2012 Ford Focus Expert Review:Autoblog
Ford Proves It Can Build A Compact With A Pulse
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.
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
New Car Test Drive
All-new, next-generation models are smooth and quiet.
Totally redesigned, the 2012 Ford Focus looks, feels, and smells like the future. It makes its claim as the technology and fuel-mileage leader in the compact car class, a crowded and competitive field full of good cars with base prices in the $16,000-$17,000 range: Volkswagen Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Kia Forte.
But the Focus is a mixed bag of function. The new 2.0-liter engine is super smooth, but the new 6-speed automatic transmission shifts at quirky times. The fabric seats are super, the interior materials excellent and the wraparound cockpit cozy, but there isn't much rear legroom.
Focus looks like a big Fiesta, with an unmistakably Ford shape. It's lower, longer and wider. The new Focus Hatchback model is especially aerodynamic looking. The windshield is steeply raked and roofline steeply dropped to the liftgate glass, making about as much of a teardrop as a chopped hatchback can be. Ford calls the distinctive wide-mouthed grille a split trapezoid, and thank heavens it's black and not in-your-face chrome like other Ford models.
All 2012 Focus models use an all-new 2.0-liter engine with direct injection and twin variable valve timing. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, 6-speed automatic optional, with SelectShift manual mode an option to the optional transmission. The engine makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, an increase over last year's engine. It's plenty powerful, but mostly, it's extremely smooth. That's what a driver will feel: 'Man, this car is smoooth.'
We observed fuel economy in the mid-20s when we were driving the Focus. Fuel economy figures from the U.S. federal government were not available when this was written.
There's excellent legroom in front, but compared to the previous Focus, Ford has somehow lost 2.9 inches of legroom in the rear, despite stretching the length of the car by 3.5 inches. The importance of rear legroom appears to have been discounted here.
Interior noise was definitely not discounted, however. The Focus is a compact car with the NVH qualities of a full-size car. A lot of productive effort went into making the cabin silent, with sound insulation. Powertrain noise has also been reduced, by attentive engineering of the new engine, transmission, and chassis.
MyFord Touch powered by SYNC is the connectivity system that Ford is touting with its new cars. The system uses twin high-resolution screens, including an 8-inch touch screen in the center console, to communicate with your car. The driver uses three senses: see, hear, touch. Ford says the system is designed to be simple and completely intuitive for the driver, and maybe it is designed that way, but that doesn't mean it works that way. We struggled with it. And we think all this technology can distract drivers from the important task of driving.
The gauges that are in front of the driver's eyes are easy to read: big tach and speedo with cool blue needles, fuel and engine temp between them, and easy-to-read digital info above the fuel and temp. The soft materials are clearly high quality, while the hard trim looks slathered on.
There's an all-new power steering system, with a ratio quickened from 16:1 to 14.7:1, but our experience in twisty Malibu canyons did not confirm Ford's claim of precision. In fact, in our Focus SE with the standard suspension, we struggled to keep the car precise in the curves, in contrast to a recent run in a Chevrolet Cruze. The Focus ride is good, with a suspension that's on the soft side, which doesn't help precise turning. We also drove a Focus SE with the 5-speed manual transmission and sport-tuned suspension. Ah, relief.
The 2012 Ford Focus comes in sedan and Hatchback versions. All use a redesigned 2.0-liter engine with the latest technology of variable twin camshaft valve timing and direct fuel injection. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, 6-speed automatic optional, with SelectShift manual mode an option to the optional transmission.
Focus S Sedan ($16,270) is well equipped with cloth upholstery, climate control with air filtration, power door locks and front windows, full center console, 110-watt 4-speaker AM/FM/CD3/MP3 sound system, fold-flat rear seat, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, 15-inch steel wheels, halogen headlamps, and black grille, mirrors and door handles. No cruise control or USB port or Bluetooth, rear windows are rollup and rear brakes are drum.
Focus SE Sedan ($17,270) and Hatchback ($18,065) add body-color mirrors and door handles, floormats, foglamps, auto headlamps, illuminated entry, compass and temp display, steering-wheel audio controls, power rear windows, and 16-inch steel wheels. Still no cruise control, USB port or Bluetooth, and rear drums. With the Hatchback you also get a 60/40 rear seat, rear wiper and liftgate spoiler. An optional Sport package features firmer suspension tuning and SelectShift.
Focus SEL Sedan ($20,070) and Hatchback ($21,065) upgrade over SE with dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker sound system, 12-volt power for rear seat, piano black grille, chrome beltline trim, ambient lighting, overhead console, metallic interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40 rear seats, 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, MyFord Touch handsfree driver connect, SYNC elements with USB port, cruise control and rear disc brakes. The 6-speed automatic transmission includes SelectShift manual operation.
Focus Titanium Sedan ($22,270) and Hatchback ($22,765) come loaded with a 10-speaker Sony sound system with HD Sirius radio, pushbutton start, 8-inch touch screen, 4-inch info display screen, sport cloth seats, sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. There's a Hatchback with Premium package ($24,060) that upgrades to leather upholstery with six-way power driver's seat, rain-sensing wipers, backup system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and rear armrest with storage. Options include leather seats, power moonroof, voice-activated navigation, parking technology, and special interior trim.
Safety equipment in all Focus models includes six airbags with the latest technology, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist, and tire pressure monitor.
The all-new Focus looks like a big Fiesta, with an unmistakably Ford shape. The new Hatchback is especially aerodynamic looking. The Focus spent 1000 hours in the wind tunnel to get its sleek shape and low roofline. It yields a 0.295 coefficient of drag, an improvement by nearly 8 percent over the previous Focus. Active grille shutters block airflow to the radiator when it's not required, which improves aerodynamics and fuel mileage. NASCAR racers did this with cardboard and duct tape for years, but now it's fully electronic; the shutters have 15 different positions, based on engine temperature. Other cars such as the new Chevrolet Cruze are doing it, as well.
Ford calls the distinctive grille split trapezoid. Fortunately, the grille is black and not chrome and in-your-face like other Ford models. There are eight thin horizontal bars in a huge-mouthed trapezoid whose wide side is the bottom and is divided into three segments by two body-colored vertical bars like catfish chin whiskers. It looks better than it sounds, balanced by a horizontal opening above it, with one thin chrome bar and a neat blue Ford oval. The long thin trapezoidish headlamps wrap forward and downward from the cheeks of the car. They're like sweeping dragon's eyes, says Ford in their best metaphor yet.
Sculpted lines at the sills and door handles flow back from neat modest flared front fenders to give the Focus a forward-moving slant: kinetic design energy, Ford calls it. The windshield is steeply raked and roofline steeply dropped to the liftgate glass, making about as much of a teardrop as a chopped hatchback can be. The side window outline is shaped like a picture of smoke traveling over a sleek car in a wind tunnel. Big vertical taillamps are nice and safe and Volvo-like.
The Focus SE looks cleaner, we think, lacking chrome beltline trim. The 17-inch Titanium wheels are multi-spoke wagon wheels, better looking than the optional 18-inch wheels that are like big chrome stars with thin prongs.
The all-new Focus chassis is 30 percent stiffer. It uses a crash structure designed for the larger Taurus. More than 55 percent is high-strength steels, including Boron B-pillars and front beam, and a decoupling powertrain cradle to keep the engine out of the cabin in a head-on crash.
Ford has been very ambitious the last few years, engineering-wise, and it shows. It shows in the interior of the Focus. It's as if they took everything on their to-do list, and stuffed it in the cockpit. It's as busy as they are.
But ambition is good. Because Ford went all-out with the new Focus interior, there are some great things, starting with the standard seats in sturdy fabric, and the leather-like seats in the SEL. Too bad the new Chevrolet Cruze doesn't have seats like the Focus; if its interior matched its great handling and engine, there might be a good GM-Ford battle in an important segment. Oh, it's good anyhow.
The word cockpit when used with a car is an awkward fit. But not with the Focus. That was the way it was designed, to feel like a cockpit. With all its bells and whistles, geeks will love it, drivin' down the highway feelin' like a pilot, all those switches right nearby, LED ambient lighting in a choice of seven colors to suit his or her mood, controls that feel like they wrap around to the elbows on the centerstack, displays to set and adjust with dials and buttons, readouts to read and scroll through, maps to follow, touch-screens to touch, voices to talk to, giving commands and following directions. All right there at your fingertips and the ends of your over-reaching brain tentacles. Like Facebook, Focus offers you a choice of moods!
It would take a full page to describe the MyFord Touch powered by SYNC connectivity system that Ford is touting with its new cars. It uses twin high-resolution screens, including an 8-inch touch screen in the center console, to communicate with your car. The driver uses three of the five senses: see, hear, touch.
Ford says it's designed to be simple and completely intuitive for the driver, and maybe it is, but that doesn't mean it works that way. Ford says the system can empower drivers without demanding their attention, but baloney we say, about the attention part.
After touting how simple it is, Ford press materials use 380 words merely to describe the system's capabilities; it would take us twice that many words to describe and even briefly critique it.
Here's our short version. During Ford's presentation there was an electronics company rep there, and MyFord Touch powered by SYNC didn't work without trial-and-error for him. During part of our drive of the Focus, we had a high-level Ford rep with us, and the voice command for navigation and climate control didn't understand him any better than it understood us.
We borrow this statement from another online review: 'Most buyers won't even begin to fully utilize the system, but Ford is seeing a big jump in sales due to the perceived value in such technology.'
We wonder (and worry) about the consequences of that word perceived when the perception wakes up to reality like it did with gas-guzzling SUVs.
The dashboard and instrument panel are of course all new too, and the gauges that are in front of the driver's eyes are easy to read: big tach and speedo with cool blue needles, fuel and engine temp between them, and easy-to-read digital info above the fuel and temp. The soft materials are clearly high quality, while the hard materials look slathered on: for example four big vertical vents that rival the giant grille in in-your-faceness, and thick shiny trim that lines the edges of the centerstack, console, and thick horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. However, we didn't drive the base S model, so maybe it's got a more Spartan interior missing the overkill trim. We have no problem with the optional piano black trim.
Or the WiFi when parked. Now that's real progress.
There's an optional EcoMode system that uses a flower graphic on the instrument panel that tells you how to drive more efficiently. Woohoo. We bet even people who think that's neat will lose interest, after they've seen and applied a few of the tips. Learning efficient driving methods is not a course that lasts the life of the car.
There's excellent legroom in front, but somehow the Focus has lost 2.9 inches of legroom in rear, despite stretching the length of the car by 3.5 inches. We wonder what Ford was thinking. Rear legroom is a key feature for a compact car, but Ford appears to have discounted it in the new Focus.
To be exact, rear legroom is down to 33.2 inches, when it used to be 36.1 inches, a big difference. Especially when the Volkswagen Jetta, a stylish but not flashy car, has 38.1 inches of rear legroom with the same wheelbase.
Interior noise was definitely not discounted, however. The Focus is a compact car with the NVH qualities of a full-size car. A lot of productive effort went into making the cabin silent: door structure and sealing, thicker window glass, acoustic layer in windshield, sound-deadening body panels, foam in body cavities, thicker carpet insulation, sound-absorbing headliner. Noise made by the powertrain has also been reduced, by attentive engineering of the new engine, transmission, and chassis.
The 60/40 fold-flat rear seats increase trunk volume from its so-so 13.2 cubic feet (the Jetta has 15.5) and the hatch cargo capacity to a hefty 44.8 cubic feet.
The 2012 Ford Focus uses an all-new 2.0-liter engine with direct injection and twin variable valve timing. It makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, an increase over the old engine of 20 horsepower and 10 pound-feet. It's plenty powerful, but mostly, it's extremely smooth.
At the time of the introduction, Ford didn't provide specific fuel mileage estimates, other than a projected 40 mpg highway. Most of the automotive journalists at the event in California got in the mid-20s, which is what we got.
If only the new automatic transmission were programmed to be as smooth as the engine. Its shift points, whether in Drive or Select (curiously, the S stands for Select, not Sport), were mystifying, unexpected, frequent. Floor the throttle in first gear and it shifts at redline in 2nd, and then quickly short-shifts into 3rd, your foot still on the floor. Why? We don't know. Sometimes it shifts itself for engine braking going downhill, when you don't need it to, while other times it doesn't when you do. There was so much override in the Select mode, it stopped mattering which mode we were in. Which was just as well, because the driver manually shifts by pressing a button with his or her right thumb on the side of the lever, requiring a buckling of the wrist, an ergonomic movement so awkward it's astonishing.
The suspension design is the same as the old Focus, MacPherson struts in front and multi-link in rear, but uses all new parts, such as bushings, control arms, shock valving, and anti-rollbar mountings. The track is wider by 2.6 inches in front and 2.3 inches rear.
There's an all-new power steering system, electric and rack-mounted, and the ratio has been significantly quickened from 16:1 to 14.7:1. Alas, our experience in some twisty Malibu canyons did not confirm Ford's claim of precision. In fact, in our Focus SE with the standard suspension, we struggled to keep the car precise in the curves, in contrast to our recent run in the Chevrolet Cruze, which handled like a dream when pushed fast through turns. Meanwhile the Chevy's 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec engine zooms to high speeds.
The Focus ride is good, with a suspension that's on the soft side, which doesn't help precise turning. When we ran a modest rise in the road full throttle at about 60 mph, the car floated and the tires chirped when it came down; we might have expected that at 70 or 80, but not 60.
Torque Vectoring Control is a new standard feature. It enhances cornering by imperceptibly applying the brakes to the inside front wheel, under acceleration. We might have used it a lot, the way we drove, but we never felt it. Or maybe it only comes on when the inside front wheel begins to spin, and since we were on dry pavement we never got there.
We got more seat time in a Focus SE Sport, equipped with the solid-shifting 5-speed manual transmission and sport-tuned suspension. Ah, relief. Our transmission and suspension complaints all go away. We wish we could have tested the sport suspension further, driving hard on those same twisty roads to see if it's totally precise; but we can at least say it's better. We found some rough patchy pavement, and the sport suspension is not too stiff for comfort on such bad surfaces.
There's also Active Park Assist, which will parallel park the Focus for you, while you just sit there. It's an improvement on the Toyota Prius system, which can only park if the space is 7 feet 9 inches larger than the car; using ultrasound, the Focus needs only a margin of 3 feet. However, it will require the driver's help with the accelerator in a space that small, because jockeying forward and back is required. Maybe we're stubborn, but we believe parallel parking should be a driving skill, not a computer one.
The all-new 2012 Ford Focus looks, feels, and smells like the future, but it's a mixed bag of function. The engine is super smooth, but the automatic transmission programming feels quirky. The fabric seats are super and the wraparound cockpit is cozy, but there isn't much rear legroom. It's the technology leader in the compact car class.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Los Angeles.
Ford Focus S Sedan ($16,270); SE Sedan ($17,270); SE Hatchback ($18,065); SEL Sedan ($20,270); SEL Hatchback ($21,065); Titanium Sedan ($22,270); Titanium Hatchback ($22,765).
Options As Tested
Convenience Package with cruise control, perimeter alarm; MyFord Driver Connect Technology and SYNC Package includes 6-speaker audio with satellite radio, voice-activated systems; Sport Package with 16-inch painted aluminum wheels, piano black grille, rear disc brakes, rear spoiler, sport seats, sport-tuned suspension, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob ($2285).
Ford Focus SE Hatchback ($18,065).
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