GREAT LOOKS, GOOD ERGONOMICS
The bad news mostly ends there -- the new Focus otherwise gets a report card full of great marks. It looks far more expensive than most of its classmates, both inside and out, with a well-designed, clean center stack. The bulk of buttons, especially on higher trim levels, has migrated to either a touch-screen or the steering wheel. In fact, the well-sculpted, just-right-size steering wheel has twenty-one buttons -- enough to type a term paper on it.
Dual-zone climate control is available -- remember when compact sedans barely had air conditioning? -- as is a backup camera. And while the latest version of the MyFord Touch interface comes standard with a steep learning curve, it packs a lot of additional features, like a rear-view camera, Wi-Fi capability, and the latest version of SYNC. Ford is even planning to offer an active parking system.
EPA fuel economy estimates haven't yet been finalized, but Ford expects that a special eco version of the sedan will achieve 40 mpg on the highway. Regular Focus models should be slightly behind that, at perhaps 28 city, 38 highway. The manual, lacking a sixth gear, should trail slightly behind that. These numbers trail behind the new Hyundai Elantra, which is expected to receive 40 mpg highway from all model variants. (The segment's lone diesel offering, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, achieves 42 mpg on the highway.)
THE HATCHBACK -- OUR CHOICE
The Focus is available as either a hatchback or a sedan -- and we think the hatch is the better choice in every way. It looks better, handles better (thanks to improved weight distribution) and, of course, offers the cargo benefits of a big rear door.
The new-for-2011 Jetta is available as a wagon, and the Hyundai Elantra is, too -- but that model, the Elantra Touring, is a completely different car than the sedan. And it's not up to the same visual or material standards.
The Elantra sedan, however, is a very impressive effort. It, combined with the new Ford Focus, have dramatically raised the bar for a class of cars that was, not too long ago, filled with penalty boxes. Which one is better? Well, you'll have to wait for a comparison test to find out for sure.