According to Ford, the 2012 Focus is its most important car since the Model T hit the streets back in 1908. The company is betting huge sums that the car will be a success and has invested a considerable amount of time and research into furnishing it with the very best technology in its segment. We spent some time with the car in its souped-up ST guise at the 2010 Paris Motor Show and can bring you the full scoop.
Everything but the kitchen Sync
The new ST's exterior may not get your pulse racing, but, on the inside, it's a car that will make tech heads giddy with excitement. It uses the Microsoft Windows Embedded Auto software platform, badged here as Ford Sync, to provide highly advanced information, entertainment and communication functions for the driver and passengers alike.
At the heart of the dashboard is an 8-inch touch-sensitive display, via which most of the car's infotainment functions can be accessed. The highly intuitive user interface provides a gateway to satellite-navigation, audio- and video-playback, telephone and text-messaging, and vehicle settings, as well as the headline tech feature -- wireless Internet access.
The ST allows its passengers to access the Internet on any Web-enabled device, even while the car is in motion. It can do this in three ways. The easiest way is to log onto a nearby public hotspot of your choosing. Alternatively, it's possible to tether the car with a Web-enabled mobile phone over Bluetooth. If that doesn't float your boat, you can always just stick a 3G broadband module into one of the two USB ports located in the centre console.
Once up and running, users can enjoy Web services on just about any handheld device that supports Wi-Fi, such as an iPad, laptop, mobile phone or portable games console. Currently, the car doesn't have its own Web browser (this feature isn't yet available in Europe) but Ford and Microsoft tell us it's only a matter of time before an in-car browser is available. When it's launched, users will be able to install it via a software update on a USB key.
Go with the Cover Flow
Like most modern cars, the ST allows users to play music from a variety of sources, including CD, digital radio and iPod. It doesn't have its own integrated hard disk for music storage, but users can connect an external mass-storage device via one of the aforementioned USB ports.
The Sync system lets users browse songs and albums in a list format, but using Cover Flow-style animated graphics that show album art sweeping horizontally across the screen, much like on an iPod touch or iPhone.
Sadly, the system doesn't respond to swiping gestures in the same way Apple's music products do. It uses resistive touch technology, meaning it's necessary to apply pressure with your fingers before any of your inputs are registered. Ford told us that resistive display technology was chosen for the ST because the trendier capacitive type wouldn't work if the driver were wearing gloves.
Freedom of speech
The ST has one of the most comprehensive voice-command systems on the market. Hit the voice-command button on the right of the steering wheel, say a command and the car will execute just about any of the functions supported by the infotainment system. Drivers can enter full destinations into the sat-nav using voice input alone, play specific tracks by speaking an artist's name and song title, and even adjust the heating and air-conditioning systems.
The car doesn't just listen -- it'll also speak to you. Issue a voice command and it'll audibly confirm your requests in a synthesised voice. More usefully, it'll read aloud incoming text messages from any mobile phone you've paired over Bluetooth, so drivers needn't take their eyes off the road. Even colloquialisms and Web speech are catered for -- 'gf' is translated as 'girlfriend' and ':-)' is read out as 'happy smiley'.
Safe as houses
The ST employs some highly advanced safety features. The most impressive of these is a low-speed anti-collision system that automatically detects objects ahead of the vehicle and applies the brakes if a crash is imminent. It does this with the help of forward-looking Lidar ('light detection and ranging') sensors of the sort used by an aircraft that's conducting high-resolution aerial mapping.
The sensors monitor the road 50 times per second for objects located up to 6m ahead of the vehicle, and the car continuously calculates how much braking force would be required if a collision were about to take place. Should the driver fail to react or apply too little braking force in an emergency, the car automatically applies enough braking force to prevent the collision or to reduce the force of impact.
Power to the people
The ST will be powered by a meaty, 2-litre, 4-cylinder Ford EcoBoost engine that produces a healthy 250PS and an impressive 360Nm of torque. Ford's yet to reveal any performance figures for the car, but it delivers 10 per cent more power and torque than the current ST, meaning it should complete the 0-60mph sprint in around 6 seconds and get pretty close to a 155mph top speed. That's not as impressive as the all-conquering Ford Focus RS's capabilities, but it should be sufficient to put a huge grin on most people's faces.
So far, the 2012 Ford Focus ST has impressed us hugely. Ford's taken a big step forward with its cabin technology (the Wi-Fi hotspot feature alone has us sold) and we really can't wait to get behind the wheel. Watch out for a full road test soon.
Edited by Charles Kloet