Ford Focus ST and Fusion UAE testing programme

MME tags along on in-market evaluation – we might even tell you what they were like to drive

By Shahzad Sheikh

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

About a month ago a select group of four Middle East journalists were invited to join the Ford Middle East team during its in-market evaluation programme of the all-new Ford Fusion and even more excitingly, the Focus ST. It’s only now that we’ve been allowed to speak about it.

What is an ‘in-market evaluation’? Essentially it involves testing new cars upto a year ahead of their launch in the region with particularly attention to the unique climatic and driving requirements of the Middle Eastern market.

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

To a greater or lesser extent all manufacturers do this now, particularly after having realised that the heat, the humidity, the type of terrain, the driving styles and even the thickness of the dirt and sand and its ability to penetrate seals, could not be replicated elsewhere.

Ford freely admits that it’s only in the last several years that large teams of engineers and testers have spent long periods of time assessing vehicles here in the region. ‘Our in-market product evaluation events have brought at least 45 engineers from across the world to this region to experience the range of conditions encountered by drivers in the Middle East,’ explained Lawrence Kummer, vehicle integration manager, Ford Global Product Development.

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

They now have two full-time integration/product development engineers based at Ford Middle East for year-round evaluation. Chief Engineers like Ziyad Dallalah of Ford Middle East, have become the ‘voice of the market’ as they constantly feedback information to product development teams.

Unsurprisingly the extreme conditions that markets like the UAE and Saudi Arabia can serve up, have lead to improvements for other world markets. Testing in this region, for example, has had an impact on wind noise, transmission performance, driveline and engine cooling, component sealing, air conditioning and braking efficiency for global models.

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

But enough of all that, the first question you’re all asking is whether the Focus ST is actually coming to our market – since previous editions have not been on sale here before? The answer is yes. The Fusion goes on sale in the second half of next year and the Focus ST will hit showrooms in early 2013!

The second question you’re wanting to ask is, what are they like to drive, especially the Focus? Unfortunately I can’t tell you. Well actually I could, but it wouldn’t be fair or ethical at this stage. We got wheel time behind both cars, and I particularly got a great run through the Hajar mountains down to Kalba in the ST, leaving the test convoy well behind.

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

However, these were both development mules packed with sensors and data-gathering equipment, having been driven long and hard and abused regularly to see if, when, and how they would break. Not really the ideal cars to base road-test verdicts on!

In fact whilst I drove the ST and gave my feedback to Dallalah, who remained surprisingly unflustered and fully composed in the back seat as I hurled the Focus through the twisty bits, he furiously scribbled down my every comment and remark. Occasionally he fired back specific questions asking how I felt about X, Y or Z and diligently recorded my replies, both good and bad. Frankly I was astonished he was paying so much attention to my inane mutterings, and rather suspect he was humouring me a little!

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

Nonetheless, the mere fact that they jumped on their laptops at every stop to record and file away data fed in from multiple sensors installed around the car (including the temperature sensors protruding from various parts of the cabin plus the devices mounted on the outside of the vehicles) immediately and with such a earnest intensity, would lead one to conclude that these chaps take their work very seriously indeed.

I can’t hope to interpret even a fraction of the data they captured or comprehend what they extrapolated from it on the day, despite peering over their shoulders, but it bodes well that they do cover so much, and it can only lead to more durable, reliable and appropriate vehicles for our market.

What’s that I hear you say? I just HAVE to tell you about the driving experience?

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

Well okay, the Fusion seemed a very grown-up and comfortable car, easily capable of cruising both in and out of town – plus it really is a good looking thing in the metal with that Aston-style grille.

Hey? Oh it’s the Focus ST you want to know about? Well with the proviso that this was just a hard-working test mule, I can tell you it was an absolute hoot in the mountain roads with extraordinary grip, brilliant dynamics, a decent ride and hardly any understeer or torque steer to speak of despite the 250bhp going through the front wheels. Plus it looks the business and is remarkably practical and comfortable.

Ford Focus ST and Fusion testing in UAE

And yes, even in this guise, it was great fun to drive. As long as they price it right, it could give the VW Golf GTI, the only other large hot hatch sold here in big numbers, a serious fright. Yes, even with a new version coming.

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