It was already one of our top-rated sedans in the compact class, and now the 2015 Ford Focus gets updated styling, a smoother ride and an improved automatic transmission. If you're shopping for a car in this class, the Focus is definitely worth a test-drive.
What Is It?
For 2015, the Ford Focus receives a slight makeover that brings this compact sedan and hatchback up to date with its corporate siblings. In addition to the styling updates, the previously clunky automatic transmission has been improved, as has the ride quality, courtesy of a retuned suspension.
The base Focus S trim starts at $17,995 and is only available in sedan form. Feature highlights include power front windows, air-conditioning, a rearview camera and Ford's Sync voice activation system. Our test vehicle in midrange sedan SE trim benefits from alloy wheels, rear power windows, cruise control and an upgraded audio system for an additional $1,290. Adding the optional six-speed automatic transmission; SE Sport package (17-inch wheels, sporty body enhancements, foglights, rear disc brakes and paddle shifters); power-adjustable driver seat and rear parking sensors pushed the as-tested price to $21,970. For shoppers seeking more creature comforts and technology, the range-topping Titanium trim will set you back $23,995.
Other Focus variants include a slightly more fuel-efficient 1.0-liter three-cylinder SE EcoBoost model, a pricey all-electric version with a 76-mile range, and the performance-oriented Focus ST.
How Does It Drive?
With the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, our 2015 Ford Focus sedan required 9.0 seconds to reach 60 mph. This is slower than competitors and even the last Focus we tested, but still adequate when merging onto highways.
In previous years, the Focus' finicky automated manual transmission would allow the car to roll backward on hill starts and hesitate when creeping forward at very low speeds. Improvements to the transmission eliminate these issues, making it feel more like a conventional automatic.
With light pressure on the pedal, the Focus gathers speed smoothly but leisurely. An aggressive stomp results in a responsive initial launch, followed by rather slow gearchanges. In these conditions, acceleration is predictable, but moderate pedal application has a tendency to produce unexpected lurches and power surges. When passing slower traffic, the transmission is slow to react but eventually drops to lower gears.
The brake pedal is reassuringly firm and predictable no matter the speed. In Edmunds panic brake tests, the Focus came to a stop from 60 mph in a class-average 120 feet, and these distances remained remarkably consistent after several passes.
"Consistent" and "predictable" also aptly describe the Focus' handling characteristics. There is a noticeable amount of body roll when cornering, but no residual rebounding once the car is eased into a bend. The tires howl quite loudly long before the limits are reached and even in this middle-of-the-road model, it can be somewhat entertaining to drive quickly.
Is It Comfortable?
Whether on a long stretch of open highway or rutted city pavement, the 2015 Ford Focus does an admirable job of isolating its occupants from the environment. Large and small road imperfections are smoothed over with little acknowledgement. The fact that there's very little wind and road noise further reduces fatigue on long road trips.
Its front seats provide ample support, and there's enough adjustment range to accommodate small and large drivers alike, and after several hours behind the wheel the cloth seats never feel stifling. Of the few comfort-related complaints we have, the thinly padded door armrests and hard plastic center console can create some bothersome pressure points on the elbows and knees.
The rear seats are accommodating enough for adults, and the elevated cushions afford a decent view forward over the front passengers' shoulders.
How Well Designed Is the Interior?
Materials quality throughout the Focus' cabin is as good or better than average for the class, though there was a pervasive and sour "new car" chemical smell. The overall design of the interior is very similar to the previous model, but there are some noteworthy improvements.
The audio controls now feature a more logical layout and fewer buttons for easier operation. The color display is quite small, but its placement atop the dash and clear resolution allow the driver to read the contents in a quick glance. Sound quality from the midlevel system is clean and powerful enough to satisfy most listeners.
The split-folding rear seats are also new for 2015, replacing the previous single seatback for added flexibility. Trunk capacity tops out at 13.2 cubic feet, which is about average among rivals, but the wide opening makes loading bulkier items much easier. The rear seats don't quite fold flat to accommodate longer objects, and care should be taken to avoid the bare metal stampings between the cargo and passenger areas. Interior storage is limited to a handful of small bins and pockets, which are just big enough to carry some personal effects.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
The 2015 Focus with the automatic transmission and the 2.0-liter engine is rated by the EPA to deliver 30 mpg combined (26 city/38 highway), which is an average figure for cars in the class. Our results support these estimates, as we averaged 29.4 mpg in its time with us. On our highway-heavy evaluation loop, we managed to exceed expectations with a 42-mpg average over 115 miles.
What Safety Features Are Available?
Focus models in S and SE trims come with front antilock disc and rear drum brakes. The more effective rear disc brakes are optional. Standard on all Focus models are stability control, a driver knee airbag, a rearview camera and emergency telematics through compatible and paired cell phones. Also included is Ford's MyKey system that allows parents to set speed and audio volume limits for teen drivers, encourages seatbelt usage with more aggressive warnings and disallows the deactivation of safety features.
The top-of-the-line Titanium trim is eligible for additional options that include a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alerts and a lane departure warning system with intervention.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Honda Civic: The stalwart Civic benefits from its reputation for reliability and economy, but in terms of performance, it's comparable to the Focus. While the Honda still receives high marks overall, its unconventional infotainment controls may take some getting used to.
Kia Forte: It's hard to beat the Kia Forte when it comes to standard and available features, affordability and its generous warranty coverage. Fuel economy is similar to the Focus, but the Kia's stiffer ride quality may have undesirable effects on comfort.
Mazda 3: As one of the top-rated vehicles in the compact sedan category, the Mazda 3 delivers more standard features for the price, slightly better fuel economy and more engaging driving dynamics.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.