Focus buyers will get one of two engines, depending on the trim level. Most models use a 2.0-liter/136-horse four, sourced from Mazda. It's well mannered, but not a rip-snorting performer. Cars sold in California, New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, however, have a standard extra-low-emissions 2.0-liter engine, earning them the Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle rating. The other available powerplant is an enthusiastic 2.3-liter four, another Mazda engine, which packs 151 horsepower. It's found under the hood of the top-of-the-line ST only. The base engine can be combined with a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual, the latter offering quicker acceleration and better fuel economy. The 2.3-liter powerplant comes only with the five-speed manual. Fuel economy for both engines is not as good as that of the thriftiest small cars.
Behind the Wheel
This is where the front-wheel-drive Focus really shines. The steering is pleasantly weighted, delightfully accurate, and even fairly lively. Push it hard, and the Focus will surprise with its willingness to tackle corners. And this handling prowess doesn't come at a cost of ride harshness, as the Focus blunts harsh impacts and dampens ride motions effectively. Strong brakes complete the package. The ST, with its firmer suspension and standard four-wheel-disc brakes, is even sharper and more fun to drive.
The Focus' low price generally makes it attractive to young buyers and bargain hunters. The car's fun-to-drive character is particularly appealing to budget-limited enthusiast drivers looking for a practical commuter, and it also makes the Focus an excellent starting point for people who plan to modify their car for even greater performance or individuality. We find the ST trim level, with its superior engine and driver-oriented chassis, particularly enticing, but we wish it weren't limited to the sedan only. Although beleaguered by recalls and technical service bulletins in its first years of production, the Focus now enjoys fairly good reliability, and the quality of its interior materials has improved over time. While the often-available purchase incentives may add to the Focus' appeal, be aware that these discounts have eroded resale values and have impacted overall cost of ownership to the point that pricier import-brand competitors may prove the wiser investment over five years. For these same reasons, the Focus can make for an attractive used vehicle.
Still one of the sharpest-driving--and roomiest--small, budget-priced cars available.