In a category populated with names like Civic, Corolla, Jetta, Cruze and Elantra, the new Ford Focus has a tough fight. The compact sedan grouping accounts for about 25 percent of the auto market worldwide and 20 percent in the U.S. With U.S. fuel prices headed toward $5 a gallon, the sales of these smaller, more efficient cars will likely take an even larger share of the pie.
After spending a half a day driving the Focus over some of the most challenging roads in Southern California, it’s obvious that Ford is bringing a big gun to the fight.
In general, new car shoppers look for some combination of styling, performance, economy, quality, value and features as they make a buying decision, and Focus is impressive across the board.
Most people aren’t going to buy an ugly car and Focus gets high marks for it good looks. Available in a sleek five-door hatchback or more traditional four-door sedan, Focus features Ford’s kinetic design form language which gives it a sporty distinctive styling that will attract attention.
Shoppers will be drawn into a cockpit-inspired interior that looks as if it belongs in a much more expensive car. The seats are soft and comfortable, but with the support that makes them good on long trips or on winding roads. They reminded me of some of my favorite Volvo seats.
Even though the interior has an upscale look, the dash seems busy with the large air outlets, multi-screen instruments, various buttons and dials plus 19 buttons on the steering wheel in addition to the horn, turn signal, dimmer and wiper controls. But after a short time behind the wheel it all started to make sense and it works well.
I wish the innovative SYNC® system were as easy for me to operate; I think it’s going to take a lot of practice for the average person to master. The new SYNC with MyFord™ has a sophisticated voice control for some vehicle functions too, in addition to being connected to Bluetooth® devices and other external media. A couple of the neat new additions to SYNC are the 911 Assist that automatically sends help if you are in an accident and airbag deploys. There is also a Vehicle Health Report that allows you create a personalized online report of the vehicles diagnostics.
It’s hard to believe an inexpensive car like the Focus is being offered with the Parking Technology Package. This is a must for the “park-a-phobic” driver. Using ultra sonic sensors, the system helps find a large enough space to park and then parks itself with almost no driver input. It’s amazing and is included in a $695 Technology Package that also includes front parking sensors and rear-view camera.
A 160-hp 2.0-liter direct-injection DOHC four-cylinder engine powers all models of the front-wheel drive Focus. The engine is spirited and rewards the driver with more power than the numbers indicate as long as the driver keeps the RPMs up. Like most little engines, this one doesn’t like to lug below 2000 rpms. The Focus accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds. Fuel economy for the 2012 model is projected to be 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
A smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, but the PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission will be the preferred choice for most shoppers. The automatic is a sophisticated double clutch system -- it’s the kind of transmission found on more premium European sport sedans not on compact American cars. The automatic is smooth and shifts fast, but driving through the hills east of Malibu it had a tendency to want to shift up too early in an effort to save fuel. That led to shifting down again on the longer hills in a process called “hunting.” The transmission can be shifted manually by pressing a two-way toggle switch on the left side of the shift handle – press the top side up to shift up and the bottom to shift down. Perhaps the ST performance model, due later this year, will have wheel-mounted shift paddles instead. (Read about the 247-hp EcoBoost Focus ST online at www.iVeho.com.)
The Focus sedan is available in four trim levels: S, SE, SEL and Titanium, while the hatchback comes in the SE, SEL and Titanium trims. The S trim Sedan starts at $16,995, including the destination charge. It is nicely outfitted with air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry and tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The basic Hatchback SE version starts at $18,790. The top of the line Titanium Hatchback goes for $23,490. With all the available options it gets into a midlevel pricing at just over $30,000, but there won’t be many Focuses sold at that price.
Now sold as the same basic car around the world, the new Focus is the car enthusiasts have asked for in the U.S. It will also appeal to a budget buyer and allow a great deal of customization of features for everyone. Cars like this raise the level of the entire segment. Right now it looks like the Focus and the Hyundai Elantra may be the leaders, but an all new Honda Civic is due this summer and that could make the compact car buyer’s decision even more difficult.