Johannesburg - When I looked at my Mk1 Ford Cortina GT on its belly at a police station in Harare, I wasn’t angry, I was relieved. At least I had got it back after it had been stolen. I hadn’t even finished paying back my mother the equivalent of R1200 or so I had borrowed from her to buy it.
So I looked closer. No steeering wheel. OK - I can deal with that. No gear knob, no anciliary dash gauges. A bit trickier, but not impossible. No aluminium scuff plates on the door sills. Getting more difficult now.
I opened the bonnet: No Weber carb or manifold (normally the first thing they knicked). No battery. No starter motor. No generator. Possible to get the car running again, but I realised it was closer to impossible.
I wonder if they took the spare wheel, I thought and walked around to open the boot. No petrol tank - just a gaping hole where it had been.
Almost in tears, I called my friend Darragh and asked if he wanted to buy what was left. He offered me the equivalent of R450 (a third of what I bought the car for) and I gratefully accepted. It took me another two years to save enough money for a replacement car.
Within six weeks, though, Darragh - a motorsport fanatic - not only had the GT up and running again, he was racing it.
The next Ford in my life arrived in 2011 when we bought my daughter a Fiesta as a student car. It has never let her down.
All of these thoughts were going through my head as I again spent a week or so in our long-term test Ford Focus sedan. I suppose it is today’s closest thing in the Ford line-up to the Cortina.
But, oh how technology has moved on. This ‘little’ 1.0, three-cylinder car would have the measure of a Cortina GT in a sprint and slaughter it on top speed, being easily able to run to around 180km/h, according to Ford’s figures. It also has bells and whistles the motorists of the 60s couldn’t even dream about. Bluetooth connectivity, airbags, ABS, lane departure warning, automatic parking system, park radar, auto-on lights and wipers, auto dimming headlights, air conditioning, power steering and a slick six-speed twin-clutch auto gearbox.
It also handles way better than the ‘sporty’ Cortina ever did. You would expect no less, though, because Ford’s basic models have always had handling which is at the top, or near the top, of their respective classes.
What I do notice when I get back into the Focus is that it is a very relaxing place in which to spend time. It is well-made. We had a Toyota Corolla Quest which had an annoying buzz from the fascia, where the Ford is silent. It is quiet, thanks to good sound deadening and a motor which is muted when you don’t give it throttle.
The aircon is good - we seldom have needed to run the fan on the manually activated system more than level two of the four available. Bluetooth connects easily and the hands-free system for the phone is easy to use.
Well, sometimes, I think you can have too much tech. The Focus has a tyre-pressure warning system which, in the first few weeks we had it, kept on going off. On one occasion, I drove nearly 300km back from the Waterberg worried that I had a badly deflated front tyre - only to discover it was fine and the alleged culprit was one of the back ones. Even after topping up with air and getting all four pressures equal and re-setting the system, the warning light triggered a few more times. However, more than a month has passed, with the car in the hands of a number of different drivers and it has not gone off again.
Maybe it just knows it’s me.
Mind you, I do think a system like this can be very useful when it works.
Another surprise has been that the fuel consumption is not as good as you’d expect from a car with such a small, albeit turbo-charged, engine. We get between 9 and 10 litres per 100km in the city and it is very difficult to get below 6l/100km on the open road. Those figures would have been amazing even five years ago, but the fuel-economy game has moved on considerably.
Overall, though, the Focus is definitely something to consider if you’re in the market for a family car - plenty of space and comfort - or are wanting to buy down without sacrificing some of the gadgets you got used to in your German exec sedan.
It does what it is supposed to do and it does it well. And, thanks to Ford’s industry-leading security systems, you’re unlikely to peer into the carcass one day and wonder what happened to the petrol tank.
Ford Focus sedan 1.0T Trend auto
Engine: 1-litre, 3-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Power: 92kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 170Nm @ 1400-4500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.0 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 192km/h
Price: R275 900
Warranty: 4-year / 120 000km
Service plan: 4-year / 80 000km