This is really an amazingly good car. I’m blown away by how composed it is. Over the railroad tracks, it had very little lateral skipping, as compared with a Hyundai Elantra, one of its chief competitors, which skipped noticeably over some rough pavement the morning before I drove the Focus. The Ford has incredible ride quality: so supple. Beautifully communicative and precise steering. Great clutch pedal feel and take-up. Very nice shifter. Really, the dynamics are spot-on; the European tuning has really come through. Very, very impressive. Ergonomics work well; the center stack is different; I get it, it’s clearly inspired by the Motorola Razr and other cell phones. I like the precise type font of the speedometer and tachometer. This car does not have MyFordTouch, which is just fine. I did not succeed in syncing my mobile phone with Bluetooth despite repeated attempts, whereas earlier today in the Elantra I did it in 30 seconds. For ease of use in secondary controls, Hyundai really is the champ there. For driving dynamics, the Focus is going to be hard to beat.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I set my expectations extremely high for the new Ford Focus and yet I was still blown away by how good this new compact-class leader is. The Focus provides both the best ride and the best handling of the compact segment thanks to the rear multilink suspension and the fact that Ford didn’t pinch pennies when it came to the dampers. The communicative, nicely weighted steering feels great in fast corners, the manual gearbox shifts fluidly, and the engine revs willingly. This $21,945 hatchback is even ideally equipped in my opinion. The SE trim is the only way to get a manual in a hatchback, there’s all the basic audio equipment to play nicely with your phone, and the 17-inch black wheels look great. I’d just trade the red paint for a dark gray hue.
While the Focus absolutely embarrasses the competition when it comes to driving dynamics, I don’t think Honda and Hyundai and Chevrolet will have too much trouble enticing customers into their compact cars. All three of those competitors offer tangible benefits that the Focus doesn’t, largely inside the car. In the Ford, the cockpit is cramped, the audio controls are a curiosity, and the rear-seat and trunk come off as space inefficient. Honda’s Civic offers more passenger room, Hyundai’s Elantra is an ergonomic delight, and the Chevy Cruze has an exceptionally well-executed interior. Americans have a history of passing over great driving cars for more rational appliances. It’s a shame that Ford didn’t back the Focus with an interior package just as good as the mechanical hardware to deliver an all-round winner.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
How surprised was I by the new Focus? Let’s put it this way: by far, it was my favorite test car that I drove this past week — and considering a Mercedes-Benz CL63 AMG was also in the mix, that says a lot.
The schism between this new 2012 Focus and the outgoing model makes Martin Luther’s spat with the Roman Catholic Church seem miniscule in comparison. Apart from the nameplate and perhaps some badging, nothing — nothing — is carried over from the old car. And, better yet, thanks to the “One Ford” mantra pushed by CEO Alan Mulally, this Focus is almost identical to the stylish, sporty C-segment model journalists have pined and pleaded for over the past several years.
If you’ve watched Ford’s European design studio apply its kinetic design language on other models (particularly the 2011 Fiesta hatchback), chances are the 2012 Focus’ form isn’t all that surprising. What takes me back, however, is how good this car is to drive. The steering is surprisingly well weighted for an electrically assisted rack, and it’s delightfully crisp and quick to turn in. Body roll is minimal, yet ride quality remains compliant even over some of the worst frost heaves found in a Michigan spring. I’m also a fan of the manual transmission; shift throws are short and crisp, and clutch take-up is linear. Delightful.
Technically, this SE trim level serves as the entry-level Focus, but it’s amazing just how fancy you can make it feel by choosing your options carefully. Opting for the $695 Sport package adds aluminum wheels, rear disc brakes, black grille trim, metallic interior accents, and two-tone cloth seating. Not snazzy enough? Two-tone black/red leather seating is also available, as are black-finished 17 and 18-inch wheels, the omnipresent Sync system, and heated front seats.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
I spent some quality time behind the wheel of our Focus, driving it to Northern Michigan and back over a weekend. It handles superbly on the highway, and equipped with the sport package, it handles well in corners. It’s quite evident that the new Focus has European roots, as its overall feel is much more refined than its U.S.-engineered predecessor.
The exterior styling is unmistakably European and a vast departure from previous-generation, U.S.-spec Focus models. I was particularly impressed with the fuel door, which rather than an afterthought, fits nicely with the existing lines of the car near the passenger-side taillamp. Our test car came equipped with seventeen-inch wheels, which at an additional cost of only $495 are definitely worth the consideration of buyers.
Interior designers went to great lengths to make the space usable and efficient. Small pockets and cubbies are abundant. My rear passengers described the bench seat as spacious and comfortable, with the center position void of the typical raised section. Road noise is kept to a minimum. My only real complaint from the driver’s seat had to do with the convex insets found on the side mirrors, which were rather distracting and always seemed to be in the way.
This was my first experience with Ford’s Sync connectivity system, and like Joe I had a difficult time pairing my phone at first. The problem appears to have been that the maximum number of phones had been stored in the system, but after a quick master reset the issue was rectified. Contrary to the reports of many other testers, Sync had no trouble understanding my voice commands.
The standard 2.0-liter I-4 found in all current Focus models revs smoothly and provides adequate fuel economy, but it’s far from peppy. Expecting extraordinary fuel economy figures, I was somewhat disappointed when, after an entire tank of highway driving, I did no better than 33 mpg, 3 mpg short of the EPA rating.
Steve Diehlman, Assistant Web Producer
Wow. I really like the new Ford Focus. Its European roots are plainly evident, from the fun way it steers and handles to the Fiesta-like switchgear to the attractive “kinetic design” styling theme. The neon red paint is a bit much for me, but I love the shiny black wheels.
The front seats are very comfortable and highly adjustable, but passengers in the rear seats suffer from rock-hard armrests on the doors and no center armrest. From the driver’s standpoint, though, the Focus is a small gem. The manual gearbox is a joy to work, with nice action and a lovely smooth knob that enhances the stick-shifting experience. The chassis is tuned to allow more body roll than I expected, but the Focus gripped the corners I subjected it to very well all the same, and ride quality during normal cruising is pleasant and relaxing. I really like the new Hyundai Elantra, too, but the Focus — particularly in this SE hatchback stick-shift trim — just feels sportier to me, and more fitting to my personality. I even like the shiny metal trim on the steering wheel, although it’d be nice if that metallic trim matched what’s on the center stack.
I drove the new Ford Explorer recently, and I’m as impressed overall with the Focus as I was unimpressed with the Explorer. The interior build quality of the small car seems significantly better than that of the much pricier crossover, too.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I’d like to expand on Rusty’s last point. Car companies, like all companies, have to pick and choose where they will spend money. There will always be winners and losers. Drive a new Focus shortly after some time in a new Explorer, and you’ll get a very good idea of Ford’s priorities. The Explorer seems to have been developed under a tight budget, whereas the Focus feels every bit the result of extra dollars lavished in all the right places. It’s a stunning reversal of Ford’s traditional priorities, one that enthusiasts and environmentalists alike can get behind.
Though it’s a global car, the Focus feels unmistakably European. Its exterior is understated and rich looking. The cabin emphasizes sportiness, quality, and intimacy over maximum space utilization. Most telling – and exciting – is the steering. It’s as heavy as the steering in the Volkswagen Golf, but is even more communicative. And then there’s the absolutely perfect ride and handling balance, which not only seems indicative of European know-how, but also seem to be one of those key areas where Alan Mulally opened the pocketbook. An independent rear-suspension and high strength steel (more than 55 percent of the body structure) aren’t cheap, and they do not lend themselves to billboard advertising as do, say, the Hyundai Elantra’s many standard features. But it does make for a better car. (To be fair, the Elantra also employs a lot of high-strength steel, but it feels neither as composed nor as solid as the Ford).
On that note, the Focus does fall short on the area Ford has advertised most: interior technology. This particular model does not have a touch screen and instead, as Joe DeMatio notes, looks like a Motorola Razr. You know, the cell phone that was all the rage in 2003. The optional MyFord Touch looks much better but has a steep learning curve. I wonder if a few comparison shoppers will pass over the Ford in favor of the new Elantra on account of the latter’s easy-to-use navigation system.
These are, of course, mere quibbles for a car that lacks any serious fault. I drove it all the way to Washington D.C., a drive I’ve done in far more expensive cars, and could not have been more pleased.
Ford’s investment is not without risk. Those trucks and crossovers typically have much higher profit margins, and the Focus faces an uphill battle against established competition and entrenched anti-Domestic bias. Still, I think it’s the right investment, and not just because I like driving the result. As a smart auto analyst recently reminded me, a good crossover may sell well in a few markets, but a good compact will sell well everywhere. Wherever you live, prepare to see a lot of Focuses.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Base price (with destination): $18,790
Price as tested: $21,945
2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
16-inch steel wheels with covers
Power windows, mirrors, locks
Electronic stability control
Driver and passenger air bags
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM stereo single CD/MP3
Auxiliary audio input jack
Tilt/telescoping steering column
60/40 split rear seats
Options on this vehicle:
Convenience package — $1385
MyFord & Sync systems
MyFord tech, 6 speakers, Sirius satellite radio
SE Sport package — $1130
16-inch painted aluminum wheels
Piano black grille
Rear disc brakes
Cloth sport seats
Sport tuned suspension
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Winter package — $570
Power and heated mirrors
Turn signal mirrors
17-inch machined and painted alloy wheels — $495
Key options not on vehicle:
6-speed automatic transmission — $1095
Moonroof — $795
26 / 36 / 31 mpg
Horsepower: 159 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 146 lb-ft @ 4450 rpm
Curb weight: 2920 lb
Wheels/tires: 17-inch aluminum wheels
215/50R17 Continental Contiprocontact all-season tires
What’s new? Everything