2012 Ford Focus

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2012 Ford Focus — Review

By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.5

Bottom Line:

Ford’s product line is improving with each new release, and the 2012 Focus may be the company’s best effort of late. It’s sporty, refined, tech-laden and fuel-efficient, proving a small car doesn’t have to be dowdy. If it’s not today’s best compact, it’s certainly in the running.
Pros:
  • Engaging handling
  • Fuel-sipper
  • New level of quality
Cons:
  • Automatic could use steering-wheel paddle shifters
  • Power is just decent
  • Pricing can get high

In 1999, Ford shook up the status quo in the small-car segment in the United States when it introduced the Focus, a stylish compact car inspired by European sensibilities. The sporty vehicle was a breath of fresh air and well received by the media for its quality build and fun-to-drive nature. Essentially, it was a real winner.

Then the Blue Oval took a step backward.

The second-generation Focus suffered from drab styling, dulled handling and the loss of the hatchback body style. The move left many auto journalists and other insiders scratching their heads, because at the same time Europe got a more agile, better-looking and more premium Focus. And, of course, it was a hatchback.

Why the two cars? The European model improved on the basic goodness of the original, with better interior quality and driving dynamics, while the U.S. model ... well, didn't.

For 2012, Ford is making amends. The same Focus that is available in Europe will be available in North America. And that's a good thing. The newly redesigned 2012 Ford Focus promises to be a winner. In addition, Ford is giving it never-before-seen technology and features, pushing the limits of what a small car can be.

Model Lineup
The 2012 Ford Focus is offered in two body styles and four trim levels. The 4-door sedan is available in S, SE, SEL and Titanium trims, while the 4-door hatchback comes in all but the S trim.

The $16,270 S trim is reasonably equipped, with air conditioning, power front and manual rear windows, AM/FM/CD stereo and P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels with wheel covers. Starting at $17,270, the SE trim adds fog lights, automatic headlights, Ford MyKey, power rear windows and P215/55/R16 tires. The $20,270 SEL gets the MyFord driver connect system, Ford Sync entertainment and communications system, dual-zone automatic climate control, universal garage-door opener, ambient interior lighting, cruise control and alloy wheels. Topping the line is the new $22,765 Titanium trim, which adds keyless access and starting, MyFord Touch, Sirius and HD radio, sport seats, 10-speaker Sony audio system, sport suspension, rear spoiler and P215/50R17 tires.

The Focus also offers some options not expected in a small car, including leather upholstery, rear park assist, Active Park Assist (which can parallel park the car for the geometrically challenged), heated front seats, navigation system, rain-sensing wipers and the Titanium Handling package with sportier suspension settings and P235/40R18 tires.

Standard safety features consist of dual front airbags, front and rear side airbags, curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control.

Under the Hood
The 2012 Ford Focus features an advanced powertrain. It starts with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Power, emissions and fuel economy are aided by direct-injection and Ford's twin independent variable camshaft timing. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard and Ford's 6-speed PowerShift automated manual is optional. The PowerShift transmission can be left to shift like an automatic or shifted manually via a toggle on the gearshift.

The Focus is thrifty on fuel. While final EPA mileage ratings are not yet available, Ford promises 40 mpg on the highway with the automated manual.

Inner Space
The new Focus is a vast improvement in terms of interior design, materials and features over its predecessor. Soft-touch surfaces are featured on the top of the dash, the door armrests and the center console, while the door tops remain hard plastic. The look is upscale but not luxurious, and it lifts the Focus to a whole new level.

Ford offers two systems to help you stay connected to devices like iPods and smartphones. The MyFord system, standard on the SEL trim and optional on SE, includes a USB port and an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players, Bluetooth hands-free cellphone connectivity and voice recognition to control all those devices. It also comes with Sync services, which include turn-by-turn navigation directions that show up on a 4.2-inch display in the center stack and access to information such as stock quotes, movie listings, sports scores and more.

Those who want even more can opt for the MyFord Touch system, which is standard on the Titanium trim and optional on SEL. It adds an 8-inch dashboard touch screen, another USB port, an SD card slot, RCA jacks, access to more vehicle settings such as Ford's MyKey, and voice command for more functions, including the climate and navigation systems.

All of this connectivity is wonderful, but it can be tough to use. It takes awhile to learn the voice commands and the cadence of the system's control interface. Some touch points on the dash screen are small, making them hard to hit. We also found that the screen is inset a bit too deeply, cutting off view of the lower left corner where the radio station is displayed. In short, owners will like staying connected with these systems, but the learning curve may be long and frustrating.

Space in the Focus is good for a small car. The front seats have lots of travel to allow taller occupants to fit and the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps dial in your preferred seating position. The Titanium's sport seats are especially supportive, with plenty of bolstering, and the available leather seats have a premium look and feel. The rear seat is more comfortable than most in this class. It will fit adults, but only if nobody in the front or rear is taller than an average-size male.

Sedan or hatch, the rear seats fold 60/40. In the interest of support, there is too much bolstering to allow them to fold flat. That aids rear-seat comfort but hurts cargo utility. The trunk has 13.2 cubic feet of space, which is a bit large for the class. The hatchback has 23.8 cubic feet of space with the seats up, and 44.8 cubic feet with the second row folded, making it the choice for outdoor types or those who just need more space.

On the Road
The Focus is available with four different wheel sizes, ranging from 15 to 18 inches, and the ride and handling characteristics change with each. The base trim wasn't available for testing, but we drove cars with the 16-, 17- and 18-inch wheels and were impressed with each. Models with the 16-inch wheels have a sporty but compliant ride. The car is agile and engaging, but when pushed through corners the tires roll over and squeal at the edge of adhesion. The 17-inch wheels make the ride a little firmer and steering response a bit quicker. The 18-inch wheels, which come with summer tires and sportier suspension settings, make for crisp handling with lots of road feel, but some may find the ride too harsh. We think most drivers will like the softer ride of the 16-inch wheels, while the larger wheels, especially the 18-inchers, will appeal to enthusiasts.

Ford has done a good job of tuning the electric power-assist steering. It provides a light but direct feel with little play on center. It's not particularly quick, but it is communicative and we like the "road crown" compensation feature that eliminates the need for so many small course corrections during highway driving.

The new, high-tech 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is more powerful than most in the small-car class. Most notably, it offers 22 more horses than the top engine of the Focus' closest domestic competitor, the Chevrolet Cruze, while delivering equal or better fuel economy.

Despite the respectable power numbers, the Focus doesn't move strongly from a stop. This is a small 4-cylinder that needs to be revved to get the most out of it. It gives a more willing punch over 3000 rpm and thankfully doesn't whine or emit a booming sound when spun that high. When teamed with the easy-shifting manual transmission, you can drive it hard without necessarily exceeding legal speeds.

We were impressed with the 6-speed automated manual transmission. It shifts smoothly and works well with the engine, choosing the right gear for the driving style most of the time. It also has a Sport mode that holds shifts longer and makes for a fun driving experience on twisty roads. Our only regret is the lack of steering-wheel paddle shifters. Ford lets you choose your own gears, but you have to tap a toggle on the gearshift.

Right for You?
With a lineup that ranges from value-priced basic transportation to what could be considered a premium small car, the 2012 Ford Focus offers a choice for most tastes. All are fun to drive and frugal on fuel. We're glad Ford builds a hatchback as well as a sedan. Both will work for singles, couples or small families, but the hatch adds a useful touch of utility.

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 12:27:08 PM