2012 Ford Focus SE

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

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