Fuel efficient compact cars are a hot segment right now. After having been largely neglected by domestic automakers for the last decade, cars like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and upcoming Dodge Dart are now offering US consumers thoroughly modern small cars, with up-to-date in-vehicle technology and efficient powertrains delivering up to 40 MPG highway. The Ford Focus was all new for 2011 in the US, after having languished on an aging platform that was introduced in the late 1990s as a 2000 model year vehicle.
For 2012, Ford introduced a new top top trim level called Titanium; this review is of a 2012 Focus Titanium sedan, which was equipped with nice features like automatic dual-zone climate control, 17” alloy wheels, Intelligent Access (smart key with pushbutton start), four-wheel disc brakes (replacing rear drums on lower-spec models) upgraded audio system, and the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Compact cars in the Focus’ class sell in much bigger numbers in Europe, and it’s worth noting that the new Focus is a world car, developed for (and launched in) North America and Europe simultaneously. Thoughtful touches abound in the Focus, making it evident that this is a small car that was designed to compete in Europe as well as be sold in North America. There are two small bins on the outboard sides of the back seat; the split-folding rear seat has lift-up bottom cushions which allow a fully flat load floor when the back seats are folded; and all four power windows are one-touch up and down. Automatic lamp control is provided; it is also standard on the Focus’ main domestic competitor, the Chevy Cruze.
Climbing in to the Focus, the car’s very shapely dash really caught my attention, as it protrudes very three-dimensionally into the cabin. The Focus does a good job of using upgraded materials where they matter to the driver. To wit, the door panels on the front doors are upholstered with soft-touch plastic with a fabric insert; the door panels on the back doors look similar but are made from hard plastic with very small fabric inserts. Other distinctive traits noticed from the driver’s seat: the handbrake lever is oddly articulated from the console, and in some lighting conditions the dash reflects distractingly in the windshield.
The Focus Sedan looks almost like a midsized car on the outside thanks to its flowing lines, but the back seat seems to be the same size as the one in Ford’s smaller Fiesta. The Focus competes directly with Chevrolet Cruze (and with Volkswagen Golf in Europe), and both of those cars have decidedly more back seat room on paper (as well as roomier-feeling cabins), though the backseat in the Cruze isn’t any more practically useful than the one in the Focus. For a car of the Focus’ size on the outside, the interior is unfortunately cramped. The front seat is narrow, and on the passenger side, my wife thought that that dash plus the shape of the door panels encroached too much into the interior’s passenger space. The back seat doesn’t actually seem to offer any more legroom than the smaller Fiesta; the photo shows how my three year old daughter had barely enough room for her feet sitting behind the driver’s seat adjusted for my 6’4” frame.
Out back, the Focus sedan’s trunklid has space-hogging gooseneck hinges, and the trunk itself has a raised center floor section (to accommodate storage of a spare tire). In the rearmost corners of the trunk on the sides, the trunk floor is deeper. The raised floor section surrounding the spare tire has a molded styrofoam tray with shallow storage cubbies. The cubby farthest from the trunk opening houses an audio amplifier with a mess of accessible wire harnesses visible which detracts from the feeling of quality otherwise exuded by the Focus. Also in the trunk is a subwoofer assembly that is situated away from the trunk wall, hogging space while looking both awkward and vulnerable.
The instrument panel is dominated by a relatively large tachometer and speedometer, with smaller analog temperature and fuel gauges. The gauges were legible enough, though the font was a little strange, and I found the blue-illuminated needles to be distracting. Nestled between the speedo and tach was a color high-resolution, color TFT display to display trip computer and warning message information. While it could display navigation directions, it does not have the ability to display audio or climate information- and that’s just fine. The display has enough information to display without that stuff; keeping the rest of the information on the large, high-resolution MyFord Touch display makes sense to do. Finding such a high-resoluation screen on a mass-market American sedan priced at $25k is a real treat; it really helps the Focus to feel like a rich car.
My first experience with MyFord Touch was in a 2011 Lincoln MKX, and I was unimpressed with a very slow touchscreen response time and a navigation system that crashed more than once. That experience really lowered my expectations of the MFT system, so much that I was really impressed with the system installed in the Focus. Touch response time was admirably quick,, and system was intuitive to use. Too, the navigation display had a very helpful view for freeway interchanges that displays the traffic signs just as they appear over the roadway, with the sign over the lane you should be driving in appearing brighter than the adjacent signs, which are also displayed.
All Focus models feature a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection technology producing 160 HP (or 159 HP in PZEV states). The engine sounds good when higher in its rev band; it otherwise just seems to make normal (if muted) four-cylinder sounds. Testing this Focus marks the first time I’ve driven a car equipped with Ford’s PowerShift automatic transmission, which is actually a dual-dry clutch automated manual transmission. I was happy with the quick, crisp shifts at speed and with the prompt, rev-matched downshifts when they were manually commanded. That said, when the car was cold the transmission jerked and lurched. Knowing that the transmission essentially works like a manual transmission without a third pedal, I could understand the occasional odd lurch or engine rev; at the same time it “sounds” different enough from a traditional torque-converter automatic during operation that I can understand why some people who didn’t know about the technology thought it didn’t work correctly.
While the system works “flawlessly” in normal driving, it falls down during tight-space maneuvering like parallel parking. When trying to park on one of downtown Seattle’s famously steep hills, the transmission took a while selecting reverse, and then when i gave it a bit of gas the engine nearly stalled, before the ECU revved the engine and the Focus bucked backward up the hill too fast, requiring me to stand on the brake pedal to keep from reversing into the car behind me; moments later the odor of burning clutch filled the cabin.
In Drive, the transmission is programmed to upshift as soon as possible, meaning the car seems to shift a lot around town, and is often out of its powerband. The S setting doesn’t stand for Sport, it just stands for “SelectShift”; normal shift points are changed, but the shifter-mounted toggle switch allows the driver to shift manually. I used the SelectShift mode when running the Focus on my favorite country roads. While the toggle switch promptly commands shifts, the fact that it is just a toggle switch on the shifter (rather than paddle shifters, for example) means that shifts cannot be commanded with both hands on the steering wheel. Any type of sporty driving does require using the SelectShift because of the Focus’ propensity to upshift whenever possible; SelectShift is standard on SEL and Titanium trim levels.
The Focus Sedan with PowerShift has an EPA fuel economy rating of 27/37 MPG City/Highway, 31 MPG combined. During my week in the Focus, I drove 255 miles, with an average of 26.0 MPG; admittedly most of those miles were driven in traffic, or back-and-forth through the suburbs. On one 40 mile highway trip with cruise control set at 63 MPH, I got a 37.0 MPG average, so the EPA’s estimates don’t seem unattainable.
The Focus Titanium sedan I tested has a base price of $22,270, plus Rapid Spec 401A package for $1490 (Titanium Premium Package: Rear Parking Aid Sensor, Front Rain Sensing Wipers, Six-Way Power Driver’s Seat); Blue Candy Metallic paint for $395, MyFord Touch with HD Radio/Sirius/Navigation for $795; and a destination charge of $795, for a total MSRP of $25,480. At that price, the Focus seemed to be a car with a lot of equipment (albeit not a lot of interior room) for the price.
Immediately after my week with the Focus, I found myself driving a Chevrolet Cruze as a rental car. The Cruze seemed to do little better job putting function over form, so it isn’t styled as sensually (either inside or outside). That said, the Focus sedan looks bigger on the outside, but feels less spacious inside. Both small sedans are dramatic improvements over their predecessors, and are satisfying to drive. With the MyFord Touch technology in the Focus, it brings a new level of sophistication to American compact sedans. Whether the Focus is the right car for you over one of its competitors depends on your priorities. If you desire high technology and above-average features, the Focus may be the car you need.