The new generation starts with a Sportswagon - and we've driven it!......
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If it had not been for the economic hiccup, we would probably have seen the 4th generation Ford Laser Lynx being retired at least a year ago. But the contraction of the market, coupled with the uncertainties in consumer minds slowed sales down and like all the other companies, Ford Malaysia had to delay introducing new models. But as the saying goes, ‘better late than never’ and on November 25th 2000 - at the KL International Motorshow - the 5th generation of the Ford Lynx will officially debut (it will also be available in Ford showrooms nationwide from that date).
Unlike previous new model introductions, Ford Malaysia is staggering its launch over a period of about five months. And surprisingly, the first version to go on sale will not be the sedan but the hatchback. According to Ford Malaysia Managing Director Richard Canny, the new Lynx sedan is still a “work in progress” and some extra time is needed to fine-tune its specifications.
“It will be known as the Ford Lynx LS and we don’t want to reveal too much about it just yet - but I can tell you that it is not the same sort of Lynx sedan as what people may have seen in Singapore or Thailand,” he said. From what little was shown during the press preview earlier this month, it appears that the Lynx LS has a more upmarket image with a different front end and rear end design. Anyway, we’ll be able to show you some pictures soon as the model will be displayed at the KL International Motorshow as a ‘teaser’.
ANOTHER TYPE OF ‘S’
Back to the new Lynx S... the first thing that needs to be made clear is that the ‘S’ does not indicate ‘Sport’. Many of you may recall that the Laser ‘S’ was the high-performance version but the new Lynx S is ‘sporty in spirit’ and the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sportswagon’. By the way, you may wonder whether or not the ‘Laser’ name remains; according to Ford Malaysia Marketing Manager Steven Tan, it is still maintained but there is some uncertainty about its acceptance although the Lynx name is being given greater prominence with this new generation.
The ‘Sportswagon’ description is not something unique as you’ll find it used in some European models and it is intended to convey the image of sportiness and practicality. If you look at the Lynx S design, you’ll see that it is a combination of hatchback and stationwagon and the impression of being a longer car than before is not an illusion: the overall length has been increased by 35 mm with a 5 mm increase in wheelbase. At the same time, the rear overhang has also been extended by 25 mm, doing wonders for interior space.
The styling of the Lynx S has a sporty aura and the nose design is unmistakably Ford with the radiator grille reminiscent of the Focus. From some angles, it also looks a bit like the older BMW 3-Series stationwagon and viewed directly from the back, there is again some similarity to the Focus.
Six colours will be offered of which five will be metallic shades while the lone non-metallic finish is Salsa Red. Some of the colours, like Kingfisher Blue, are already used for the Ford Ranger and the Champagne finish is a very elegant shade.
SAFER, TOUGHER STRUCTURE
Under the skin is a new structure that offers higher levels of protection for the occupants and better impact absorption and dissipation. A ‘Triple H’ configuration for the design of the members around the cabin was developed using computer modelling and is said to be significantly stronger. In crash tests, the body distortion is 50% less (frontal and side impacts) while roof distortion is 67% less. Compared to the previous model, the new Lynx S bodyshell is 9% more resistant to bending and has 28% better torsional rigidity. As with all new vehicles these days, anti-intrusion beams are installed inside the doors for added protection against side impacts.
Occupant protection is a top priority for Ford and for the Lynx S, there’s a driver’s airbag as standard along with laminated windscreen glass. The power windows are also equipped with an anti-trap mechanism which will automatically reverse the movement of the rising glass if resistance is sensed. The purpose is to avoid the possibility of a child’s head or hand being trapped by the glass. Ford need not have included the safety feature as the power window buttons are the push for down/pull for up type (unlike the Proton Waja’s push/push operation) and their thoughtfulness reflects their concerns for safety.
A lot of effort also went into engineering to reduce NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) and area such as the footwell, now flat, have reduced transmission of road noise. To reduce transmission of vibrations and noise to the body, the exhaust system - normally winding its way up and down towards the back - has been made as straight as possible with fewer mounting points.
The platform for the new generation is believed to be derived from the Telstar although no one at Ford Malaysia was willing to confirm this. It won’t be surprising if it is since that has been the case since the first generation as both the Laser and Telstar have had essentially the same chassis design and the differences have been in the dimensions. In the new generation, the same basic layout is used with independent MacPherson struts in front and twin trapezoidal links at the rear which allow each wheel to respond to bumps and loads independently. Though the arrangement is the same as the first generation, it has proven to be an effective one.
But there have obviously been numerous changes and refinements made over the years and certainly many changes from the last generation. For example, the damper settings are new and tuned for greater stability. But what has made a big difference in handling is the positioning of the front roll axis in relation to the rear one. The front roll axis is now lower than the rear roll axis and what this does is to give the driver a greater sense of vehicle stability and a sportier feel at the steering wheel. For quicker response - a change which customer feedback indicated was desired - the ratio of the steering gear has been reduced from 17:1 to 15:1.
The Lynx S gets a new 1.6-litre engine with sequential EFI for optimum fuel delivery to promote the best combustion characteristics. It is still a 16 valver with dual overhead camshafts and an aluminium cylinder head. Compared to the previous engine, the power output is different and this is partly due to the requirement to meet the stricter Euro-2 standard which the Malaysian government is introducing. It is usual that a higher emission control standard means changes in power output and in this case, maximum power of the engine is 80.1 kW(109 ps) at 5500 rpm with 145 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm.
Up till now, the Laser’s automatic transmission has been a fairly conventional type but the Lynx S gets a new 4-speed automatic transmission which has electronic management. Having a microprocessor coordinate the shifts makes for smoother transitions and also less power losses. But more importantly, it is possible to incorporate shift ‘maps’ that change shifting characteristics depending on driving conditions.
For the Lynx S, the programming takes the form of Direct Electronic Shift Control (DESC) which comes into action on slopes (something like the Grade Logic feature in the Honda CR-V). The ‘brain’ makes some intelligent decisions about the driving condition and reduces the tendency for the gears to keep changing while you are driving uphill. This happens with conventional automatic transmissions and can be irritating. Instead, the optimum gear will be maintained longer, which also provides better acceleration when needed. Going downhill, there is also the same logic - a lower gear is held and this gives some engine braking so you don’t have to use the brake so much.
What about a manual transmission? Mr Canny says that there has been a definite trend towards automatics which has been evident in previous Laser sales and Ford Malaysia has decided to offer the Lynx S only with an automatic transmission. He is pretty certain that the absence of manual transmission is not going to lose Ford Malaysia many customers even if younger drivers believe that only manual shifting will give the best performance!
INSIDE THE LYNX S
As mentioned earlier, the increased length adds space to the interior and this is most evident in the length which is almost like that of a stationwagon. In fact, the spaciousness is comparable to a model that is a notch higher (eg a 1.8-litre class car).
Sporty front bucket seats are provided and their shape certainly shows that the interior designers did spend a little bit of extra time on making them look good. The side support bolsters rise slightly higher than the tops of the backrests while the sides of the seats are also raised to just the right height.
The dashboard design is completely new and although grey is the dominant colour, clever use of a second, darker shade enhances the looks. There’s also a bit of Ford’s ‘Edge Design’ in the way the central console is styled. Plenty of storage space is now available with two cupholders just ahead of the shift lever. There’s also a sunglass holder and the console box between the front seats is so deep that it can contain two small 500ml bottles - with the lid closed.
Aiming to give better value for money, Ford Malaysia has fitted an audio system with a single in-dash CD unit as standard. This is in recognition of growing preference for CDs as opposed to cassettes and to ensure that the sound quality sufficiently reproduces digital recordings, there are four speakers.
THE BOOT AREA
This is the area of the Lynx S that Ford Malaysia is highlighting as it is exceptionally large and versatile in layout. Like all hatchbacks, the rear backrests can be folded down separately to accommodate long items. A mountain bike is supposed to be able to go in but we’ll confirm that later on when we get the car to test for a longer period.
However, while Japanese manufacturers have simply let the backrest lie on the seat cushion and have the extended floor sloping, Ford’s designers have designed the seat cushions to be removable. A strong tug at the cushion releases it and it can then be flipped up vertically against the back of the front seat. This allows the rear backrest to go right down flat. European stationwagons have had such an idea for years...
A full-sized spare tyre (and yes, the wheel is also an alloy one like the other four outside) is stowed under the rear carpet and a peek showed that there is a large plastic tray with depressions for keeping the tool kit and odds and ends. To protect your cargo, there’s also a detachable parcel shelf.
With buyers getting upset that new 1.6-litre Japanese car prices are getting out of hand as they cross the RM100,000 mark, it’s nice to see that Ford Malaysia has managed to keep the price of the new Lynx S below that level. The price for one with a metallic finish - without insurance - is RM93,332 (in Peninsula Malaysia); add a couple of thousand ringgit more for insurance and it’s still less than RM100,000.
“If you compare the new price to that of the previous Lynx Hatchback, there is a difference of just RM1,274 which is about 1.4% more and that’s not really much of an increase after so many years,” notes Marketing Manager Steven Tan. “And if you take into account the extra new equipment - airbag and the upgraded audio system - it actually works out to be about RM1,726 cheaper.”
Adds Mr Canny: “The minimal price increase is something we have tried very hard to do and what it has meant is that we have had to make some sacrifice in our profit margin. You may wonder why we do that when the market share in the 1.6-litre segment for non-national makes has declined to just 5% this year from 15% in 1995. The reason is that we are still confident that, in the longer term, Ford can be a very competitive make and we want to maintain a presence in this most popular segment.”
AUTOWORLD.COM.MY’s Chips Yap had an opportunity to get driving impressions of the new Ford Lynx S on a media preview and his report can be viewed by clicking on the link below.