Y2K was not only the year we all worried about our computers going up in a mushroom cloud of silicon smoke, it was also the year when the Ford Escort was replaced by a hot little car called the Focus. Ford's new compact car was edgy and cute, and it quickly won the hearts of the motoring press thanks to its independent rear suspension and lithe moves. As time marched on, the Focus was reskinned without any substantial changes to its chassis. Twice. As a result, the Focus you could buy brand new last month was as outdated as anxiety over a two-digit year code.
Like the new Fiesta, the Focus has been plucked straight from the European model -- a car that, unlike our Focus, hasn't been left for dead by the engineering team for a decade. Like the smaller Fiesta, the Focus is edgy, sporty, different, and decidedly European. Even though it's been tweaked and tuned for the U.S.-market, much of that was done by teams overseas. So it's the real deal, replete with the fully independent rear suspension, and that, of course, means it's the handler of the class.
EUROPEAN HANDLING AND SEATS
Equipped with the sport package (optional on SE models, standard on top-of-the-line Titanium trim), the Focus resists body roll, turns in crisply, and with the optional eighteen-inch Michelin Pilot Sport PS3 summer tires, flies around corners like a sports sedan. Given the prodigious lateral grip, it's not surprising that the front seats are uncommonly good. Comfortable and fantastically supportive, they give your back the clear message that the Focus wants to dance.
NEW ENGINE AND TRANSMISSIONS
On paper, the driveline fits the sporty bill, too. An all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder uses dual variable cam phasing and direct injection to produce 20 more horses than last year's engine, for a total of 160, only ten less than the Volkswagen Jetta's optional 2.5-liter five-cylinder. A five-speed manual is available, but most buyers will choose the six-speed dual clutch automatic with manual shifting control.
And the enthusiasts may be disappointed if they do -- the transmission is a few points short of top marks. No steering-wheel paddle shifters are offered, and carpal tunnel syndrome is an inevitability for those repeatedly reaching for the awkwardly placed plus/minus button on the side of the shifter. More frustrating, the transmission's manual mode doesn't like to follow directions, and there is no sport mode. In "D," the transmission is clearly programmed to provide the best fuel economy, so it constantly hunts between gears on hilly terrain.