Ford has spent the last several years touting the virtues of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars built on global platforms. One of the more eagerly anticipated products born from that strategy is the 2012 Ford Focus.Americans have been clamoring for a version of the European Focus for years, and we've finally got one. Despite its European roots, however, the 2012 Ford Focus will be produced in Wayne, Mi.
Available in S, SE, SEL, and Titanium trim levels in either hatchback or sedan form, the new Focus is yet another attempt by Ford--following last year's launch of the subcompact Fiesta--to capitalize on a growing small-car market.Rising gas prices and high unemployment have accounted for some automotive downsizing over the past few years. And automakers have noticed, turning the C-segment into a highly contested battle-ground.
The Focus joins the Chevrolet Cruze and the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra as the newest entries into a class that already contains Toyota's Corolla and Honda's Civic (which is scheduled for a refresh, based on the Civic Concept the company showed at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.). That means the Focus faces a tough fight in a crowded field-the Cruze is a solid entry that is worlds better than the Cobalt it replaced, and the new Elantra offers sharp styling and a value price. Let's also not forget Mazda's 3 compact hatchback and sedan.
Aimed at the sporting set, the 2012 Focus is powered by a 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Two transmissions are available--a five-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The latter trans looks like an automatic--and Ford even calls it an automatic--but it shifts like a manual. A sport mode in which the driver can shift for him or herself is available. Ford is claiming up to 40 miles per gallon with the automatic.
High On High Tech
The Blue Oval gang isn't just pushing high mileage, they're also pushing high-tech. Available technology features include a park-assist system, Ford's Sync multimedia suite, ambient lighting, HD radio with iTunes tagging, a torque vectoring system, a push-button start, a rearview camera, and the MyFordTouch interior layout, which replaces traditional buttons with touch-screen interfaces and five-way steering-wheel controllers.
Ford flew journalists to Los Angeles to sample to new Focus, and I was able to spend time behind the wheel of two versions: A Titanium sedan with the automatic, and a SE hatchback with the manual.
Focus pricing stars at $16,995 (including the $725 destination fee), which is a carryover from last year. The Titanium I drove checked in at $26,400, not including the destination fee. The hatchback I drove was missing a price sheet, but a similarly equipped model priced out around $20,000, including destination. Ford has already placed a price calculator for consumers online.
The top-line Titanium offers more-bolstered seats, a two-tone interior, and larger standard wheels and tires. It also delivers a nice blend of sporty performance and upscale (well, as upscale as C-class cars get) ambiance.
Hitting The Highway
On the road, the Focus feels nicely buttoned down and solid. Steering feel from the electric power-assisted system is sporty and nicely weighted, asking the driver for just the right amount of effort.
Acceleration is brisk if not swift. There's power for passing or merging, but one must dig deep into throttle to access it. The Focus is stronger than the smaller Fiesta, but it will never be mistaken for a front-drive Mustang. For most driving, there's enough grunt, but serious back-road burners might want to wait for the Focus ST model which launches next year.
The automatic plays well with this engine, and the sport-mode shifting does give the car a bit of a boost, but there wasn't much engine braking on downhill runs. Enthusiasts take note: There are no paddle shifters.
The manual adds a pinch of excitement, and it's a joy to row, thanks to a progressive clutch, and precise throws that are neither too long nor too short. You'll need to row the gearbox a lot, fifth gear is too tall for passing, and even fourth is close to a 1:1 ratio, meaning back-road blasts will take place in the lower three gears only.
Drop the Focus into a turn and it takes a set nicely, with minimal body roll. The ride is firm but never harsh, although I must admit that California blacktop is far closer to perfect than the winter-beaten pavement in other parts of the country.
Focus features a few neat touches, such as a small rear-seat storage area, but some materials disappoint. For example, there is a little too much hard plastic on the doors. One neat exterior touch: The fuel-filler door on hatchback models neatly integrates into the exterior design.
The seats in the Titanium were too bolstered for my tastes, but enthusiasts will love them.
With the Focus, Ford is trying to produce a small car that is appealing both to those who want high fuel economy and a high fun to drive factor. Ford has mostly succeeded. While the Focus can get pricey with options (although it compares favorably to the Cruze), it does offer plenty of sport. There's no doubt it will have more appeal to enthusiasts than the solid but more mainstream Cruze, although the new Elantra does present a better value equation.
Ford has been a roll lately, and it looks like they've hit on another winner with the Focus.