Focusing in Croatia
By Blake Muntzinger
Road map? Check. Bags? In the trunk. International Driver’s Permit and passports? Yep. Paper with random Croatian phrases? Got it. Everything was in place for the last great European road trip – this time in Croatia. Everything, that is, except sunshine. But that didn’t matter. Sun isn’t required to enjoy the Dalmatian Coast. Destination: Dubrovnik.
Two days earlier, after my friend and I decided the possibility of bearing another dizzying bus ride was nil, we opted to share the cost on an Avis car rental. Our desired Class A (Toyota Aygo size) was unavailable, so our upgrade to a silver 2007 Ford Focus five-door was a pleasant surprise. Its mere 1,496 kilometers (930 miles) on the odometer at pick-up was also surprising, especially for a rental car.
We set off from Split at 8:30 am, committed to return the Focus with a full tank of gasoline to the Dubrovnik office in 12 hours. And so the journey began. Our highway of choice was a two-lane road called the D8. This direct route connecting Split and Dubrovnik assured us that getting lost was impossible since it snaked along Croatia’s awe-inducing coastline.
Ten minutes into the drive, while wallowing in self-praise for bypassing much of the morning rush, I encountered a should-have-studied-the-controls-before-driving moment. I fiddled with the rear wiper switch in a futile attempt to clean the rear window. However, in doing so, I didn’t realize what I did to activate it, so I couldn’t turn it off. Not wanting to pull over for something that, we continued along with the rear wiper on a delay, yet cleaning nothing. Only a few minutes later after squirting washer fluid on both sets of windows, operating both sets of wipers, and searching through the Croatian-written owner’s manual did we discover a simple tug on the stock would have solved the problem. That’s what I got for just looking at the symbols – not exactly my smartest moment.
Trekking through the breathtaking mountains and handling the curves was a breeze in the Focus. Its quiet 1.6 liter, Zetec four-cylinder engine was mated with a stiff suspension to deliver the proper combination of power and control. I never felt I couldn’t handle the car on the road’s steep inclines and curves. Nothing sporty, but the ride was satisfyingly smooth. Brakes were strong and solidly slowed the car without concern. Croatian driving isn’t for the easily excitable, not because of road quality or knowing the traffic laws, but because of the speeding motorists overtaking multiple vehicles without caution on curvy roads. Unobstructed rear visibility allowed me to anticipate these cars, while the brakes came in handy when oncoming traffic caused said drivers to cut into our lane.
The Focus’s interior quality, even before the restyle, made me envious of our European counterparts. It might not be marketed as a classy car, but all things being equal, it’s a cut above. Even though our rental was a lower trim level, with crank rear windows and cloth seats, it felt more substantial than that. Ford’s attention to detail seems more evident here; it’s remarkable what some properly placed chrome and aluminum-colored accents do to an interior. The dash was straightforward with easy-to-reach quality HVAC and radio dials that have only improved in look and feel for the 2008 model. Easy-to-use and convenient cruise control and radio/CD functions were mounted on the steering wheel.
Four and a half hours into our adventure, after stopping to admire the views, detouring into the mountains, and crossing through Bosnia-Herzegovina, we reached Dubrovnik. After nixing the idea to head to Montenegro due to time concerns, our mission was to locate our accommodation and return the car.
Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfares are generally well marked and wide enough for easy travel in either direction. Getting off those streets nearly spelled disaster for our car and trip when we discovered our temporary abode was on a street wide enough for two vehicles when nothing was parked. Even with vehicles on the sidewalks, I felt a tinge of panic downshifting up hills, protecting the side mirrors, and turning around. It had me questioning my sanity and thankful we weren’t upgraded to anything larger.
When all was said and done, we burned just under a quarter of a tank of unleaded Eurosuper 95 octane gasoline, which was about $28. Having driven the 2007 Focus in Croatia and seen the 2008 model in Geneva, I’m looking forward to the next-generation world Focus at the end of the decade. If the new Fiesta and promises of synergy between the two Fords are any indication, Ford will have no problem selling them, and might possibly make buyers forget about a certain second-generation blunder.
Even if the sun wasn’t out all day, our little Croatia voyage was still a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I make it back, I’ll be sure to continue on the D8 to Montenegro to check out the landscape. Maybe I could get the Focus RS.
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