2015 Ford Focus

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Officially the 2015 Ford Focus is a new model. In reality it’s really more of a facelift. But it’s worthwhile as it now has the same nicely stylish face that has made the Fusion, Focus’s larger sibling, such a hit with those who enjoy owning a good-looking car. There’s nothing wrong with making small cars look attractive and that’s just what Ford has managed with this new so-called Face of Ford style.

In essence Ford designers have essentially grafted on an “Aston Martin-style” grille, which is not a bad thing.

Aside from the new nose the headlights, taillights and rear deck have also been updated. The interior has also been upgraded with new materials and a cleaner look.

Safety features that have been available on luxury cars for some time have now made it down to the more affordable Focus include optional lane-keeping system and blind spot information.

If you start to drift out of the current lane above 40 mph without a turn signal on, the optional lane-keeping system provides a warning through a series of steering wheel vibrations that mimic a rumble strip. If the driver does not correct the unintended lane departure, the system then actively applies steering torque to help direct the car back toward the center of the current lane. We did not experience the system at work on the Focus Titanium equipped with the $795 package, as it is actually quite difficult to intentionally get the system to work

A rearview camera is also standard on all 2015 Focus models.

It’s under the hood, though where the biggest change has occurred. The Focus is now available with a 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine that costs $795 more — go figure. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though the Focus is quite a bit larger than the Fiesta it now gets the same 123 horsepower 3-cylinder turbocharged engine. Coupled to a six-speed manual transmission it delivers 40 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.

If you want a Focus with an automatic you’ll have to go with the more traditional 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 160 horsepower. That might sound like this engine is far more powerful than the 1.0-liter engine, but it’s torque rating of 146 lb.-ft. is actually less than the 148 lb.-ft. rating for the 1.0-
liter EcoBoost engine. It is important to remember that the amount of torque is what’s really important in everyday driving, especially around town.

So just what is it like to drive a compact car with a sub-compact engine?

We set out for a drive along PCH where the Focus felt quite at home among the jostling traffic. It’s an ideal size for this sort of urban driving as it’s not too small to feel intimidated by large SUVs and the like nor is too big to cramp your ability to maneuver easily.

The first of two models we tried was the SE with the 1-liter EcoBoost engine. Despite the engine’s small size it had no trouble propelling the Focus along winding rural roads in the Santa Monica Mountains which include such well known twisties as Mulholland Highway. But to get the best out of this engine we needed to keep the revs up and use the gearbox all the time. For those who enjoy shifting its great fun but it would be best to not even contemplate buying this model if you don’t enjoy shifting.

Ironically despite the engine’s small size its EPA rated fuel economy is not that much better — it gets 29 city and 40 highway for a combined figure of 33 mpg — than the Focus powered by the 2.0-liter engine, which gets an impressive 26 city and 38 highway for a combined figure of 30 mpg.

The price of the SE starts at $18,460 compared to the base S model which starts at $17,170 and is probably all but impossible to find. The model we drove with the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine also had a body styling kit along with 17-inch wheels and the reverse sensing system, which added $1,750 to the cost. Total out the door retail price with shipping was $21,035.

The second model we tried was the Focus Titanium with a 2.0-liter engine and select shift six-speed automatic. Its base price was $23,670 and this particular model was loaded with an additional $2,610 worth of extras including lane assist, park assist and a nav system. Total out the door price with shipping was $27,105.

Aside from the size of the engine and manual versus automatic transmission there was not a tremendous amount of difference between the two models in terms of handling. Both have a retuned electric-assisted steering that provides plenty of feel and the revised suspension helps the car’s handling, which was already good in the previous model, while not being harsh. In another sign of the times -- where small cars are just as good as many larger cars -- the Focus has a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension system.

Those who enjoy a quiet cabin will also be impressed at the lack of interior noise as the new Focus has additional, strategically placed, sound deadening materials and thicker glass.

We’ve always liked the Focus and the newest model is far the best yet. It has great looks, European driving dynamics and a spacious interior. If you enjoy driving, the Focus Hatchback is surely a better bet than a small SUV.

And, don’t forget that if you really want to have a fun and a practical daily driver there’s the Focus ST with a tuned turbo version of the 2.0-liter that delivers 252 horsepower.

— John Rettie