Ironically named little car, the Ford Focus. While you could surely argue we're drawing too literal a line between the car and its moniker, we have to chuckle a little when we recall just how far afield Ford drifted with its compact offering over the last several years. Suffice it to say that Ford lost its way somewhere after the original Focus was introduced as a so-called 'world car' back in 1999. At the time, the spunky Focus shared the same C170 platform no matter where in the world it was sold.
Sadly, such platform sharing diverged in 2005 as the United States made do with the aging C170 chassis in a reduced number of bodystyles while the rest of the world received a new model based on the brand spankin' new C1 platform. That new architecture debuted to rave reviews from the international motoring press while the aging North American Focus doddered off to live among the also-rans. A few short years later, with the global economy in the doldrums and fuel mileage sitting atop many consumers' automotive wishlists, it wasn't long before the Blue Oval found itself standing flat-footed without a class-competitive compact in its home market. Many tears were shed in the form of lost dollar signs over the ensuing years, until Ford finally promised to make the Focus a truly global car for the 2012 model year.
And we're happy to report that the 2012 Ford Focus is several orders of magnitude superior to the model it replaces. How so? Keep reading to find out.
Photos copyright ©2011 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL
We'll start with its exterior appearance. Instead of telling you how the 2012 Focus was drawn up with smooth, flowing lines and more than a few traces of Ford's Kinetic design language, we'll instead share a little story.
After a few days of daily driving duties, our Tuxedo Black Focus sedan was sorely in need of a good washing. After finishing the deed and taking a few moments to admire the shiny metallic flecks in the bright Arizona sun, we noticed we weren't alone... three burly-looking, bearded workers and their supervisor had stopped toiling away at whatever project they had been assigned and were talking amongst themselves about our car. Eye contact was made, so they gaggle of laborers decided to come take a closer look.
What transpired could best be described as a Focus Love Fest. A traditional walk-around was performed (several times, actually), doors were opened and shut and specifications were debated. Finally, a general consensus was reached: "That there is a nice car."
And so, the next logical question was asked: "How much?"
The window sticker was presented and summarily dissected. "Wow, that thing's got a six-speed automatic? My wife's Civic only has five." It continued this way for several minutes. "Voice-activated navigation, nice. Leather, heated seats, sunroof... SYNC, what's that mean?"
SYNC was then demonstrated. Push this button on the steering wheel, then say a command – "Sirius; ALT Nation." (The stereo is now magically playing ALT Nation.) Impressive.
The price for all these bells and whistles? $26,925. Seems pretty pricey for a compact car, but then again, most compact cars don't come equipped to the gills like our Focus Titanium sedan, either. We polled the workers. "Not bad... I'd have guessed more," said the supervisor.
So, we've established that the 2012 Ford Focus is attractive enough to draw the attention of casual passers-by, its list of available equipment (in top-drawer Titanium trim, at least) is impressively thorough and that the normal sticker shock inevitably experienced when delving into the new car shopping experience isn't all that, well... shocking.
Good so far, but how's it drive?
Very well, it turns out. As our very own Zach Bowman found out during his First Drive of the car, Ford managed to bake quite a bit of handling goodness into the 2012 Focus. Our tester was equipped with the so-called Titanium Handling Package, and, aside from the clunky name, we were impressed. Turn-in was sharp, and the 2012 Focus holds its line through a curve in admirable fashion while responding shockingly well to attitude adjustments from the throttle.
There's just one engine option for the 2012 Focus, so we're happy to report that we have no qualms with its operation. The direct-injected 2.0-liter four cylinder powerplant puts out 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 146 pound-feet of torque at 4,450 rpm. Those figures put the Focus near the the head of its class, which includes the Hyundai Elantra (148 horses and 131 lb-ft), Chevrolet Cruze (138 hp and 148 lb-ft), Honda Civic (the new 2012 model is rated at 140 horsepower, torque TBA) and Toyota Corolla (132 hp and 128 lb-ft). Among its primary rivals, the Ford is only bested by the Mazda3 s, which packs 167 hp and 168 lb-ft.
EPA fuel economy comes in at 27 miles per gallon city and 37 mpg highway when equipped with the six-speed automatic and the SelectShift option that allows the driver to manually change gears using a little rocker switch mounted on the console shifter. Nope, no paddles on the steering wheel, which is especially frustrating as this transmission is a dual-clutch unit that would seemingly lend itself rather well to the shift-for-yourself crowd. Same as the Fiesta. Why no paddle love, FoMoCo?
Fortunately, we found the automatic gearbox to be extremely well suited to this application. There's enough power on hand that the transmission doesn't hunt and peck for gears in daily driving and downshifts come right on schedule when called upon by either the driver's right foot or by a steep grade. In all other situations, the tranny just goes about its duties without thought from the driver... and that's exactly what you want from a two-pedal setup, no?
Despite its aforementioned handling prowess, the car's ride was plenty smooth and controlled, without any undue noisiness echoing through the cabin. Speaking of which, the leather-clad interior, in two-tone Black and Tuscany Red that seemed more maroon to our eyes, is just as stylishly designed as the exterior. The hides covering the seats and door panels is soft to the touch and surprisingly grippy, meaning we didn't find ourselves sliding to and fro when throwing the car into the bends. Heated seats with five levels of adjustment meant we could fine-tune the bum warmers to our liking, a boon since the last Ford Fiesta we tested offered just two settings: off and scorch.
There isn't a ton of room in the rear seat when a six-foot driver gets comfy behind the wheel, and taller passengers in the front seat may find that their legroom is pinched a bit by the thick center stack and console. Similarly, trunk space in the sedan isn't anything to write home about, and its 13.2 cubic feet of volume isn't as easy to make use of as we'd like, mostly due to a distinct lack of depth. Taller items will need to be placed on the rear seat, which does fold in something like a 70/30 split. Frequent haulers might do better to consider the five-door hatch, which offers up to 44.8 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats folded.
Considering how much electro-gadgetry the 2012 Focus offers, the center stack is rather easy to navigate. Part of that overall look of cleanliness, though, is attributable to the steering wheel, which rivals that of a Formula One's tiller for its sheer number of controls. Not counting the horn, there are six clusters of buttons that can be pressed – and no, we're not making this up – 19 different ways. With controls for cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, SYNC, the audio system and the in-dash computer (which has its own menu system directly between the speedometer and tachometer), we strongly suggest that any new drivers spend a few minutes acquainting themselves with the layout before heading out on the open road.
Note that we haven't even mentioned the big LCD screen mounted high up in the center stack. It's a touchscreen, and most anything the driver might want to do can be controlled at that location in lieu of the dedicated buttons. Plus, there's SYNC, which allows the driver to press a single button and change any number of settings (audio, telephone, etc.) using voice commands. In other words, there's almost always more than one way to make an adjustment.
That said, in practice we didn't have any problems using all the technology packed into the Focus, and we appreciate the dedicated set of dials and buttons for the climate control system mounted below the LCD and Sony audio system.
We spent just one week with the 2012 Ford Focus, but that was plenty enough for us to realize that it's a worthy contender in the hotly contested compact car segment. No other competitors offer the level of available equipment the Focus offers, but the basic goodness of the car's platform should surely shine through on lesser trims, as well.
We went ahead and made use of Ford's online configurator, and found that a very nice Focus SE sedan with the five-speed manual gearbox, 17-inch wheels, leather, sunroof and SYNC rings the register at around $22,000. Add about a grand for the six-speed automatic. Either way, you'll end up with a highly desirable ride that does an equally fine job of catering to enthusiasts and commuters alike. Or even a grizzled quartet of hard-edged construction workers, apparently.
Photos copyright ©2011 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL