Ford finds new Focus on global unison
For over a decade, U.S. consumers have been able to buy Ford’s Focus as its entry-level compact car that was inexpensive, pretty good, and not bad for styling and features. But it was a product of this country’s disinterest in small cars, which allowed manufacturers to eagerly make bigger-is-better vehicles for outrageous prices that led to ludicrous profits flowing into Detroit–all the way to, or near, bankruptcy.
All that while, the more knowledgeable consumers heard about the “European Focus.” Similar in size, but nothing else, the European Focus had a platform made by Ford affiliate Volvo for its smallest sedans, and it had an engine made by Ford affiliate Mazda, which meant it was potent, fuel-efficient, quick and fun to drive, while the suspension was the product of European Ford experts. U.S. buyers couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t get the European Focus, but an underlying reason was that the European demand for small cars is so intense that there actually is a varying level of small cars, and the Focus was expensive enough to make and sell that it qualified as an upper-level compact. If it was brought into the U.S., it would cost too much to be feasible in a country that has been less than demanding about its small cars.
Times, like gasoline prices, change. And the last time gas prices rose, it sounded the finishing bell for bigger-is-better vehicles, and there was an irreversible move toward downsizing, but also providing well-equipped smaller cars. Ford has been at the leading edge of the movement, striving for smaller engines that will perform better than previous bigger and less fuel-efficient engines, and bringing back the subcompact Fiesta, which is large enough for a young family–or anyone else who might think a quick and agile small car that can deliver an honest, real-world 40 miles per gallon is a good thing.
Coincidentally, Ford timed its global move well. It is time for a new Focus, and it is time to replace the long-toothed U.S. Focus. Just coming out now, as a 2012 model, there will be one global Focus, and it will be sold worldwide. There are a couple of cop-outs there, because the U.S. market is so fickle. As it did with the Fiesta, making a sleek sedan alongside the hatchback because U.S. buyers haven’t shared the zeal of Europeans for hatchbacks, Ford is offering the Focus as both a hatchback and sedan. There also are certain things for the U.S. only, and a few other things for Europe and other global locations that won’t be on the U.S.-issue Focuses.
The new Focus for 2012 has been refined from the previous European car, and it is truly an upscale compact, designed and built to operate in the same heady atmosphere as the best in the segment, which would be the Honda Civic, the Mazda3, and the just-introduced Hyundai Elantra.
It is loaded up with high-tech features, starting with the gasoline direct-injection application on its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which has what’s called Ti-VCT for twin variable camshaft timing on the dual overhead camshafts. It also has a new 6-speed automatic transmission, which is one of the newest style direct-sequential units, which is actually a dual-clutch manual in an automatic package. There is not clutch pedal, but there are two clutches inside the module, with one engaging first, third and fifth, while the other grabs second, fourth and sixth. When you’re accelerating in one gear, the automatic’s other clutch is engaging the next gear, ready at the appropriate moment to seamlessly switch which clutch is engaged. It downshifts as well as it upshifts, so it will impress techno-types, while non-techies can be content simply marveling at it being one of the smoothest-shifting automatics they’ve ever driven.
Those two features are key ingredients in what makes the new Focus work so impressively. That is not to say they are without criticism. The 6-speed automatic will be the overwhelming majority, but Ford offers only a 5-speed manual, making the Focus one of the few cars every built with more gears in its automatic than in its stick. The other is that in the best direct-sequential gearboxes–such as the Audi A3, A4, and other models, the Volkswagen GTI, TDI and Jetta GLI, plus Mitsubishi Evolution, Lancer, and Outlander, and the Porsche PDK–having a system of steering wheel remote paddles that allow upshifting with the right thumb and downshifting with the left provides the thrill of manual control over the shiftpoints. The Focus doesn’t offer paddles, and it doesn’t even have a separate manual channel that lets you manually upshift and downshift with the gear lever. It does offer a little toggle switch on the steering column that lets you click up or down, but that is wholly unsatisfactory compared to steering wheel paddles.
Ford counters that research shows only a few buyers actually use such paddles, but to me it is a perceived value to have them, and because some competitors have them, the Focus is conspicuous for not offering paddles. After driving the Focus hard on some curving California roadways, however, I must acknowledge that the car upshifts and downshifts on its own so well that even stick-shift zealots may accept it.The Focus has 160 horsepower, which is 20 more than the outgoing Focus engine, and 146 foot-pounds of torque, an increase of 10. For those curious about direct injection, it varies from the port-injection system of normal fuel injection by pressurizing the fuel to 2,150 pounds per square inch of pressure–35 times higher pressure than normal port injection–and it injects the precise dosage required directly into the combustion chamber of each of the four cylinders. The pressurized fuel-feed burns more thoroughly, which helps emissions, fuel economy and power.
The feel of the electric-assisted power steering is more normal feeling than some over-boosted electric systems, and it helps the feel and the agility of the car. The torque-vectoring applies brake pressure from the antilock brake system to calculate yaw rate, steering wheel angle, and latitudinal and longitudinal friction and, since it knows how much acceleration the front-wheel-drive system can handle, it allows you to start and turn with maximum power, but restricts you from trying to apply too much power. The stability control controls understeer, while the torque-vectoring supplement prevents the Focus from exceeding maximum limits.
More subtle are such features as body structure consisting of more than 55 percent high-strength steel, with the hardest boron steel in the “B” pillar, six airbags, and torque-vectoring supplement to stability control to aid cornering stability. That is standard on all models, starting with the basic S Sedan, which starts at $16,270. Cost-cutting by offering only front disc/rear drum brakes, and steel wheels with painted wheel-covers, keep the price down.The SE Sedan starts at $17,270, with the hatchback variation at $18,065, and both have all the S equipment, plus standard 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, “MyKey” control, secondary audio controls on the steering wheel, and one-touch power on the front and rear windows. Packages available on the SE and higher are cruise control, perimeter alarm, and maplights, and the MyFord and SYNC packages with offer connective technology with iPods, cell phones by USB plugs, a rear powerpoint, and a 6-speaker audio upgrade. Yet another package has Sirius satellite radio, and the 6-speed automatic, power moonroof, winter package’s heated front seats, and a sport package or a super fuel economy package, which reportedly will get 40 mpg.
The more upgraded model is the SEL Sedan, at a base of $20,270, or the SEL Hatchback, at $21,065, and they add more premium items, such as rains-sensing wipers, 4-wheel disc brakes, alloy wheels, chrome beltline and trim, interior ambient lighting, leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, 60/40 fold down rear seat, and universal garage door opener. The number of feature packages also increases on the SEL, with a Sony audio and 10 speakers with a subwoofer, an 8-inch screen on the MyFord Touch system, high-definition radio with Sony’s connection to iTunes as a tagging feature. The premium package also has 6-way power seats with manual lumbar support, a reverse sensing system, and storage in the rear armrest. Also, the power moonroof and winter packages are available, as is voice-activated navigation, and a parking technology package that will self-park the Focus.
The all-out top of the line is the new Titanium Sedan, which starts at $22,270, and Titanium Hatchback at $22,765, both of which augment the SEL standard features with some premium features, such as reverse-sensing, a special handling package, and the parking technology.
Handling is quick and agile, and the electrically-boosted steering has a more realistic feel than many other cars with electric steering. The 6-speed automatic with SelectShift button is standard on both SEL and Titanium models, although the little switch on the shifter is so easily overlooked that I forgot it was even there, despite my whining about a lack of paddles.
Ford has been putting its SYNC system into all its vehicles, and it continually expands on its capabilities by partnering with Microsoft, Sony, Sirius and TeleNav. The TeleNav navigation system on the Focus is impressively quick, operating via satellite for constant updates, rather than the CD-based systems that must be periodically updated for changing roadway conditions. The Sony sound system’s HD audio is also impressive for clarity and general excellence, on the ever-expanding list of radio stations that broadcast in HD. Sony has the largest catalog of music in the world, and in fact supplies its service to iTunes, so it will play all the music you care to download. Its voice-recognition system lets you name a performer, such as Trampled by Turtles, and it will immediately play songs by that group. If you use slang, such as CCR for Creedence Clearwater Revival, or The Boss for Bruce Springsteen, it knows what you want and plays it. Its Tag feature allows you to listen to Sirius satellite radio, and if you hear a song you really like, you can hit “tag,” and it will save that song, for you to replay, and even download it to your iPod.
The recently introduced Elantra sets the compact bar quite high for style and substance, and the new Civic, coming out in another two months, will probably be up there with it. From preliminary drives of the 2012 Ford Focus, it will deserve to be considered on the same plateau.