The next generation Ford Focus is currently undergoing a series of tests that has taken it to some of the most extreme locations on the planet.
Ahead of its early 2011 arrival in Ireland, the car is being driven overloaded up and down the high Alpine passes of Austria, just one of a series of tests to ensure impeccable reliability and dependability wherever it is sold.
Altitude affects cars in the same way it affects humans. The higher you climb, the less oxygen there is in the air and it becomes harder to breathe and function. Ford demands its products meet high standards of performance at all altitudes which is why the company frequently heads to the Austrian Alps and to the Grossglockner High Alpine Road to test its cars.
Ford vehicle integration engineer Bernd Herweling is spending two weeks there this month, driving 200km up and down the mountain every day. “We’re here testing next generation Focus with a variety of powertrains, both petrol and diesel,” he explains. “We’re evaluating driveability on steep mountain roads from a customer perspective.
“The drive up the mountain is a pretty much constant 12 per cent gradient all the way up to the 2,400 metre mark. Up there the air is a lot thinner so the engine has to work harder. It’s a long route which allows us to generate a lot of data.”
Today the team are testing a highly camouflaged Focus equipped with the all-new 1.6-litre Ford EcoBoost direct-injection turbo petrol engine. On the back seat there's a dozen or so plastic fuel cans filled with ballast which weigh the same as three heavy adults.
Other Focus models are undergoing towing tests on the gruelling road, towing a hefty four-wheeled trailer. “Trailer testing is very important,” adds Bernd. “At sea level in this car you can pull up to 1,500kg with this powertrain. But up here in this rarefied atmosphere the engine is going to struggle. We are pushing the limits to see just how much weight it will pull up the hill and how the clutch copes with hill starts at altitude.”
“The conditions are extreme but that's why we are here. If the car meets our performance targets in this environment, it'll cope with pretty much anything our customers will ask of it!”