Ford Focus — A world car at home in North America
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
Ford knocked it out of the park 12 years ago with the first Focus compact car, a car that was clearly an equal to the best that the industry had to offer at the time. But Ford allowed its advantage to slip away over the years failing to make the necessary investment to keep up with the competition.
Now we have a new Focus, a “world car” sold in virtually every market including North America, Europe and Asia that puts Ford back at the top tier of the compact segment. The 2012 Focus is stylish, well made, endowed with up-to-date technology, engaging to drive, and fuel efficient.
That’s a good thing for Ford, which is facing stiff competition in a growing segment that includes several cutting-edge models. The Focus has to be good to succeed against such mass market competitors as the Hyundai Elantra, the Chevrolet Cruze and the 2012 Honda Civic. And that’s a good thing for the consumer who now has a choice of cars so good they can live in anyone’s garage as the primary mode of transportation regardless of income or status in life.
We judge a car on the overall feeling it leaves with us. Could we live with it on a regular basis? Is it fun and engaging to drive? Does it suit our driving needs whether a weekend cruiser or an everyday driver? To all of these questions, we give the Focus a big thumb up. But that’s not to say that all is perfect.
In the U.S. the Focus comes in sedan and hatchback models with prices starting at $16,995 including destination for the sedan and $18,815 for the hatchback. We drove both configurations. All models come with a 2.0-liter 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine with twin-independent variable camshaft timing and direct injection mated to a five-speed manual, a six-speed dual-clutch automatic or a select shift six-speed automatic.
We found the engine energetic paired to the automatic transmission, capable of handling the daily driving chores of life. We were, in fact, pleasantly surprised at the performance of our test cars, especially in highway driving where it had enough muscle to take all the drama out of such chores as quickly passing a slowly moving vehicle or merging into heavy 70-mile-per-hour traffic.
Earlier in the year we drove on some of the twistiest roads in America in the mountains of Southern California and found that whether driving aggressively or poking along like Mr. Magoo, the Focus took it all in stride. This is not surprising in a car equipped with a completely new electric power-assisted steering system that Ford has tuned to perfection.
It practically begs the driver to challenge it. While the hatch suspension felt tighter than that of the sedan the end result differences were negligible. We found the ride on the firm side, but we feel it’s compliant enough for the intended customers. The firmness gives the Focus a flat, stable feel on the aforementioned twisting roads.
Performance driving enthusiasts who traverse roads like those found on our California drive route will no doubt find the manual transmission the right choice. The automatic however is expected to be the choice of most.
The positive driving experience is aided greatly by an unusually quiet interior for a car in this segment. We were amazed in city driving at our inability to hear the car’s engine next to us while sitting at a stoplight. That’s a natural feeling in a luxury car, but certainly not in a small Ford. Road and wind noise are also well muted.
Back at our home turf we found the Focus hatch we drove had acceptable gas mileage rated at a competitive 38 mpg highway and 28 mpg city with a six-speed auto. Our sedan test vehicle had a select shift six-speed automatic that reduces the mpg to 37/27. We managed a combined 30 mpg for our 225-mile road test on both the hatch and sedan, which included fast starts, city stop and go driving, and highway cruising, about a third of which was in the 70 mph range. Note: A special SFE (Super Fuel Economy) package boosts EPA-rated mileage to 40/28.
The dashboard is sharply styled, a real eye pleaser with such neat-to-the- touch features as large wheels that easily open and close the air vents, a just-right-sized cellphone storage area that comes equipped with a charging outlet, and easy-to-use steering wheel controls for audio and cruise.
But we have an issue with rear-seat leg room that is tight, even for a compact car. European Ford cars in this segment and smaller have a tradition of a lack of foot space in the second row. Shoulder room and headroom, however, proved more than adequate, although if you want to put three in back they better be Munchkins. We found the same issue in the otherwise well-executed sub-compact Ford Fiesta, both are now global cars.
The other main issue we have with the Focus is My Ford Touch even though Ford has added some redundant controls; a step in the right direction. But MyFord Touch remains overly complicated and hard to read, things that force the driver to take his/her eyes off the road to do what should be mundane tasks. Voice activated Sync is the obvious answer that simplifies MyFord Touch, but it takes patience and time to learn and it can be frustrating at times. However it may be just the ticket for some people and if we were to buy a Ford we would probably include the feature, just for resale reasons. But if you purchase a model without the feature, you’ll save some aggravation and some money.
Other interesting features available are worthwhile if you want to spend the cash including a premium Sony 10-speaker audio system with subwoofer (bundled with MyFord Touch), a rear-view camera, Intelligent Access with push-button start, Easy Fuel capless fuel filler system, adaptive headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and rear parking aid sensors.
One of the slickest technology items ever invented is available on the Focus — Ford’s Active Park Assist. With the help of sensors, the system literally will parallel park the car (providing it senses the space is accommodating enough). This system has heretofore only been available in Ford and Lincoln’s larger and luxury vehicles. It can be purchased as a $1,100 option and well worth it if part of your daily routine includes lots of parallel parking.
The Focus comes in four trim levels — S (sedan only), SE, SEL and Titanium.
Ford offers a nice selection of standard equipment in all models, but the price can escalate rather rapidly especially in the SEL edition with options and the top-of-the-line Titanium edition.
Our SEL hatchback test car with the MyFord Touch package came to $24,570. Our second test car, a Titanium sedan with the Sony MyFord Touch package carried a price of $26,375 (including a $405 Parking Tech package discount and $195 off the rapid spec package). Both prices include destination charges.
The new Focus is an excellent example of the new breed of compact car that has the build quality and the feature content of a large family sedan, but with the gas mileage not available in a larger vehicle.
Base price: $16,995 (sedan), $18,815 (hatch);
As driven, $24,570 SEL hatch/$26,375 Titanium Sdn.
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 160 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 146 pound-feet @ 4,450 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Length: 178.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,045 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 38 mpg highway, 28 mpg city
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic
• Energetic engine
• Upscale, quiet interior
• Long list of high-tech options
• MyFord Touch demands too much attention
• Rear seat legroom at a premium