Ford’s all-new Focus seems to be the right car at the right time, and I was especially taken with the hatchback that has sharp styling and a versatile cargo capability.
Because of higher gasoline prices, many buyers are seeking out smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, yet they like the availability of convenience items such as voice-activated navigation, upgraded audio systems and, in the case of the Focus, a self-parking feature.
The Focus, which was developed in Europe, is available as a sedan or hatchback, with four trim levels. It will be sold worldwide. Base prices begin at $16,500 for the sedan and range to $22,700 for the top Titanium hatchback that can be equipped with voice-activated navigation, MyFord Touch, push-button start, sport seats, 10-speaker audio system, heated seats and a self-parking system that rivals a megabuck luxury car. Fully loaded, the sticker is slightly more than $27,000.
The Focus handles curves with minimal body roll, a sign that the car was developed in Europe. It felt secure and stable, in part because the limited slip front differential can divide power from side to side as conditions merit. The car will pull out of turns without losing traction on the inside front wheel.
The 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder engine has 160 horsepower, but the maximum torque is produced at 4,450 rpm. That makes low-speed acceleration feel a bit soft. In general, however, the car has adequate zip. The engine has an Eco mode that helps the driver get the best mileage.
The standard automatic transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch unit that has the efficiency of a manual with the convenience of an automatic. The SelectShift version of the transmission allows the driver to change gears with a button on the gear lever. Paddle shifters would be a handier way to change gears.
Fuel economy is rated at 28 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway with the automatic. Mileage drops to 27 and 37 for the SelectShift feature.
Grille shutters close off airflow to the radiator at highway speeds, and that helps improve mileage. The SFE model has a highway rating of 40 mpg.
Next year, Ford will offer a performance Focus ST with a turbocharged engine.
The Focus cabin is quite nice. The test car had brushed silver trim, but red and white trim is also available as a special option. The cloth seats were quite comfortable, and the hatchback’s rear seat folds down to open up the cargo space like that of a small station wagon. Rear legroom was on the small side, as one would expect in a car with a 104.3-inch wheelbase.
The MyFord Touch system to operate the audio system can be a bit tedious to learn and operate.
Standard safety features include front, side and side-curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control are also standard.
Price: The base price of the test car was $21,100. It was equipped with MyFord Touch, Sony 10-speaker sound system and Sirius satellite radio and metallic paint. The sticker price was $23,285.
Warranty: Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
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2012 Ford Focus SEL
- Engine: 2.0-liter, 160-hp four-cyl.
- Transmission: Automatic
- Front-wheel drive
- Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
- Curb weight: 2,948 lbs.
- Base price: $21,100
- As driven: $23,285
- MPG rating: 27 city, 37 hwy.