2012 Ford Focus SE

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

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