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