• Jan 31, 2011
Ford Proves It Can Build A Compact With A Pulse

2012 Ford Focus - Click above for high-res image gallery

We should no longer be surprised by the notion of a compact car with big-sedan features and eye-popping fuel economy. New creations like the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze have gone about making the compact segment one of the most hotly contested arenas in the market, rankling the chains of long-time fighters like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla in the process. But while the Cruze and Elantra have proven that big content can come in small packages with smaller price tags, there's a growing sense that the fun-to-fling small car may be on its way out in favor of commuters that have inherited the soft-riding genes of their bigger brethren.

In a way, the change was all but inevitable. Whereas the compact segment once served up a cornucopia of rides that were low on power but big on handling, the market has proven that above all else, buyers in this neck of the woods want value. In an effort to pinch every last copper cent, both Hyundai and Chevrolet have scrapped the independent rear suspension in their respective compacts in favor of the considerably cheaper torsion-beam design.

So when Ford announced that American buyers would finally be able to get their hands on the global Focus, our ears perked up. The last Euro-Focus had built a reputation for being a smart handler, and if this latest version could make it across the pond without becoming too watered down in the process, compact buyers would once again have a vehicle that's as fun to drive as it is responsible to own. Now we get to find out if Ford pulled it off.

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Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

From the exterior, there's no mistaking the 2012 Ford Focus for a flat-line commuter. The FoMoCo designers graced both the four-door and five-door body styles with a menacing fascia that makes use of massive faux air-inlets on either side of the main grille, and the blacked-out treatment is plenty sharp in the flesh. That's especially true when the Focus wears the optional 17-inch painted alloy wheels of our sedan tester. Ford is planning to offer a whopping total of 11 different wheel variants, with 18-inch, multi-spoke rollers topping the charts.

Wrapped headlights carry your eye around the side of the Focus, where a sloping shoulder line and subtle strake help give the car a sense of movement in four-door guise. Out back, the sedan wears a remarkably short trunk deck, though the wrapped tail lamps go a long way toward helping everything feel cohesive. We couldn't really drum up a complaint with the appearance of the sedan, but the five-door variant is far and above the looker in our book.

While the hatch makes use of the same front bodywork as its four-door kin, the five-door presents a much more sorted rear. Tricks like a fuel door that's integrated into the tail lamp design and an attractive roof spoiler go a long way toward making the Focus hatch one of the more creatively styled compacts.

2012 Ford Focus front view2012 Ford Focus rear view2012 Ford Focus side view2012 Ford Focus front view2012 Ford Focus rear view2012 Ford Focus side view

Inside, the Focus offers up an interior that, while nice, isn't going to redefine what buyers have come to expect from small cars in America. Base trim delivers comfortable cloth seats with acceptable bolstering, though the two-tone grey on black cloth of our sedan tester was more than a little cringe-worthy. The good news is that the higher you climb on the option sheet, the better those thrones become. Ford does offer handsome leather buckets with contrasting stitching if you can't stomach the thought of parking your keester on the low-rent seats.

Seating material aside, the Focus uses stylish, easy-to-read gauges that are supplemented by a small LCD screen nestled between the tachometer and the speedometer. The screen can be set up to display everything from fuel economy to your trip meter, average speed and a host of other information. Handy controls on the steering wheel make the screen easy to use and easier to set up, though we wouldn't recommend flipping through the categories while on the road.

The center stack on the Focus offers more buttons than you can shake a stick at, and at least half of them are tangled up in the same number pad found on the Fiesta. Lower trim levels are stuck with HVAC controls that feel right at home in this segment, though buyers opting up for the Titanium trim level are rewarded with more upscale kit.

2012 Ford Focus interior2012 Ford Focus front seats2012 Ford Focus gauges2012 Ford Focus multimedia system

For now, the 2012 Focus is only available with one engine option – a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated direct-injection gasoline engine with 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Buyers can have the mill bolted to either a five-speed manual or dual-clutch transmission, and while the EPA hasn't quite wrapped up testing on either configuration, Ford tells us that we can expect at least one variant to eclipse the 40 mpg barrier. That means that unlike the Hyundai Elantra, which manages to hit 40 mpg no matter the trim, the Focus will only be able to pull off the fuel-economy stunt with a special package just like the Chevrolet Cruze Eco.

Still, that doesn't mean the standard Focus is a slouch at the pump. Ford packed in plenty of learned lessons from its successful EcoBoost program into the 2.0-liter, including a specially-ported intake manifold to increase air flow and twin variable valve timing. Even with plenty of hammering during our time in the cockpit, we saw around 32 mpg in mixed driving, and we're curious to see exactly what the vehicle can return under more sane conditions. Considering that Ford is shooting for an 18-percent increase in fuel economy compared to the 2011 model, the standard 2012 Focus should land somewhere around 30 mpg city and hit high 30s on the highway.

2012 Ford Focus engine

While it's a little disappointing to hear that not every Focus model will be able to return 40 mpg highway, we're bolstered by the handling that Ford has managed to bake into its new compact. The Blue Oval made use of a MacPherson strut set up in the front with a hefty 23.5-millimeter stabilizer bar, and out back, the Focus delivers a multi-link independent rear with a 19-millimeter bar. The result is one of the most well-planted compacts in the segment. Really lean on the Focus and it will serve up sharp turn-in with very little understeer, and the five-speed manual transmission is perfect for banging your way through the gears. With one fell swoop, the 2012 Focus has managed to knock both the Honda Civic and the Mazda3 off their fun-to-drive thrones.

Unfortunately, if you want the Titanium Handling Package package that throws in 18-inch wheels, stickier summer tires, revised dampers, springs and sway bars, you're stuck opting up to the Titanium package. If we were looking for a quality commuter that's fun to sling down our favorite set of twisties, we'd opt for an SE with the five-speed manual and spend the money saved on a new set of tires.

2012 Ford Focus grille2012 Ford Focus headlight2012 Ford Focus wheel2012 Ford Focus taillight

At this point, you're probably thinking that a dual-clutch transmission makes perfect sense on a sport model. You'd be right, only Ford has programmed this cog box to handle shifts just like a standard automatic. While you can technically coax the transmission into a gear of your own choosing by clicking the tiny rocker button on top of the shift lever, gear swaps are slow and soft. If you're really looking to cover some ground with a vengeance, you're better off opting for the manual 'box.

That's not to say that the dual-clutch transmission is lackluster for fielding commuting duty by any means. On the street, the shifts are perfectly smooth, and while the transmission tends to hold gears a bit longer before down shifting than we'd like, the truth is that this piece is a huge improvement over the old automatic.

2012 Ford Focus shifter2012 Ford Focus shifter

Ford has priced the 2012 Focus Sedan starting at $16,995 in S trim, though opting up to the five-door in SE guise will set you back $18,790. If your pockets are a little deeper and you like the look of the more polished interior, Titanium trim will go for $22,995 for the sedan and $23,490 for the hatch. That base price puts the Focus at over $1,100 more than the 2010 Honda Civic sedan, though with more horsepower and better theoretical fuel economy, buyers will get what they pay for with the newest addition to the FoMoCo family.

Ford has made it clear that it doesn't intend to be left out of the new wave of high-quality compact vehicles, and the 2012 Focus manages to bring a level of sophistication, comfort and handling that we've never seen from the automaker's efforts in this segment. The Focus has finally grown into a genuine top pick in a field that's already packed with strong contenders. Our only complaint is that we have to wait a full year before the high-horsepower Focus ST model finds its way to the streets. Consider yourselves warned, Civic Si and MazdaSpeed3.

2012 Ford Focus rear 3/4 view

The bottom line is that the 2012 Ford Focus is a compact car with a pulse. With its more youthful exterior and sharper handling compared to either the 2011 Hyundai Elantra or 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, the Focus is perfect for buyers who want more than transportation from their vehicles. And with available goodies like MyFord Touch and a hatchback body style, the Focus also delivers a little extra usability than either of those offerings. If you're willing to give up a few miles per gallon for a few extra giggles per apex, it's hard to do better than the Focus.

Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just recently saw this car at a show and my friends agree that the front end looks horrible. The huge hole in the front end looks like it's missing a grill. Not for me, I'll take the Cruze any day over the new Ford Focus.
        • 3 Years Ago
        It's looks like you're refering to the space for the license plate, unless you don't use those. Much better that they did a flat integration into the grill, than have it just sadly hang from the bumper like so many other manufacturers. Enjoy your Snuze; you two deserve each other.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Dear Ford,
      Could you possibly make the standard instrument cluster a little uglier? Oh, and it would be awesome if you could somehow find a way to make it even more confusing, especially at highway speeds. Love the integration too, as I didn't want to add a superior aftermarket head unit anyway. Super :-)

      Much love,
      • 3 Years Ago
      The ST model and possibly the electric model will be for me..cannot stand the unpainted plastic at the bottom and the ST fixes that along with the odd grille..the electric has the plastic but at least its electric and no more rip off at the gas pump!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Regarding the "Unfortunately, if you want the Sport package that throws in 18-inch wheels, stickier summer tires, revised dampers, springs and sway bars, you're stuck opting up to the Titanium package. The real bad news there is that Titanium only comes on vehicles with the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. If you're looking for a quality commuter that's fun to sling down your favorite set of twisties, opt for an SE with the six-speed manual and spend the money you saved on a new set of tires". passage:

      Unless Ford had a last-minute change of heart, a brochure I saw lists a Sport package for the SE (second from the bottom) trim level that includes the summer tires and sport suspension bits and can be purchased with a proper clutch-pedal 5-speed manual. The only caveat is that it comes, I think, with 17" wheels and not 18s. No biggie, though. Less unsprung weight.

        • 3 Years Ago
        I think the SE sports package still comes with all-seasons, but with the stiffer suspension. I think the Titanium is the only one that comes with summer tires. Might be wrong about that though.
        • 3 Years Ago
        From what I have seen, the SE Sport package comes with 16" wheels standard, with 17" wheels as an option.
      • 3 Years Ago
      That looks like a 5-speed manual to me!! Is the story incorrect about there being a 6-speed or is the picture from some other car?
      • 3 Years Ago
      I liked the Focus when I took a test drive. I came in because of the $50 offer if I took a test drive. Unfortunately, it has turned into a negative vibe now since going through all the steps led me to a dead end and no $50. It's a feeling like, fooled me once Ford, now it will be on me if I go ahead and get a Focus knowing you suckered me in. Reliability is not just mechanically, but corporately in following through on you word. Brett
      • 3 Years Ago
      My three cents: Elantra is the best looking, the Cruze has the nicest interior, and the Focus is the most fun, and if you have the hatch, the most versatile. When I checked them all out up close, I thought I would prefer the Elantra, but the fact is that the interior of the Cruze is simply the place I would rather spend my time. I'm surprising myself with this, but if I had to pick from the three sedans I would more than likely take a Cruze 2LT in dark metallic blue with a cream interior. If I was shopping for something 15 - 18k, I might go for the Elantra. The big win for the Focus, though, is that it comes as a hatchback. If I can get a Focus hatch for around the same price as the Cruze 2LT with comparable levels of content (plus SYNC!) I'd hardly have to weigh it out. If they brought the Focus WAGON over to America, I wouldn't have to weigh it out at all.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I'm judging off the reviews I've read so far and the general track record of the Euro focus.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Awesome. I can't wait to look at my new car in person, so I can see what it looks like before I wait an entire year to buy it with a better engine :(

      "Consider yourselves warned, Civic Si and MazdaSpeed3".

      The Honda Civic Si was put on notice years ago by just about every player in the segment.

      Oh, and Ford, the top of the line Mazda 3 costs the same as the Mazdaspeed 3. I'm just putting that out there ... ya know ... FYI.
      • 3 Years Ago
      all the reviews i've read so far say the interior is simply okay, and not a game-changer. i can't speak from personal experience since i've yet to sit in a '12 focus yet, but the interior looks simply amazing for a car in this category...
        • 3 Years Ago
        It looks phenomenal from the pictures. I am sure that when it does come out, there will be grumblings from some on here about the interior. You can't expect a BMW interior from a car that starts at 17k.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Could end up being the leader of the compact segment.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm still a little skeptical about MPG figures of American and Korean cars........
      how come a 2.0liter gas has 30/3x, while the VW 2.5 TDI "only" has 30/41?
      Is ford too good or is VW too bad?
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think the hatch is pretty attractive, not cutting edge styling, but it isn't offensive in any way. The Elantra is the more attractive sedan....the exterior anyway, and is almost certainly the better value when price, amenities and warranty are compared. The hatchback is a great idea. Hyundai buyers will have to look to the Veloster or new Accent if they want a hatch. The interior of the Focus looks very appealing, and well-laid out and solid looking. I think the hatchback would have been a total win with a six-speed. MPGs look good, but I really wonder what a well-equipped Focus will cost? Personally, I wouldn't pay over $20,000 for a hatch in this class. I can get the (admittedly quirky) Veloster for less than that, and it is loaded with tech gadgets, a six-speed, better mpgs, and a superior warranty. The new Accent hatch shares the tech features and engine with the Veloster. Against the Elantra though, in sedan trim, the Focus should do very well...if Ford keeps the price reasonable.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yea, whatever works for you. We have an '06 Focus, and it's borderline in the backseat for adults. The height's OK, but an extra 1.5" of legroom would really make a difference, so I think the new generation will be pretty decent in this regard.

        The Veloster is certainly going to be a neat car to own, you'll probably get a lot of questions about it from random people on the street.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I rarely transport four adults, but even if I did, there wouldn't be a problem. I have only heard one car reviewer complain about rear-seat room.....after he pulled the front seat all the way back. When he pulled the driver's seat all the way back, he couldn't even reach the pedals...and he was 6'1". The point is, people of normal height shouldn't have any reason to pull the seats that far back...unless the seat is reclined and they are snoozing. The Veloster has a surprising amount of interior space...if you look at the actual specs. I don't know why you would think that the Veloster doesn't have "nearly the same level of utility". True, it has one less door.....but it has an extra gear, which means utility to me.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I don't think the Veloster will have nearly the same level of utility as a Focus. For example, putting 4 adults in a Focus would be fine. In a Veloster, they're going to hate you.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Focus has 2.5 more inches of rear headroom, and 1.5" more rear legroom. That's the difference between knees hitting and not-hitting the front seat-backs, ad feeling claustrophobic. It also has 8 more cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats.

        I'm not knocking the Veloster, but it is definitely smaller behind the front seats.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Thanks for looking up the figures, thats more than most guys bother to do. That said, I don't think you can say, with certainty, that one and a half inches is a magic number that decides the knee/seat contact issue. It might, in some cases, and might not in most other cases. Yeah, the Focus provides more distance between the passenger's knee and the seat-back, but that extra distance may not be essential for "clearance". In any case, whether the distance is a half inch, or a foot, clearance is clearance. The space behind the rear seats is a separate issue, but its not the reason people choose a coupe over a sedan...certainly not for me.
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