Space-efficient package; fuel-efficient engine; lots of convenience features; world-class style.
Larger turning radius than before; dual-clutch transmission takes getting used to; ride quality suffers noticeably with 18-inch tires.
As the 2012 Ford Focus takes you down the road for the first time, you can feel yourself gradually picking up speed, as if the friction of daily automotive life had suddenly been overcome. You feel as if there is a gap in traffic ahead just for you, while every gas station you see is a reminder that you can sail past without a second thought.
What you sense has nothing to do with physics. Instead it is the burden of the small-car stereotype being lifted from your shoulders. You feel transformed by an automobile that is utterly modern, one that is neither large size nor small size but instead "right size."
Americans have been chasing such a car for decades, wobbling between the guilty pleasure of enormous land yachts and righteous enthusiasm for tiny fuel-sipping pods, but now the Ford Focus shows us the middle ground where most of us belong. Though it carries the same name as Ford's previous compact sedan, this new-generation Focus has been stretched a few inches into a size that's just right.
Just as important, the Ford Focus doesn't make you suffer for choosing the way of the right-size vehicle. It has an adventurous, modern look that makes nearly everything else on the road look tired and stuffy. More important, the 2012 Ford Focus is available with the same comfort and convenience features we demand in large cars, even while its pricing remains consistent with what we expect of a small car. The base model begins at $16,270, which is the same price as the 2010 model. The top-of-the-line Titanium reflects the greater feature array available in the new car, with a price that starts at $22,995.
As you compare this front-wheel-drive sedan with its four-cylinder engine to the competition, the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Jetta come to mind as similarly sized and priced vehicles. Yet the style and equipment of the Ford Focus also tempts you to compare it to the four-cylinder variants of the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Mazda 6.
As the price of fuel rises irresistibly toward $4 per gallon, it's necessary to make the hard choice between power and fuel economy. But the refined inline-4 engine in the new Focus makes you wonder what the fuss is about because it delivers both.
The 1,999cc inline-4 engine of the new Focus makes 160 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, some 20 hp more than last year's version of this engine. This is enough power to propel this top-of-the-line 2012 Ford Focus Titanium's not insubstantial 3,076 pounds to 60 mph from a standstill in 8.7 seconds, and the car goes through the quarter-mile in 16.4 seconds at 85.4 mph. This engine is also quiet while it's idling at stoplights and refined while it's humming down the freeway in the fast lane.
When the time comes to visit the gas station, you'll be surprised at the number of miles that have gone by. Edmunds testing of this 2012 Ford Focus Titanium recorded an average of 27 mpg. Ford itself promises an EPA-certified 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway, while the EPA has just certified the specially equipped Focus SFE (super fuel economy) for a highway rating of 40 mpg.
Much of the secret lies in the Focus' six-speed automated manual gearbox, a design that has made the leap from high-performance exotic cars to everyday transportation. This transmission shifts according to its own programming like an automatic, yet it still delivers the throttle response and fuel efficiency of a manual transmission. You'll notice the transmission's reluctance to creep forward smoothly from a standstill to parking lot speed, and the transitions between gears will be more abrupt than those of a conventional automatic, but the crisp throttle response combined with a surprise (in a good way) at the gas pump will overcome any reservations you might have.
The 2012 Ford Focus sits on a wheelbase that's 1.4 inches longer, while it measures 3.5 inches longer overall and 4 inches wider. An additional 2 inches in front-seat head- and legroom lets you stretch out, plus the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, so it's easy to think that you're riding in a much larger car. If you go by the dimensions, rear-seat room has shrunk as a result, but this is largely because the front seats have more fore and aft travel.
It's actually kind of refreshing to travel in the Focus. You have a better view of the road than you get in big cars, and a feeling of safety that comes from this. At the same time, the new Focus has that Euro-style sense of structural integrity, a reflection of the high-strength steel used at key points throughout the car.
We must warn you that the laws of physics have not been entirely suspended here, because the Focus does not ride very well with the optional 18-inch 40-series high-performance tires. While these tires might deliver the quick steering response and crisp road feel that performance-oriented drivers prefer, the stiff sidewalls register every crack in the road and the car pitches noticeably back and forth over the bumps.
You can have your Focus in a plain flavor if you like, and it'll be a paragon of function. But just like the Mazda 3 and the Mini, the 2012 Ford Focus makes its strongest impression as a premium car, which is the way it really sets itself apart from the competition.
Just as in a premium car, there's a full allotment of available convenience features, like satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, keyless ignition with passive entry, and even an automated system that will parallel park for you.
It is also available with the MyFord Touch system, which offers touchscreen access to all the connectivity and entertainment features of Ford Sync, the Microsoft-engineered connectivity program that combines voice control, satellite navigation, Wi-Fi capability and links to portable communication and entertainment devices.
Yet the combination of lots of MyFord Touch features with a touchscreen interface doesn't work well here. Most of the features are available through a series of menus on the screen, and the process of locating and engaging them is complex and finicky. The process isn't helped by the few buttons available, nor is it ameliorated by the voice recognition system either. In some ways, this suggests to us that the number of electronic features has overwhelmed the apparent simplicity of the touchscreen interface, and that a console-mounted remote control much like what we've seen from German carmakers would be a better solution.
Not so long ago, Ford labored under its reputation for uninspired middle-class design efforts. But after a couple decades of often controversial effort by assorted executives as well as hard work by design directors J Mays and Peter Horbury, Ford now is at the sharp end of the pack, making even the Germans seem tired and empty of fresh ideas. The Focus is the poster child for Ford's effort, a statement of modernity that's remarkable at any price point, let alone among compact sedans.
Just as with so many other compact sedans, the 2012 Ford Focus will find ready acceptance among the growing number of people newly conscious of rising gasoline prices. Its fuel efficiency — notably the 40-mpg promise of the Focus SFE model, one of four Ford vehicles EPA rated at 40 mpg highway — will command attention. It also holds the promise of driving performance once found (and since lost) in the Volkswagen Jetta GLI.
Yet the Ford Focus aspires to be far more than a commute car. This is an expression of stylish modernity that really makes you question the way in which cars like the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry have become full-size sedans, wonderful in their own way and yet a little more than we need and a little costlier than we can afford. The 2012 Ford Focus makes right size the smart size.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.