Back in my college days, I took a class where I lived in London, UK. Sure, I loved living in London, but I’m a car guy and wanted to take a day trip, via car. I was handed they keys to a rental Ford Escort. This was the mid-1990′s, so I really had no expectations of the car, given the Escort us North Americans were being served. I could not believe it-this was a class-leading, no-excuses compact that was comfortable, sporty, and a Ford! I thought Ford was out of their minds for not selling this car stateside instead of the lousy ‘domestic’ Escort.
Thankfully, in 1999 we met the Focus, a ‘global’ Ford that was well-received, and offered the tasteful styling, quality interior and sporty nature that reminded me of the Escort in the UK. But in 2005, it happened again. Ford rolled out a new Focus for the rest of the world that was met with critical acclaim. But we never got that car. Instead, we received a warmed-over version of the old car. Asked why we were stuck with an old Focus while the rest of the world gets the new improved model, Ford said something to the effect that it would cost too much to make here. Meanwhile, the now-dated Focus slid to the bottom of comparison tests, and then I started noticing rebates. Ford had again allowed itself to fall behind in the compact car market in North America. Again.
Good news-that changes in 2012 with the all-new Focus. That’s right, in North America we are no longer being served the equivalent of warmed-up leftovers, this is the same Focus our friends across the pond will be driving. This is a part of Ford’s “One Ford” plan, which streamlines the company’s global operations to offer a more coherent product portfolio and reduce costs. First evidence here in North America was the Ford Fiesta, now the Focus, and next the Fusion.
But back to the Focus. One look at the 2012 Focus and you instantly forget about the car it replaces. The car’s exterior has a heavy European influence, but what impressed me most was the Focus looks more like it was built for a purpose and not a price. Ford designers have proven a compact car can be practical yet offer a classy, upscale appearance as well. Our Ingot Silver five door hatchback didn’t get any stares, but during my week with the Focus I appreciated its sophisticated wrapper.
Climbing into a Focus, the immediate impression is that I’ve climbed into a larger, more expensive Fiesta. The seats were fairly comfortable, but I wouldn’t have minded greater thigh support. I particularly liked the comfortable, meaty steering wheel. Our Focus was pretty easy to get accustomed to, the controls straightforward, but what impressed me most were the quality of the materials, which are at the top of its class. We put the Focus to the test, a 500+ mile round trip from Connecticut to Pennsylvania with my wife and 5-year old son. The hatchback easily swallowed up all our luggage for the weekend. For us, the interior of the Focus showed no serious flaws. However, with the driver’s seat set for my 6’1″ frame, hopping into the rear seat behind me offered very tight quarters.
Presently, all Ford Focus’ share the same engine, a 2.0L direct injected four cylinder rated at 160hp (there is also an EV Focus). Lower trim levels come standard with a five-speed manual, with the option of a six-speed dual clutch automated manual, while higher trims get the auto only. Some buyers may be disappointed to see that despite the automated manual, Ford is not offering shift paddles. My guess is Ford did enough focus groups (no pun intended) that most buyers could care less. Despite a considerable horsepower advantage over most of its rivals, the Focus never felt any faster from my seat of the pants impression. EPA fuel economy ratings of 27/37 MPG city/highway are respectable, but just short of the Hyundai Elantra and Chevy Eco Cruze which have cracked the 40 MPG barrier. The Focus was at perfect ease chewing up the interstate, fairly quiet at cruising speed with a firm but comfortable ride and decent steering feel.
The Focus is available as a four door sedan or five door hatchback. The sedan is priced less, but offers less cargo room. For the hatchback, our test car was the SEL model, the middle of the line. Standard on the SEL was ambient interior lighting, cruise/audio controls on the steering wheel, Ford’s SYNC voice activated technology for audio/phone and other controls, universal garage door opener, fog lights and AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio. Our test car added the Winter Package (heated seats, heated mirrors with approach lighting) and 17″ alloy wheels. Including delivery, our Focus SEL rang in at $22,755USD. It bears mentioning that Ford offers an options list on the Focus that tops that of any other compact in terms of tech and luxury, but I suspect the majority of Focus buyers will spec out their cars closer to what we drove.
With the new Focus, Ford has rededicated itself to selling not just competent, but leading compact cars in North America. Its combination of slick styling, top of the class interior quality and tight ride make the 2012 Ford Focus a must-see for anyone in the market for a compact car. Ford realized a hashed over, old design can no longer cut it here, and by building the new, global Focus here has shown Ford is fully committed to not simply compete, but to lead the market.