2012 Ford Focus
Starting MSRP $16,500–$22,700
Everything is all upside-down.
When January sales figures arrived last week, the automotive conventional wisdom was spun on its head. The Ford Fusion outsold the Honda Accord. Chevrolet sold nearly 30 percent more Cruzes than Toyota sold Priuses. What's going on?
For years, millions of people have been saying American automakers couldn't make a decent car. That only proves the point that millions of people can be wrong.
Now, Ford Motor Co. is rolling the 2012 Focus out to dealerships. This car will prove yet another point: Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne builds the single best compact car in the world.
The Focus is the complete package: Exciting exterior, premium interior and top-notch performance.
Better yet, Ford will bring back a hatchback version. A hatchback? But the conventual wisdom of automotive executives says Americans hate hatchbacks. Well, executives can be wrong, too. Remember 2008, no one thought gas was going to hit $4 a gallon?
Without a five-door, competitors like the Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf and Subaru Impreza would remain alone as the sporty youthful alternative mode of transportation.
The Focus, however, hits a sweet spot of both youthful exuberance and mature practicality; kids and parents will like this car.
No other compact around manages to do both. The Cruze is a fine machine, but it's more conservative than Rush Limbaugh. The Civic is still awaiting a soul transplant later this year. The Toyota Corolla may be bulletproof, but that's only out of necessity: It's so dour it should be shot and left in a ditch.
And then there's the Focus sedan, which is just as attractive as the hatch and seven inches longer.
Both share a low front end with headlights that stretch around the front fenders.
The big grille below the bumper includes an optional electric shutter to close off the grille and improve the aerodynamics at times. All over the Focus body are sharp creases, including along the hood, the fog lamps and fenders.
Sedan is eye-catching
While the hatchback has a flatter roof line, the sedan really catches your eye. (You can see how it curves back nicely and almost takes on a European notchback look.) This is a little surprising. I typically prefer the hatchback over the sedan, so the Focus even twisted my own conventional thinking.
One noticeable difference between the sedan and the hatchback are the taillamps. The sedan has nicely placed little lamps. The hatchback has giant taillamps that peek around the corner and say, "Don't look at my tail. I'm compensating."
But there's no compensating with either Focus, especially with the interior.
Both models come loaded with lots of features that you'll notice right away with the pushbutton start. Everything inside just feels nice. The touch points are soft, the materials are top grade, and the cockpit caters to the driver (though everyone should be comfortable in the Focus). There's 43.7 inches of legroom â€” an inch more space than the Honda Accord, a vehicle technically two segments larger. There is nearly as much space in the second row, with 33.2 inches of legroom.
Then there's Sync, simply my favorite voice recognition super-infotainment system available in any vehicle.
It was introduced in the previous generation Focus â€” a tin can compared to this new version.
The 2012 Focus includes MyFord Touch, an even more advanced telematics system that will let you talk on your phone via Bluetooth, hear your text messages and operate most of your car's controls by voice, through buttons on the steering wheel or large touch screen.
Some Luddites have problems working the touch screen or steering wheel buttons, but I find the system easy to understand and can operate without taking my eyes off the road. MyFord Touch is so much more advanced than any other system that it can be confusing at first, and conventional wisdom may frown upon it. Yes, it's different, but you don't have to be a hater; just learn how to use it. It's easier than an iPhone.
Nice little touches
Throughout the cabin, there are nice little features you might overlook at first. The ambient lighting allows you to change the interior lighting every day of the week. Then there's the rear-view camera and active park assist, which squeezes the car into a tight parking space without much effort from you. Many people fear parallel parking, but this Focus will do it for you, and probably faster, too.
And, of course, there's the top-of-the-line Titanium model that just feels a half-step better than any other Focus. The downside is that while it's really nice, it's also much more expensive than comparable compacts, topping $28,000 for a car that starts at $16,995.
Ford has told me it doesn't see the expensive model as high volume. Instead, the SE will carry that flag, with a starting price of $17,995 with the manual gear box and $19,090 with the automatic.
But all of the models drive like a million bucks â€” or at least a solid $30K.
The 2-liter dual overhead cam, direct injection, four-cylinder engine uses Ford's twin independent cam timing to make it even more efficient while providing 160 horsepower and good acceleration.
The five-speed manual transmission slides through gears gracefully. The six-speed transmission is nearly as nice, though it tends to want to get to sixth gear in a hurry (a byproduct of engineers trying to eke out every mile in every gallon). The sport mode on the automatic transmission does hold the gears longer.
Ford has not released the Environmental Protection Agency's gas mileage ratings. The automaker has said, however, that a special fuel efficient model will be able to achieve 40 mpg with Ford's PowerShift six-speed automatic.
The independent suspension helps the Focus stick to the road, and the steering is very linear. Aggressive drivers may find the electric power assisted steering a little numb, but most people will never notice. The entire Focus package makes any driver feel confident and sure-footed.
Another noticeable improvement is how well the lines of sight have improved. Many cars with very steep windshields often create blind spots off the front fenders. The Focus has a clear line of sight, no matter where you turn.
Ford said it wanted this car to be fun to drive, and it delivered just that and a lot more.
Many experts may have thought that Ford was going to deliver the best American-made compact car, which the Focus certainly is, but it's also the best compact sold in America â€” something a lot of people weren't considering.
firstname.lastname@example.org (313) 223-3217
Exterior: Excellent. Sharply designed body is modern and chic. Great angles and edges.
Interior: Excellent. Comfortable and well appointed with lots of features.
Performance: Good. Good power, clean acceleration and nice road manners in the city, on the highway and on mountain roads.
Pros: It's the best compact car sold in America. That's a really big pro.
Cons: Price can creep up and a fully loaded model can easily top $25,000.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Joe Wiesenfelder||Cars.com National||January 30, 2011|
|Cars.com Staff||Cars.com National||March 21, 2011|
|Sara Lacey||Mother Proof||February 1, 2012|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 21, 2011|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||May 28, 2011|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||February 10, 2011|
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