Ford Focus 2011 Tech Hands-On: Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control

Lifehacker Australia was offered the opportunity to sit down for a chat with a couple of Ford executives and test drive the new 2011 Ford Focus last week. I was sent to get behind the wheel as the only member of the team with a full driver's licence. One week, 800km and $70 worth of diesel fuel later, I was reluctant to give the keys back purely because of all the awesome tech I'm about to show you.

Note: This is not a review of the car itself. It's just a look at some of the car's tech features and my hands-on impressions.

Design

The model I drove was the 2011 Ford Focus Titanium turbo diesel sedan with all the bells and whistles of the optional Sports Executive Pack. Ford is launching the sedan alongside the hatch, and in my eyes it's more sophisticated-looking than the five-door hatch variant. This is unusual as traditionally the sedans tend to come out some time after the hatch, and often it looks like they've just attached a boot to the rear of the car without giving any thought to the overall exterior design.

Simon Brook, Exterior Designer for Ford Australia, says the 2011 Ford Focus was developed using a European surface language known as Kinetic Design. "We've really moved on from the previous generation of Focuses. This one is much more dynamic and fluid, the proportions are much more modern, and it's all about making the vehicles look like they're moving when they're not."

The car is certainly more aggressive-looking -- especially the hatch variant -- and is a giant leap forward from the boring exterior design of previous generation Focuses.

Adaptive Cruise Control

While industrial design nerds are sure to drool over the 2011 Ford Focus' looks, the features we were most excited about were what was inside the car and underneath the hood: Active Park Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control. Adam Frost, Ford's Chief Engineer, talked us through the latter.

It's a much better version of cruise control. When you're in [normal]cruise control and someone pulls in front of you, or if the traffic slows, you've gotta either brake or adjust your cruise. With Adaptive Cruise Control, it uses radar. So say you've dialled in 100km/h and the traffic slows to 80km/h, the car automatically slows to 80. It maintains the same distance between you and the car in front all by itself. It's unbelievable when you first drive it. It's almost like there's a rigid bar between you and the car in front. So if they slow, you slow, and if they speed up, you speed up. So you can imagine when you join traffic, it's a lot less stressful.

We drove down to Kiama and up to Terrigal over the course of the week, and the Adaptive Cruise Control made what would have been a boring drive on the freeways into a fun one. You can increase or decrease the speed by increments of 5km/h without touching the brake or accelerator, and you can also toggle the distance between you and the car in front as well as override the system temporarily by speeding up when, say, you want to overtake someone. Like normal cruise control, once you touch the brake the Adaptive Cruise Control went into standby mode and you have to set it up again. Having never tried normal cruise control before, not having to worry whether I was stepping too hard on the accelerator and breaking the speed limit was amazing.

Ford's partnership with Sony has also seen the introduction of high-end audio gear across its range of vehicles, with a 3.5-inch dot matrix display, steering-wheel mounted controls and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. It's a bit overwhelming at first -- it feels like there are a million and one buttons, and the manual isn't structured very well. I eventually ended up just pressing buttons here and there and learnt what each button does in that fashion.

Active Park Assist

While reverse parking sensors are pretty mainstream now, Ford's Active Park Assist is an incredible solution to parallel parking nightmares. They're not the first to come out with this feature, but it proved to be a cool party trick, and 9 out of 10 times it worked perfectly. On the odd occasion it would park too far from the kerb, which I suspect may have had something to do with the car parked behind me being too far out, and it was hopeless on curved kerbs. It took a few tries for me to fully trust it -- many times it would reverse into a spot in such a way that made me think the front left corner was too close to the car in front. It really makes you realise that the car doesn't need as much space as you might think to manoeuvre itself in small spaces.

It also raises the question of whether in the future we'll be required to show RTA testing officers that we can parallel park at all. If the car can do it for us at the press of a button, will our children still need to prove that they have the skill in order to get their P plates?

Having said that, I would prefer that the Focus had built-in satellite navigation over the Active Park Assist. From what I can see on Ford Australia's website, you can't even add it as an option. Being OK at parallel parking but having a poor sense of direction, this confuses me.

Unfortunately, the Active Park Assist only comes standard in the top-of-the line Titanium models, and the Adaptive Cruise Control requires you to purchase the optional Sports Executive Pack. So for all the coolest features, you're looking at well over $35,000 drive away and over $40,000 for the upgrade to turbo diesel. It's annoying that the technology is not exactly affordable for the masses just yet -- I certainly can't afford one -- but if nothing else the 2011 Ford Focus is a good indication of the direction passenger cars are heading.

Would you benefit from a self-parking car or cruise control with brains? Share your motoring wish list in the comments.

Editor note: We run full disclosure here at Allure, so if this was a sponsored post (as some commenters are randomly suggesting below), we'd have noted it. It isn't. Our editorial team got offered the chance to test the car, and accordingly looked at how technology was used in it. Judging by the number of people reading it, people are finding that a worthwhile exercise.

Lifehacker Australia night editor Elly Hart is a firm believer that everyone, including her bosses, should get their damn licences already. Lifehacker's Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker. Republished from Lifehacker.