Test Drive: 2012 Ford Focus

Latest Ford compact blends intensified eye appeal with fuel-efficiency and new features

by James M. Flammang

2012 Ford Focus Titanium hatchback

First introduced for the 2001 model year, Ford's compact Focus has been abundantly redesigned as a 2012 model. Four-door sedans and hatchbacks are available, in four trim levels: entry-level S, SE, SEL, and premium Titanium.

In addition to attractive new styling elements, including what Ford calls a "dramatic rising beltline," aerodynamics and fuel-efficiency are the main attractions. The 2012 Focus's drag coefficient (a measure of slipperiness through the air) is just under 0.30, versus the prior model's 0.32. Ford says that's lower than the drag coefficient of a Chevrolet Cruze or Volkswagen Jetta. "Optimized aerodynamics" also helps reduce wind noise, according to Ford.

New active grille shutters block airflow through the cooling system when it's not needed, to improve high-speed aerodynamics and also reduce underhood temperatures at lower speeds. Structural rigidity is 30 percent greater than before.

Ford's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine develops 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 146 pound-feet of torque at 4450 rpm. Either a five-speed manual or PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission may be installed. Ford claims the 2012 Focus is the only gasoline-engine car with an automatic transmission in this segment to get a 40-mpg fuel-economy estimate for highway driving.

Depending on model, a Focus can be fitted with a variety of wheels. S models get 15-inch steel wheels; SE, 16-inch; SE Sport and SEL, painted 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inch optional); and Titanium, 17-inch sport alloy (18-inch optional). Front-disc/rear-drum brakes are used, except for al-disc brakes on the Titanium, SEL, and SE Sport Package.

Built on a 104.3-inch wheelbase, the Focus sedan is 178.5 inches long, 71.8 inches wide, and 57.7 inches high. The hatchback is considerably shorter overall, at 171.6 inches. Cargo volume in the sedan's trunk is 13.2 cubic feet. In hatchbacks, luggage space totals 23.8 cubic feet behind the second row, or 44.8 cubic feet if those seats are folded.

Inside, drivers get Ford's SYNC system with MyFord Touch, which is said to replace many traditional-type buttons, knobs, and gauges with LCD screens and five-way buttons. Ford claims that the Focus brings C-segment interior space "to a new level, rivaling larger vehicles." Shoulder room is greater than in an Audi A4, and front headroom beats a Toyota Camry's.

Available features include active park assist; SYNC with Traffic, Directions, and Information; HD radio with iTunes tagging; a rear-view camera; and Intelligent Access with pushbutton start.

Road-testing demonstrates that substantial improvement marks the 2012 Focus. In fact, the 2008-11 generation could be seen as an aberrant step backward for the Focus; but even if that were the case, Ford is now back on track.

Steering has a more European feel this time around: confident, poised, in control, offering easy maneuverability. Ride quality scores as good, though not perfect, as the Focus does hit the occasional bump a bit hard. The suspension is tauter than expected, again in the European mode, which is okay on smooth roads but can yield a lumpy ride on lesser-level pavement.

Acceleration is eager and energetic from a standstill, and almost as strong from 35 mph or so; but there may be some delay for the automatic to decide what to do. Quiet-running overall, the Focus is nicely subdued during acceleration.

Hooded gauges are easy enough to read, but controls are too cryptic on the busy-looking dashboard. Controls use a youth-oriented "button" layout, which won't please every driver. Even turning on the radio can be a challenge at first.

Visibility is fine all-around. Front space is ample enough on somewhat hard but highly supportive and amply-bolstered seats. However, the seatback adjuster is hard to reach and operate, and outer door handles might pinch small fingers.

Foot room is good in the rear, but leg space is marginal and headroom just so-so. The center tunnel is a major obstacle, through the center rear seat is actually less uncomfortable than most. Rear-seat entry isn't so easy. Cargo space is adequate (hardly voluminous) under a neat cover below the hatch.

Prices start at $16,995 (including destination charge) for an S sedan, escalating to $23,490 for a Titanium hatchback. Developed in Europe, the newest Focus is sold in more than 120 markets. Sales in the U.S. began early in 2011.

Focus is called Ford's "most significant global nameplate." More than 10 million of them have been sold worldwide. Principal rivals includes the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

Attention Editors: This complete 2012 Ford Focus review is available now for your publication. Please contact us at JF@tirekick.com for details.

© All contents copyright 2011 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang