The testing continues in preparation of bringing the next-generation Ford Focus to market. The car is tested in some of the most extreme locations on the planet. So far, it has been thrashed over frozen arctic lakes, and hammered across the hottest deserts. We’d like to share with you our high-altitude testing, as the Focus is driven up and down high alpine passes with heavy loads to ensure reliability and dependability.
Altitude affects cars in the same way it affects humans. The higher you climb, the less oxygen there is, and the harder it becomes to breathe and function. Ford demands its products meet high standards of performance, even on high-altitude roads, which is why the company frequently heads to the Austrian Alps and the Grossglockner High Alpine Road specifically.
Completed in 1935, this breathtaking and beautiful ribbon of tarmac weaves its way into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, before ending opposite the tallest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner (12,460 feet) and its glacier, the Pasterze.
At 30 miles long, with 36 bends and a maximum altitude of 8,215 feet, this masterpiece of road engineering is a mecca for motorcyclists and driving enthusiasts. It’s also the perfect location to carry out high-altitude testing on the next-generation Ford Focus.
Ford vehicle integration engineer Bernd Herweling is here for two weeks, driving 125 miles up and down the hill every day. This video lets Bernd explain why they are here and what they are learning.
“We’re evaluating driveability on steep mountain roads from a customer perspective. The bottom line is we’re here to find out how the car performs driving up and down seriously steep hills,” says Bernd. “The Grossglockner is ideal for this. The road surface is very good. We use the first section for our test which is the biggest climb. It’s pretty much a constant 12-percent grade uphill all the way up to 7,875 foot mark. Up there the air is a lot thinner so the engine has to work harder.”
The team tested a camouflaged Focus equipped with the all-new 1.6-liter Ford EcoBoost™ direct-injection turbo engine. Bernd drives while his colleague Markus Polle sits in the passenger seat, monitoring a laptop which displays the ambient temperature, oil temperature and a myriad of other readings. On the back seat there’s a dozen or so plastic fuel containers filled with ballast which weigh the same as three adults.
Bernd pushes the Focus hard. Mostly he’s in Second or Third gear, but on some of the tighter bends he drops down to First. The scenery is simply stunning, but this road demands maximum concentration as there are huge drops at the side and no barriers. Ears pop as the Focus climbs ever higher and then, just a few minutes after leaving the valley floor, Bernd brakes to a halt at the top of the pass, switches the engine off and erects a wind deflector around the hood to trap heat inside the engine compartment.
“It’s a heat soak,” he says. “We want the engine to stay as hot as possible. Going uphill we’re carefully motoring the engine cooling system, radiator temperature, engine oil temperature and in the case of automatic models, transmission oil temperatures.”
As Bernd and Markus analyze their laptop readings a crowd of people gather around the camouflaged Focus. Some take photographs, many press against the windows to get a glimpse inside.
“This happens a lot,” Bernd explains later. “When the car is stationary people try to look inside. If we drive past someone, often they will turn to look twice because it is different. People are curious. If someone wants to take pictures you can’t avoid it. The camouflage does help though.”
After five minutes it’s time to head back down. Going uphill, the clutch and engine suffer most, but now it’s time to work the brakes. At the side of the road, numerous signs warn drivers to select a low gear and use their brakes sparingly. Bernd, however, brakes very late for each bend to test the brakes thoroughly.
As we near the bottom, another camouflaged Focus sets off up the mountain towing a hefty four-wheeled trailer. Bernd explains that the driver’s will stay at a steady 20 mph all the way to the top. At that speed there’s little airflow through the radiator so the engine cooling system faces a stern work-out.
“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!”