With the limited time we have had in the new Focus, I can scarcely distinguish any improvements from the outgoing model in terms of handling ability (which we tested back in 2013). The Focus already has a pretty solid base for handling dynamics, and the changes incorporated into the Mk 3.5 serves only to function as the cherry on top of the cream.
A major improvement versus the outgoing model is the lack of shuddering in start-stop traffic, compromising on high-rev gear change speed (due to incorporation of the conventional auto’box). This may delight some and repulse others, depending on one’s motivation to purchase a Ford Focus.
The car is very capable in the windy roads leading towards the vineyard, and has stayed planted in any given situation (even in the 9°C, rainy weather; all cars shod in Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tyres).
When I purposely pushed the car beyond its capabilities, the Focus’ electronic aids automatically impedes further brashness, and I am happy to say that it comes in rather smoothly. A win for the less-experienced drivers out there, I guess.
There is a slight, but noticeable reduction in on-road noise intrusion, especially at speed, and the car feels solidly-built (at Ford’s Thailand Rayong plant).
Additionally, I would say that Ford’s improved EPAS increases driver engagement, but without the fatigue associated with conventional rack-and-pinion steering (from the constant feedback). Its exponentially-increasing torque requirement when turning the wheel (more effort is needed to turn the steering wheel at increasing angles, depending on vehicle speed) feels solid, potentially preventing the driver making an error in spirited drives.
I did not like the overly-assisted brakes, though. They seem to bite at the slightest touch, giving a particularly jarring ride when driven enthusiastically, especially for people with less foot sensitivity. The gear control buttons are located on the gearknob, driver’s side, which feels awkward, especially on twisty roads. Also, the automatic start-stop feature when the driven car becomes stationary is included to reduce overall emissions levels, and to reduce fuel consumption, but I am unsure how durable this feature is in the long run.