a single little jerk off the mark but that’s true of almost all of this ilk of autos and isn’t that noticeable really - Build up speed in normal fashion and the gear changes feel almost seamless, helped along by comprehensive sound deadening in the current Focus. Come to a stop and again all is quiet. So around town, the principle habitat of cars of this size with automatic boxes and all is fine and as it should be.
However, try to use the midrange power and things get messy - Press the throttle pedal to overtake and it seems to kick down one too many gears leaving me sat in the wrong lane, with the engine screaming for mercy, going barely any faster than I was in 6th.
The same happened when I was stuck behind a ditherer whilst joining the A1. I tromped on the power to get me away from 50 in the inside lane to a speed that’d avoid the Asda lorry bearing down on us both, but I was left looking to other driver’s like I’d never driven before in my life.

Now it’s entirely possible that these issues were specific to the car I was driving - It’s also possible that I was being too oafish, although I did try really hard not to be. Either way, it left me a little more than disappointed - The current Focus with a manual gearbox is just such a good car - If you have to have an automatic, give one a try. Perhaps it’ll fair better for you than I. If it doesn't, you could consider instead buying the 5 speed Ecoboost version and driving everywhere in 5th or 1st only.

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