2012 Ford Focus Titanium
The 2012 Ford Focus plants its wheels on both sides of the compact car divide.
There now are basically two compact categories, although they are not formally designated as such. On one side are mainline family servants, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and the like. On the other are higher performance models like the Volkswagen GTI and Mazdaspeed 3, aimed at enthusiasts.
The Focus, especially in the tested $23,885 Titanium four-door hatchback, neatly straddles the divide. It is not in the same league as the GTI or Mazdaspeed but it is way sportier than the mainliners—more like a Mazda 3 hatchback than an Elantra sedan.
Credit the extras in the Titanium version, mainly improved handling from a stiffer suspension system, although not overly biased in that direction. The setup is compliant and the ride is comfortable for this class of car.
Since its introduction in 1998, the Focus has been a rather pedestrian compact that Ford offered in fits and starts. Sedan, hatchback and station wagon models were introduced and then some were summarily dropped as Ford tried to figure out what the public wanted. The previous model came only as a two- or four-door sedan.
The 2012 model, while not revolutionary, represents a substantial upgrade. Developed in Germany and benchmarked against European competition, it presents a handsome new face, profile and performance that is sure to attract customers.Though a station wagon model is available in Europe, there are two models in the U.S.: the four-door hatchback and a traditional four-door sedan. Early indications are that the hatchback could be more popular than the sedan.
Nearly seven inches shorter, the hatchback nevertheless offers the same interior passenger space and a cargo area of almost 24 cubic feet, compared to the sedan’s trunk of slightly more than 13 cubic feet.
Power is provided by a 160-horsepower, 2-liter four-cylinder engine mated to either a manual five-speed gearbox or a state-of-the-art twin-clutch automatic. The latter resembles a manual gearbox that shifts automatically more than a traditional automatic transmission.
Its advantages include improved fuel economy and rapid shifts as the clutches open and close. The test car was rated at 27/37 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle. Also contributing to fuel economy is electric power steering.
Though electric steering, in some applications, can feel distant and numb, it works well on the Focus. It imparts a weighted feel that provides solid straight-line tracking on the freeway as well as tactile feedback around high-speed curves. No doubt the stiffer suspension contributes to the composed feel.
Highway running is serene and without driver fatigue. There are few mechanical sounds, and virtually no wind noise.
The transmission has both “drive” and “sport” settings. In drive, it comes across as lazy, with leisurely shifts and a bit of hesitation off the line. In the sport setting, it quickly snaps off shifts and maintains higher revs in each gear.
It’s ideal on curving, hilly roads. But once on the freeway, “sport” keeps the revs up and resolutely refuses to shift into sixth gear even at speeds of 65-70 miles an hour. You also can shift manually with a small rocker switch on the shift lever but it doesn’t add much. There are no steering-wheel shift paddles as on other cars with twin-clutch transmissions.
Obviously, you want to use “drive” for fuel economy and “sport” for the fun stuff. Unfortunately, there’s a shortcoming. The détentes, as you shift out of “park,” are mushy, so you can’t feel where you’re at. A tiny indicator in the instrument cluster doesn’t come on immediately, so you have to wait for it or try to feel your way through.Inside, the styling and layout match the handsome exterior look. The front seatbacks have large bolsters to hold the torso and both the front seats and outboard back seats, upholstered in comfortable cloth on the test car, are supportive and roomy, though barely so in the back seat. The center-rear position requires feet spayed on both sides of the floor hump.
Rear seatbacks fold for extra cargo, but you must move the front seats forward to clear the headrests.
The outside mirrors have little convex inserts to help drivers who do not know how or won’t adjust their mirrors to eliminate blind spots. They are mostly distracting, as are some of the features of the Ford Sync system, which accesses various vehicle functions.
On the test car, the Sync featured a large center screen with information about climate control, satellite radio, telephone and other audio, including station presets. Though the information is comprehensive, the type face is small and likely distracting to read for the Mr. Magoo types among us.
It does feature voice activation but you have to learn what it knows. For example, on the Sirius satellite radio it will take you immediately to a channel if you say the number, but it doesn’t understand a term like “classical pops,” sending you to something maddeningly unrelated.
In an increasingly competitive milieu, the Focus rates highly for driving enthusiasts. An even more powerful version arrives next year.