Don’t Let the Name Fool You: 2012 Ford Focus
By Greg Cavanaugh
The new Focus is so much better than the old model that Ford might have been wise to give it an entirely different name. Being a completely new vehicle though, it’s not without a few pre-season jitters.
The domestic automakers have been working hard to take back command of the small car market from the Asian imports. The domestic competition is namely between the new Focus and the new Chevy Cruze. Having never driven a Cruze I can’t make any comparisons between the two. Having driven the Focus for several days I can say, without doubt, that Ford didn’t pull any punches in this fight!
Much like the new Fiesta I drove last fall, I continue to make the argument that small cars are not just for Europe and that these are the types of vehicles most of America SHOULD be driving. The American penchant for superfluously oversized vehicles has numbed our senses to tolerate lifeless steering, slow reflexes, wallowy and uncontrolled body motions and poor maneuverability – all traits that the good folks at Ford worked to avoid in the new Focus, and it worked. Small cars are so much more fun to drive and the Focus is a strong example! The Focus is not a hassle to park; it darts in and out of parking lots with little effort and makes your everyday errands so much less of a chore.
The steering and suspension combination is, without a doubt, the defining character of the Focus. The steering feels connected. If you remember the last time you drove a go-kart and the way the steering just seemed so instant and communicative, that’s the Focus’s steering. It’s so quick that when I was waiting to turn right with my blinker on, my hand relaxed just enough to turn the wheel only the slightest bit . . . and the blinker turned off! The suspension reinforces the steering’s intentions. While a few roads around Gallup were slightly rough for the Focus’s modest suspension travel, and it certainly would beat you up a bit on the Reservation’s rough dirt and gravel washboards, for the most part, as a city car, it does its job amicably.
The powertrain is designed for economy. Using Ford’s 2.0-liter Duratec with 160 hp and 146 lb-ft. of torque, the engine is smooth, particularly for a 4-cylinder, and returns excellent fuel economy of 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. The engine could use a bit more torque to keep the transmission from having to hold the lower gears longer on hills, but overall it suits the purpose of the car and the easy revving nature adds to the innate sportiness of the Focus.
So what are those jitters?
Firstly, while this is simply a packaging issue, I managed to test drive a car that had both the tech-laden Sync system and heated seats – but no cruise control. I didn’t even know you could get cars without cruise control anymore.
The Focus’s integration of technology is superb. There are several different screens available in the dash that relay a variety of information, most notably, a cool “driving score” that helps a driver determine which parts of their driving habits are most affecting their economy. And I’m still a big fan of Ford’s Sync system, whether in this base form or the higher end MyFord Touch. However, the ergonomics as a whole need some work. The heated seat dials are clearly an afterthought and appear almost as aftermarket modifications; they are behind the cup holders in the center console and under the center armrest. Weird. Also, the center dash-mounted lock button, while not solely a problem of the Focus, makes it a real pain to unlock the doors for others or to lock the doors if the fob is already in your pocket.
Lastly, and here’s the big one, the dual-clutch automatic transmission needs some work. So much so that I went online and did a little research to find out if maybe I had gotten a fluke example . . . not the case. While a couple of things I read stated that after about 1,000 miles or so the transmission came into its own, I found it confusing. At low speeds it was often slow to shift or felt like it was hunting for gears for no apparent reason. Downshifts were similar; often I was waiting for the tranny to shift and wondered if I had somehow accidentally knocked the gear level into 1st or 2nd. The upside is that the automatic pulls like a manual at higher speeds, with none of the torque converter mush of a typical automatic transmission.
Frankly, the new Ford Focus is much more of a world car than the previous generation and its nice to finally get the same basic architecture, handling characteristics and overall spirit as the Europeans are getting. Whether or not Americans as a whole are going to subscribe to those is the million-dollar question – one I’m hoping, for the sake of American drivers everywhere, that the answer to which will finally be yes.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED: $22,330 (base price: $18,200)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1999 cc
Power (SAE net): 160 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 146 lb-ft @ 4450 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 104.3 in Length: 171.6 in Width: 71.8 in Height: 57.7 in
Curb weight: 2953 lb
EPA city/highway driving: 28/38 mpg