Los Angeles, CA – The 2012 Focus is a very important car for Ford. If fuel prices once again return to north of $4 per gallon as many predict, having a front-runner in the competitive compact segment is critical to the company’s continued success.
The new design has a very bold look with what Ford describes as its “kinetic design language” in both hatchback and sedan form. The five door is the most visually striking, with a high level of design detail all the way to the rear of the car. The new Focus is not a car that will be mistaken for anything else on the market today. While it’s not in your face aggressive, you won’t blend into the background like you might in a Corolla or Civic. The part of the design that seems to draw the most love-it-or-hate-it reaction is the trapezoidal front grille. Although the grille does give the car a catfish snout of sorts, it allows the aggressive lines to flow through the design.
The grill uses an active shutter system that opens when cooling is needed for the engine, and closes at highway speeds to reduce drag and improve aerodynamics. This helps with the highway fuel economy. It’s all about the flow.
In an age where even small cars have gained substantial amounts of weight, both the sedan and the five door in either manual or automatic are able to stay under 3,000 pounds. Ford makes use of substantial amounts of high strength steel – including boron steel – to make the chassis as safe and rigid as possible. This allows the Focus to meet the latest in side impact crash standards without adding to the curb weight of the car. This use of material can be felt in how confident the car feels on the road. The Focus feels planted and the steering is very direct.
The electric power steering has good feedback, and at parking lot speeds is very light. Once under way (and at speed) it firms up and provides good weight to the feel. While enthusiasts may hanker for more feel in the steering, it should provide plenty of confidence for the vast majority of drivers.
We sampled both the manual version of the Focus, as well as the six speed PowerShift automatic. The manual shifts well and you never have issues of missing a shift. That said, the hilly canyons we were driving with the manual begged that the engine be kept on the boil. When cruising in a higher gear at low speed, acceleration calls for dropping down a gear or two. The manual highlights the fact that the torque peak of 146 foot pounds in the 2.0 liter direct injected four cylinder, is at a very high 4,450 RPM. Horsepower is rated at 160 at 6,500 RPM.
The six speed dual-clutch automatic felt much more dialed in to the engine. Within 90 seconds of swapping from the manual to the automatic, both myself and my co-driver for the test were shocked at just how much better the automatic was to drive then the manual, and we would both describe ourselves as enthusiasts.
That the automatic should be better shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. More than 80% of the new Focus’ to be sold are expected to be PowerShift automatics. The automatic should deliver higher fuel economy ratings than the manual. While the numbers are not finalized, Ford’s target for the six-speed automatic Focus is 40 MPG highway. We expect to see 30-32 mpg in the city. There is an eco mode with the automatic to help with light-footed driving.
The materials for the interior of the car are very good. Although they may not quite be up to the Audi A3’s level, they are very close. Even in a lower spec SE model, the quality of the cloth used in the seats was good, with some heft to the material that should be long lasting. All the surfaces had soft touch materials and even the switch gear had a feeling of quality. In the top end Titanium edition, the leather used for the seats was nice. The My Ford Touch system uses an 8-inch touch screen and steering wheel controls. The navigation system provides a small supplemental screen in between the tachometer and speedometer to show which direction you should be going and the distance to the next action point. This should eliminate some of the need to look at the big screen and keep your eyes focused on the road.
While it takes a few days to become accustomed to the My Ford Touch system, it’s just like moving from a feature phone to a smart phone. Time and repetition are the cure for everything.
The 2012 Focus delivers solid driving dynamics, good fuel economy, and a roomy interior with high-quality materials. It’s a title contender from the time the opening bell sounds.
– Eric Trytko
(More of Eric’s photos along with his 2012 Focus first drive video can be found at Rumblestrip.net.)