Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ford Focus: Testing the Tech

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably heard of the new Ford Focus, a car which is hitting the streets, well, right about now. We got to kick the tires, take it out for a drive on C-5 and SLEX, and most importantly, test the gizmos that they've built into this car. Seriously, there's like an array of sensors all over the car. It's nuts. You almost expect it to drive itself, and it kind of does: it has the ability to park itself. And you can talk to it. Got all of that? Talking car parks itself! 

Oh, and it does BGC to Alabang on one liter of gasoline. If you drive nicely. Ain't technology grand?

The Ford Focuses parked in front of Enderun.

The Ford Cook-Off
So last week, I found myself invited to the Ford Cook-Off, an event where the press and bloggers were invited to test out the new Ford Focus. Our team – tech journalists – got to drive the 2.0 liter sedan because that's the one that's tricked out with all the tech.

We got the black one!

Naturally, the best way to test drive a car is to hold an Amazing Race-style, erm, race. The mission? Drive from Enderun to South Supermarket in Alabang, buy the ingredients of a mystery dish, drive back to Enderun, go through the parking challenge/road block and cook. 

The cars lined up at the starting line. I like it in red.

The winners were judged according to fuel efficiency, parking challenge time, food presentation and taste, and of course speed. (We got a 2 point penalty for arriving late.) 

Major spoiler: our team won! Yes, we defeated the mighty motoring media. *insert evil laughter here*

The Tech
First a quick word about keyless entry. I wish all cars had it. You just walk up to your car and it opens. Then you press the Start button to power the ignition. Keys are so 20th century.

Ford has been making a big deal about its SYNC technology which allows you to control your phone and your tunes either from the buttons on the steering wheel or with voice commands. I think it's a great idea because I know a lot of people who've gotten into accidents because they were fiddling with their phones, but does it work?

Our car was synced with a Nokia Lumia, so my learning curve was doubled as it was just my second time to lay fingers on a Lumia. If you've got an Android or an iOS phone, SYNC will work just fine as well.

Back to the race now. Upon buying our ingredients, we were tasked to make a voice call to the event people using SYNC. So we told the car: "Phone! Call! Kitchie!" SYNC recognized two out of three commands. We had no idea how it wanted us to pronounce "Kitchie," so we eventually had to resort to fiddling with the phone. Then the hands-free call kicked in and we got our instructions on where to go next.

Voice recognition isn't perfect quite yet and there's a learning curve involved, but from what I saw, SYNC looks like a pretty sweet system that I wouldn't mind having in my car.

Green Drive
For the entire trip (Enderun to South Super to Shell on C-5), our team used 3.5 liters of gasoline. This is the average, we were told. That came as something of a surprise to us because we were gunning the engine on our way back because we had fallen behind and taken a rather roundabout route back to SLEX. So pretty impressive fuel efficiency for a 2.0-liter car with some performance muscle.

The motoring media team, who is far more experienced in challenges like this, managed to pull off a jaw-dropping one liter for the entire trip. They didn't even turn off the aircon.

Parking? Not a problem
The Ford Focus has this thing called Active Park Assist, which lets the car parallel park on its own. You basically turn the thing on and drive down the street, and when it discovers a parking slot large enough, a light will turn on. This is the point where things get creepy. You're now supposed to LET GO of the steering wheel and gently step on the gas. The car will steer for you, but you maintain control of the gas and the brake. Move the steering wheel and Active Park Assist disengages. Clever. Waddayaknow, it actually works.

The Focus can park itself in a space that is 1.2 times the size of the car. This space here is actually quite roomy.

No hands!

It manages to do this because there are sensors all around the car (there's a particularly impressive array right behind the rearview mirror), so the Focus knows if there's something close. It can also use these sensors for Active City Stop, which will help you avoid collision in case the car in front of you stops unexpectedly.

Check out the middle of the windshield. So many sensors!

The little black nubbins are, you guessed it, more sensors.
And finally, when a car enters your blind spot, the car knows it even if you don't. It will turn on an orange light in your side mirror to indicate that there's a car in your blind spot.

The Cook-Off
I know how to cook one dish: spaghetti from a can. And my teammates have a similar lack of cooking experience. I don't know how we did it, but we managed to ace the cooking challenge. Our dish really tasted good! In the end, we won by one point.

The chef taught us how to cook. (Because we can't.)

Prawns and seared tuna with ratatouille.

The motoring media team.

My teammates, and co-winners.

The fully tricked-out 2.0-liter Ford Focus Titanium Sedan costs P1,199,000. The 1.6-liter model starts at P859,000.

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