By the time this publishes, I will be driving a 2016 Ford Focus (not the one below, this one is white) south to Regina where I meeting up with adventurer and author Robin Esrock. He is a Ford Canada brand ambassador. After meeting up (and I assume getting coffee at the Starbucks), we are heading south to Ogema, Saskatchewan (a place where I explored last year with Ford), testing out some food, riding the Southern Prairie Railway, taking in a museum, and then heading back to Regina.
Wendy and the boys are coming along for the trip. Instead of heading south with us, they are going to explore Regina and in particular, Wascana Lake and the Saskatchewan Legislature. I’ll post some photos from the trip to the blog tonight. I assume they will as well.
If you don’t want to read my account of the day, check out Elan Morgan’s blog. It’s always a good read.
There is a book signing with Robin Esrock in Regina at 7:00p.m. at the Chapters. If you come on out, I’ll be there. I won’t sign your book but we could totally do a selfie or something over coffee.
Day 2 with the 2015 Ford Focus saw us say goodbye to Moose Jaw and head south towards Ogema, Saskatchewan. First we had to get a photo with Mac the Moose.
Of course in the most Saskatchewan of things, the photo was photobombed by a CT-114 Tutor, otherwise known as the plane flown by the Snowbirds.
As we made our way south, we stopped in Rouleau, the home of Corner Gas and also known as Dog River.
The set of Corner Gas is a lot smaller than you would think. It’s also falling apart. There were reports that someone was going to turn it into a gift shop or a museum but nothing has been done with it.
We saw the home of the Dog River Howler, the Dog River Hotel, Oscar and Emma Leroy’s house and of course the surveillance bush.
Then it was to Ogema where we grabbed lunch at the Rolling Hills Restaurant, checked out the old Fire Hall and the British American Gas Station. By the time we did that, it was off to the Southern Prairie Railway, a tourist railway that took us from Ogema to what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan. 14 miles away.
This is what is left of Horizon, Saskatchewan.
A quick summary of what we learned on the trip
- Steam locomotives were slow. Only about 15 miles per hour. No wonder thieves targeted trains. They were loud, slow moving, and predictable.
- Small Saskatchewan towns were placed 7 miles apart because that is how far a farmer could deliver grain in a day back then. Some say it was to refuel and water the steam engines but nope, it’s about grain delivery.
- Driving south of Moose Jaw on Highway 6 was the most isolated I have ever felt. No houses for as far as the eye can see. Considering at one time every section would have had a home on it, it’s incredible to think I was seeing hundreds of sections from on our drive with almost no signs of life.
- You can still get parts for Pullman cars.
- Each top window in the Pullman car we road in was a different size.
- Never underestimate the spirit of rural Saskatchewan to take on impossible projects.
- Horizon, Saskatchewan went from a vibrant rural community to only having two buildings left because of property taxes. The government offered them a hospital but the town turned it down because they were afraid property taxes would rise in town. This lead to the hospital going to Bengough (which is booming by the way) and eventually Highway 13 being moved. This killed the town and today there is only a decommissioned Federal Grain elevator there.
- I was shocked at how well built grain elevators are. They were built out of 2x4s or 2x6s laying flat and nailed together with one foot spikes holding them together. Each board would have 50 to 60 spikes driven into it making them built to last.
- Locomotive collectors are a unique breed who care more about finding a good home for their locomotives then selling them. The on that Southern Prairie Railway bought had to keep the livery colors or the original owner. Coincidently the livery colors matched the owners of the short line railroad that own the tracks.
After we were done, it was back into the Ford Focus and then home. It was shorter to come home via Regina so we did that. This is what I learned about the Ford Focus
- All of the highways we went on were in good condition but some were smoother than others. The Focus gave a nice ride on all of them.
- As I wrote yesterday, the car is quiet on the highway.
- I managed to figure out who was at fault over the Google Maps weirdness, I am pretty sure the bug is with Google Maps.
- Drink holders. It has 8 of them. This is great for travelling with kids. The boys had their Nalgene water bottles with them as did Wendy and I. Yet if you grab a coffee or a drink with a meal, you still need another one. The Ford Focus has them. It’s almost as if Ford engineers travel with children.
- According to Mark and Oliver, the stereo sounds great in the back seat. Ford’s stereo does compensate for road noise and can focus on the driver or the entire car. It was a big hit.
- I looked everywhere for it. The stereo offers me an option to plug my iPod into a line in port but I couldn’t find one. I may have missed it but I think it is a mistake in the stereo menus.
- Handling is fine. I wasn’t rally racing but around Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and then Ogema, the car handled wonderfully.
Would I buy one? Well Wendy and I talked at length about getting one (probably the hatchback) when we got back to Saskatoon. That should tell you our feelings about the car. It’s a car that is really worth buying.
This morning, Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I piled into the 2015 Ford Focus. We tossed my L.L. Bean canvas duffle bag, go bags, and some camera gear in the back and headed south towards Moose Jaw. The drive was pretty normal until we came to Chamberlain.
For those of you not from Saskatchewan, let me explain Chamberlain to you. The highway from Prince Albert to Saskatoon is four lanes. The highway from Saskatoon to Regina is four lanes, except when you go through Chamberlain and then it goes down to two lanes for about three kilometers. There is absolutely no reason it has to do this but it does and it drops to 60/kph as it goes through town.
Today the speed was 0 kph. It was at an absolute standstill. My first thought was that there was an accident on the highway but no, there was a really long convey of about 20 Jays Moving trucks all pulling out of the roadside turnout and they were blocking traffic. First of all I have no idea why they were blocking traffic and secondly, why was there a need for 20 Jay’s Moving semis to be travelling together in a convey? It was weird.
We turned east at that point until we got to Keeler, Saskatchewan. Keeler is home of the Cooper’s and is a town of about 15 people. My grandparents house (and the post office) had been torn down but the bar I used to hang out when I was six was still there.
I am also pretty sure that this was the garage that my grandfather used to run. It has been moved but it’s still there. The ball diamonds I used to catch gophers in are still there. My grandpa’s dog Tip used to hide in the long grass beyond the outfield until a ball came near. My memories were of a lot of ground rule doubles as Tip took off with the ball.
From there we drove to Moose Jaw and checked into the Temple Gardens Hotel and Mineral Spa. Our room is small, not that well maintained and some disturbing looking stains on the carpeting. We didn’t stay long because we wanted to check out the Claybank Brink Plant.
The Claybank Brick Plant is a National Historic Site about 30 minutes out of Moose Jaw. I don’t know how to describe it. The organizing committee says they are $2 million into a $6 million project and I kind of think the $6 million is low. It’s really dilapidated yet really awesome at the same time. I totally you recommend you go.
The website mentioned that Google Maps has the wrong location and it does. If you can get to Claybank, you can see the plant but getting to Claybank was hard enough with Google Maps.
Google Maps says it’s turn by turn directions are in beta but when my iPhone is plugged into the car and connected to Sync via Bluetooth, it muted the turn by turn directions entirely which is kind of annoying when you are driving. To make a long story short, I missed my turn and had to go back… where I missed the turn again… There was good signage and I am old school, I always have a map but I was thinking the bug has to be with the iPhone and Google Maps working together and then being connected to the Ford via Bluetooth. Hopefully Google fixes it.
When we got to Claybank, I couldn’t help but notice this church steeple off in a distance.
No signs outside but a quick Google search told me it was St. Joesph’s Catholic Church. It’s obviously been made by bricks from the plant.
So as I am taking this photo, my Google Maps finally starts to talking to and I think was telling me to go in two different directions at once. Of course it is supposed to learn from correct routes but since we detoured into Claybank to take this photo, I didn’t exactly really help the situation. Sorry about that.
We finally drove into the plant. Part of it goes through a farm yard. I wasn’t totally sure if I was at the right place but I realized, “It’s Canada, if I took the wrong turn, three farmers will politely correct my and then offer to have us over for lunch.”
So the plant is a step back into time. They say it is essentially unchanged from the way it was in 1914 to 1937 and I believe them.
There are tours that you can take earlier in the summer. Today we were given a map and sent on our way. We explored all of it in about an hour and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Here is the Focus with the plant in the background. It’s a little dusty (both the plant and the car).
This is the restored bunkhouse. It is now a gift shop, coffee shop, and where you pay to start the tours. It was one of the first things to be restored.
This is where the magic started. The clay was brought here and stored. It’s the start of the assembly line.
While today was hot even for the tour, I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in here.
This is one of the furnaces.
These furnaces were all hand laid. Inside there was no mortar because the bricks would expand so much during heating and contract during cooling. They would put 70,000 bricks in there and heat them for a week. Then it would take about another week to cool. Then a week to unload them.
They still are aggressively fundraising. While our entry ticket helps out, I also plan to make a donation. It’s a great site and I hope they are successful.
We then headed back to Moose Jaw and parked the car for the night. We made sure we left it a nice view overlooking downtown Moose Jaw.
Then we took the boys to the mineral spa. The pool is quite nice and we spent some time up there on the roof top spa today. Supposedly the waters have the same minerals as the one in Bath, England does. That being said, I have read that about almost every mineral spa that I have ever looked up online.
For dinner, the plan was to go to Smoke’s Poutinerie but it looks like they were shut down last night. So that didn’t work out as we had planned.
Instead Wendy and the boys went to Deja Vu, a place that specializes in chicken and milkshakes. If it sounds familiar, it has been on The Prairie Diner and You Gotta Eat Here! before. We walk in and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are losing 14-7 when Smith throws a pick that makes it 21-7 for the Blue Bombers. The place is full of people wearing Rider gear and no a single person reacts. Not even a single grimace. We are still fans but we are at the same where we aren’t going to let what happens on the field affect us. I think this is what Chicago Cubs fans go through.
My thoughts on the 2015 Ford Focus. They are mostly positive.
- I love Ford’s 6 speed transmission. I can’t say enough positive things about it. It makes the car a joy to drive.
- It is more than big enough for us for a weekend road trip. The sedan has more space then the hatchback but even the hatchback would be adequate.
- There are a lot of drink holders which is nice as you start with a travel mug and then stop for a bottled water or a soda later in the day. .
- The car is quiet on the highway. You hear very little road noise.
- All of the Ford vehicles that I have reviewed have all had the Sony stereo upgrades. After tweaking the standard Ford stereo for my tastes, the factory Ford stereo is excellent. The one thing that is frustrating with it is that the user interface is brutal. For some tasks you have to use the upper buttons while other similar tasks you need the lower ones. It’s not a deal breaker and you definitely get used to it but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t need to be annoying.
- From the first time I reviewed a Ford car to this time, Sync continues to be tweaked an improved every year. It’s not a big thing but it is nice to see that Ford’s commitment to quality goes to everything. The nerd in me would love to see the upgrades in software and processing power that has made this possible.
- I’d seriously think about buying this car. It’s not perfect but I like it a lot. So do a lot of you since it is the best selling car of all time (passing the Toyota Corolla). The only non-factory upgrades I would get would be the bars on the roof so one could add a rooftop storage container.
Tomorrow we continue south to Ogema where the boys and Wendy will take the Southern Prairie Railway for a ride and then it is back home. You’ll see more photos and some final thoughts on the Ford Focus tomorrow.
The first leg of the trip today is taking us from here to Moose Jaw where we will be checking into the Temple Garden’s Hotel and Spa in Moose Jaw. After dropping off our bags, we are heading to the Claybank Brick Plant, a National Historic Site which was instrumental to the railway; from the building of brick facades for railway hotels (like the Delta Bessborough) to firebricks for trains and even World War II fireboxes. After exploring that, we are heading back into Moose Jaw where we will explore some more of the city, hit up Smoke’s Poutinerie for supper, and then relax in the spa tonight.
Sunday morning will see us getting up early, grabbing breakfast and the heading south to Rouleau, Saskatchewan. You may know it as Dog River. After a stop there, we are heading to Ogema, Saskatchewan where we will take a trip on the Southern Prairie Railway.
As always, Ford Canada is lending me the car for review. This time they are also covering our expenses for the trip but haven’t placed any restrictions on what I can write. I did however sign an agreement that says that no one can smoke in the car. It is unsaid but I am pretty sure that I am prohibited from doing any Evil Knievel type stunts or jumps with the car as well. This is in part because I don’t look good in leather jumpsuits.
I was given a 2013 Ford Focus ST to review. Itâ€™s basically a four door Ford Focus with horsepower and speed tucked into every conceivable corner of the vehicle. They found a lot of corners to add it as it has 252 horsepower in it and every single one of them is fun to drive.
The Focus ST is basically the Ford engineers wandering up to Volkswagen and throwing the gauntlet down at the Volkswagen GTI and then saying, â€œbeat this!â€ and then watching the Volkswagen people slink away. Itâ€™s the new owner of the compact sedan performance crown.
The car was a lot of fun to drive. It was a six speed manual transmission that was easy to drive through the streets of Saskatoon on my morning commute. Unlike many of Fordâ€™s other vehicles, it was nice to drive a car that was not equipped with collision detection, blind spot alerts, and rear view cameras. The car has one purpose and that is performance and it showed.
The handling was remarkabe as I zipped along through city traffic on my daily work commutes were the capable workings of the STâ€™s uniquely-tuned sport suspension which lowered its chassis by 10 mm, compared to the regular Focus. The STâ€™s stiffer suspension was combined with the Focusâ€™ standard MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone system in the rear.
We took the car to our cabin for Thanksgiving. I had to work on Saturday and Mark had a football game so we left Sunday morning for the cabin. Since it was a demo car, we left the dogs behind which created some more space for us but we did manage to bring up three empty planters in the trunk as well as a lot of blankets that Wendy had washed at home. I was surprised at how much the trunk of the hatchback held.
The drive to Arlington took us along Highway 16 until the Watrous turnoff. A quiet Sunday and a lonely stretch of highway let me open the car up a bit and again I was surprised how quiet it was. Despite the increased speed, I was surprised how low I had ESPN Radio playing. There just wasnâ€™t the need to compensate for highway noise. That being said, I donâ€™t want to take anything away from the Sony 10 speaker stereo system. It was exceptional.
The one thing I didnâ€™t like was on the 30 km stretch from the highway to the cabin is along a gravel road and I found the backend of the car was all over the place. While I normally drive 70-80 km/h down that road, even at 60 km/h, the Focusâ€™ back end was moving more than Miley Cyrusâ€™ and that isnâ€™t good.
As you can see, it came with the basic Ford MyTouch, Ford Sync, and excellent Sony stereo system. The middle arm rest has USB ports to import music, upgrades, and power to charge your cell phone. We plugged in an iPod and were able to control it easily from the steering wheel. Apparently that worked too well as I drove Wendy and Mark crazy while flipping through a couple of playlists.
The car came with heated seats and as someone who had a sore back, you have no idea how nice that felt over a two hour drive. For those that see it as a frivolous winter feature, it seemed to be worth it this fall.
Size wise, it felt good. I am 6â€™4â€ and it had the leg and headroom that I need. The boys were comfortable in the backseat but adults would find it less comfortable; which is the same with any compact.
I loved the car. It was a joy to drive and fit our family well. If you are like me and approaching your midlife crisis point, it is a car well worth looking at.
- Model as Tested: 2013 Ford Focus ST 4dr Hatchback w/EcoBoost (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
- Vehicle Type: FWD 5-passenger 4dr Hatchback
- Estimated MSRP: Price: base, $29,999; as tested, $34,849 (includes $3,300 in options; $1,550 D&D charge; and a $100 Fed. excise tax; doesnâ€™t include current dealer or manufacturer incentives)
- Engine type: Turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, gasoline
- Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 247 @ 5,500
- Transmission type: Six-speed manual
- Track Test Results: 0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.) 6.5 (0-62 mph)
- Fuel Consumption: Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.) 14.5
- Seating capacity: 5
For more information, check out the Ford Canada website for the Focus ST or talk to your local Ford dealer.
So last week I had a great offer to test drive a 2012 Ford Focus.Â Here are my thoughts.
Design means something at Ford again.Â Itâ€™s just not the exterior, itâ€™s everything.Â I was watching a CNBC program on Ford a couple of years ago and the engineer was talking about how important it was to get the small things right which is something that for a long time, the Big Three wasnâ€™t getting right.Â Initial quality wasnâ€™t that great and their cars didnâ€™t look that great outside of their trucks and SUVs.Â Who was passionate and excited about a 2002 Ford Taurus?
Somewhere during the financial crisis, instead of begging for bailouts, Ford decided to design cars.Â Looking back at it, it was the right move as the styling on the Ford Focus actually inspired some emotion out of me, despite being an entry level sedan. Maybe the reason that the car is actually German engineered but whatever reason, I loved to get up in the morning, look out and see the Focus there.Â Itâ€™s that nice looking.
The car was silver, slight tint on the rear window and the SEL version.Â It looks exactly like the Ford Focus in the photo except that car is on a gorgeous background and finding something nice as a background in Saskatchewan during February was a hard challenge.Â There just was no way to get it inside the Mendelâ€™s Conservatory.Â So just envision it slightly dirty and on a grey background with a guy that looks like me wishing he was in a warmer climate.
While design is so subjective, it is a similar size to the Chevrolet Cruz while it offers up a lot more refinement and finish.Â The styling looks original and fresh, which is something that you canâ€™t say about many other American automakers.Â Like I said, Ford found itâ€™s design chops.
The car as reviewed had cloth seats and if I owned the car, I would buy car seat covers on it since I have two boys, two sloppy boys.
I am 6â€™4 tall and I donâ€™t have a slight build so room is an issue.Â My 1993 Ford Escort wagon was way to short for me while my beloved 1993 Ford Festiva was more than adequate so I was quite curious how the Ford Focus was going to fit.Â To my surprise there was more than enough room for me and more than enough room for me to put my seat too far back.Â I think anyone under 6â€™8 would fit comfortably in the car.Â If Dave King was a little closer I would test out my theory that both of us could fit in the car comfortably.Â My thanks for Ford for hiring taller engineers.Â My back, neck, and shoulders thank you.Â We did take it for lunch and there were no complaints from my co-workers in the backseat.
As for the family, Mark (11 years) old and Oliver had a lot of room.Â I never thought about it but Mark was the one that sat behind me and he never complained about room and I never felt his knees in my back.Â The trunk was impressive and had more than enough room to hold a couple of coolers and duffle bags for a weekend trip if we had headed to the the cabin.
Of course the big marketing point of Ford cars was Ford Sync.Â I got into the car and immediately gave it an order.Â Nothing.Â Gave it another order.Â Nothing.Â Tried again and again.Â Not a single response.Â Looked for a manual, none was in the car.Â I looked around and finally found the Ford Sync paddle that was on the steering wheel.Â After feeling like an idiot, the Sync helped me figure it out.Â We had some good trips together and some that I struggled a bit with.
Well I finally got it.Â Once I got used to it, the Sync was actually quite useful, especially when syncâ€™d up to my phone or iPod.Â I never took it on a long road trip but if I had, it would have been even more useful.Â Since I donâ€™t use a hands free, I ignore my phone when in a car (it can wait).Â To have it connected to Sync and use it to take calls easily and safely was well worth the money for it.Â The one thing the video does show is the fun of my family trying to confuse the Sync and ask it a series of question on the meaning of life.Â It controls the temperature well but could use some refinement in answering existential questions.
As for the GPS, I have never ever needed to use a GPS, even when in strange cities (itâ€™s called a map folks, study it).Â It was a neat feature but not one that I needed.Â That being said, I have friends who canâ€™t find their bathroom without one so there is a market for it.
The heated seats were a nice feature, especially their control which made it easy to discreetly turn up the heated seats on Wendy without her noticing I did it.Â Yes I am that childish.
It has a backup camera.Â Having never backed into anything, it wasnâ€™t really a needed feature but again, Ford did a nice thing with this.Â It projects the path of your car which lets you know if you are going to make it out of that spot.Â For a feature that I never thought I would need, I liked it.
Off Road Performance
I did the kind of take the Ford Focus off-roading.Â I took it down the ungraded side streets of Mayfair and Caswell Hill.Â The ruts are worse than anything you will ever see a SUV drive through on television.Â While the ride was rough, the car held together, something that canâ€™t be said for some cars driving to and from work on Saskatoon streets.Â Actually the car took the worst that Saskatoon streets could toss at it and handled it quite well.Â The traction control was great on Saskatoonâ€™s icy streets and the anti-lock breaks worked as expected in a variety of slippery road conditions.
The other test you will never see in a magazine is the parking at The Lighthouse test.Â In the back our parking spots are elevated onÂ a slope and often icy.Â The traction control got me up the slope and parked.Â It succeeded where more than one SUV has had to be kicked into four wheel drive to park.
This is the one area that the car didnâ€™t impress me much.Â In accelerating quickly on the highway, the transmission shifted up so many times that it really impacted acceleration.Â Not only that but I found it quite disorientating.Â While my Mazda ProtÃ©gÃ© is a standard, I am not one to over-rev it but the Focus seemed to be shifting at way too low of RPM and didnâ€™t seem to realize that I was trying to go fast, not save fuel efficiency.Â This was the one thing that I didnâ€™t really like about the car which was brought up in a couple of reviews, the transmission does seem a little odd.
The good news is that it is a firm ride which I have always liked.Â On a winding road, the Ford is enjoyable and pleasant to drive.Â It doesnâ€™t sway in corners and features responsive steering.Â I liked how to felt to drive, both in town and out of town.Â With itâ€™s sunroof, it would be a great vacation car, a car that you wanted to take on a long summer road trip.
Would I buy one?Â Yes I would but I would get the six speed manual transmission.Â I prefer a standard but other than that, there wasnâ€™t anything on the car that I didnâ€™t like.Â I took a Cruz and Camry out out for a test drive this week and of the three, the Focus gave the nicest ride and overall experience.Â Itâ€™s worth checking out if you are in the market for a new vehicle.Â It also gives me faith in Fordâ€™s long term survival if these are the cars that it is making now.