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2012 Ford Focus ReviewThe Good
Ford delivers an all-new, class-leading Focus compact car for 2012, updating it with sporty exterior lines, a powerful yet fuel-efficient engine, a number of cutting-edge technology features and a wide range of trim choices to fit just about any need or budget.The Bad
Interior materials remain inferior compared to materials used in some competitive vehicles, and taller passengers might feel cramped in the back seat of the 2012 Focus.
The CarGurus View
With the 2012 Focus, Ford firmly establishes itself as an automaker to be reckoned with in the compact car segment. Displaying European lines and offering a smooth, sporty ride and a high level of technology, the redesigned Focus meets or beats just about anything offered by the competition.
At a Glance
A few years back, European drivers were treated to an all-new Ford Focus, while here in the U.S. we were stuck with a lightly massaged version of the old one. Good news: We’ve finally caught up. For 2012, Ford brings its sleek, sporty and economical European-designed Focus "world car" to our shores. And it's a welcome breath of fresh air in the compact segment. In fact, reviewers, testers and owners alike are raving about the new Focus, and with good reason, since there's a lot to rave about.
The 2012 Focus is an almost entirely new car. Ford claims a 7 percent carryover figure from the old to the new, with 80 percent shared content across global platforms, including high-strength steel in 55 percent of the Focus’s structure. That results in a 25 percent increase in torsional rigidity, a characteristic the old Focus wasn’t even lacking. In addition, the new Focus offers a wide range of updated mechanical, technology and safety features that put it at or near the top of its class.
Ford offers the 5-passenger Focus in a variety of trims for 2012, including 4-door sedans and 5-door hatchbacks at S, SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels. In addition, Ford has introduced a Focus Electric trim to the lineup, and a high-performance Focus ST hatchback trim debuts later in 2012 (for the 2013 model year). The gas-powered trims offer fuel economy of up to 40 mpg, and some are available with such optional high-tech features as Ford's SYNC system, active park assist, HD radio, a rear-view camera, push-button start and Wi-Fi access.
But for many reviewers and owners, the new Focus's improvements start with its sporty, streamlined exterior design. The deep-mouthed grille under the Ford blue oval emblem, the rising beltline along the sides, the steeply raked windshield and the tapering roofline all give the Focus a striking, aerodynamic and athletic appearance, which becomes even more pronounced on hatchback trims. Overall, the Focus stretches 3 inches longer and sits 0.5 inches lower than the old version, with a 1.3-inch-longer wheelbase. Although the interior isn't noticeably larger than the previous version's, Ford notes that the Focus now delivers more front-row shoulder room than an Audi A4 and more headroom than a Toyota Camry, while in the back row, the Focus provides more hip room than either the Audi or the Toyota. Still, competitors offer marginally more space in both the back seat and the trunk. That said, no competitive vehicle offers such a space premium over the Focus that it will make much of a difference.
The Focus has some visibility issues as well, especially with its thick A-pillars, a result of the steeply raked windshield. The use of high-strength steel in that area would have allowed for a thinner pillar, but we’ll have to wait for that. Overall, however, the new Focus excels on just about every front.
While it might not compete with a Ferrari, the redesigned Ford Focus impresses many reviewers and owners with its performance. Its new 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder powerplant under the hood features high-pressure direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), which help push horsepower to 160. For the record, that's 20 more ponies than the previous powerplant. Torque checks in at 146 lb-ft, which arrives rather late in the RPM cycle, at 4,450 rpm, so the Focus may not be the fastest vehicle off the mark, but once it gets going, it accelerates briskly, resulting in a peppy ride.
The 4-cylinder engine mates to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed Ford PowerShift automatic with a high-efficiency dual dry-clutch design. As a result, the PowerShift transmission can be equipped with SelectShift functionality, enabling drivers to manually control gear selection at the touch of a button for a sportier ride. On the downside, Ford does not offer the Focus with paddle shifters, which doesn't sit well with some reviewers. The automatic transmission with SelectShift comes standard on the upper-end SEL and Titanium trims, and it's available as an option in the SE, while the automatic without SelectShift is optional in the S and SE trims. Both the low-end S and SE trims come standard with the 5-speed manual transmission, which some testers find somewhat sloppy in operation.
Although Ford is making a high-profile claim of 40 mpg for the Focus, you’ll have to add on an available Super Fuel Economy Package, at a cost of $500, to achieve that number. What's more, the package is available only on the SE sedan trim. When equipped with the SFE Package, the SE posts fuel economy numbers of 28/40 mpg. Fuel economy numbers for Focus trims with the 5-speed manual transmission check in at 26/36 mpg, while trims equipped with the automatic without SelectShift get slightly better numbers of 28/38. Trims with the automatic with SelectShift fall into the middle range, posting numbers of 27/37 mpg. The Focus currently runs only on regular fuel, although Flex Fuel E85 capability will be added later in the 2012 model year.
Blowing all those fuel economy numbers out of the water, however, is the Focus Electric, which posts a miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) number of 110 MPGe. That compares favorably to the Nissan Leaf, which has an EPA rating of 99 MPGe, and the Chevy Volt, with checks in at 94 MPGe. It also makes the Focus Electric the first production car to break the 100 MPGe barrier. The Focus Electric features an all-electric powertrain and a single-speed automatic transmission, which together deliver a top speed of 84 mph, with a cruising range of about 76 miles between charges, according to the EPA. Owners can fully charge the Focus Electric's lithium-ion battery in three to four hours (about half the time of the Leaf) using a wall-mounted, home-based 240-volt charge station. Available as a 5-door hatchback, the zero-CO2-emissions, gasoline-free Focus Electric represents the first of five electric cars the automaker plans to introduce in the next year or two.
The high-performance Focus ST receives a new 2.0-liter Ford EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, which the automaker also uses as an available powerplant for the Ford Edge and Explorer. The engine features low-inertia turbocharging, a unique calibration and specially designed intake and exhaust systems to ensure a high level of power, as well as the throaty sounds expected from a performance vehicle. The engine generates 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, and links to a 6-speed manual transmission with sport-oriented gear ratios.
Ride & Handling
Just as the Focus's exterior design and powerplant have been upgraded, so have its chassis and steering system, resulting in improved driving dynamics. The new Focus sits on an independent MacPherson strut-type front suspension and a fully independent control-blade rear suspension design, which is similar to a multilink system with an extra flexing link. Upgrades include standard torque vectoring control, which behaves like a limited-slip differential, according to the automaker, sending brake force to the wheels on one side of the vehicle during cornering to improve stability.
In addition, the front-wheel-drive Focus receives a new electric power-assisted steering system, which helps deliver precise, sporty handling. A few testers found the steering a little vague, but overall most found it an improvement over the previous system. Add in a stiffer overall body and chassis, which makes it easier to toss the vehicle around the corners, and it's easy to see why the Focus received such positive comments as a driver's car.
Ford also added a number of features to ensure a quiet ride, including a special acoustic layer on the windshield, designed to reduce wind and road noise. The increased stiffness of the Focus's body structure also helps reduce vibration and harshness, as well as exterior noise.
In addition, Ford offers a Titanium Handling Package, available on the Titanium trim, which adds a unique sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, and summer tires for an even sportier ride. The Focus ST sits on a lowered chassis, with a unique suspension and high-performance brakes, designed to provide a high level of agility and handling.
The S and SE trims receive power front disc brakes with rear drums, while the SEL, Titanium and Electric receive 4-wheel disc brakes (optional on the SE). The Focus S comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, while the SE and SEL get 16-inch wheels. The Titanium and Electric get 17-inch aluminum wheels in the standard package.
Cabin & Comfort
The new Focus seats 5 passengers in a cabin that's one of the best in the segment, according to a number of reviewers. Rather than looking cheap and plasticky, the Focus's interior now features higher-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces, resulting in a more upscale appearance. However, some feel it still doesn't live up to the interiors of some competitive vehicles. In addition, some reviewers note a plethora of knobs and controls, resulting in a busy appearance, and one reviewer notes that there are now up to 21 buttons on the steering wheel alone. However, others give Ford credit for creating a cleaner interior look, with a well-organized center stack and easy-to-read gauges on the instrument panel. In addition, a sweeping design integrates the door panels with the front console, resulting in a wrap-around effect and putting the driver at the center of the action.
The Focus's well-rounded standard equipment list includes such features as air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, remote keyless entry, cloth seats with four-way manual adjustment for the driver (two-way for the passenger), a 60/40 split folding rear seat and a 4-speaker AM/FM audio system with a CD player, speed-sensitive volume and an input jack. That's comparable to what competitive vehicles in the segment offer.
Step up a notch to the SE, and you'll also get Ford's MyKey system, which gives owners the option to set limits on speed and audio volume, as well as activate certain alerts, when younger drivers take the wheel. At the SEL level, Ford also adds dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, an upgraded 6-speaker audio system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and the SYNC communications system with MyFord Touch driver-connect technology, which enables drivers to manage communications, entertainment, navigation and other functions using an 8-inch touchscreen, as well as steering-wheel-mounted controls and voice commands. In addition, the SYNC can be equipped as a Wi-Fi hotspot. For the high-end Titanium trim level, sport front bucket seats, push-button start and a 10-speaker Sony audio system with HD radio and SiriusXM satellite radio are added to the standard features package.
Options for the Focus include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat and a Reverse Sensing System at the SEL and Titanium trim levels. In addition, owners can add voice-activated navigation with Sirius Travel Link on trims equipped with the SYNC system.
Ford equipped the Focus Electric with a well-rounded standard features list that includes heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, ambient lighting, eco-friendly seats and push-button start. In addition, Ford gives the Electric all the latest high-tech gadgets, including a 9-speaker Sony premium audio system with HD radio and SiriusXM, and the SYNC system with navigation and SiriusXM Travel Link. In addition, the MyFord Touch system includes unique electric-vehicle content and a MyFord Mobile App, so owners can manage certain vehicle functions using their smart phones.
Prospective buyers who put a premium on cargo space will want to opt for the Focus's 5-door hatchback trims, available at the SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels. The hatchback offers 23.8 cubic feet of space with the second-row up, which expands to 44.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded down. Similarly, the 5-door Focus Electric offers up to 44.8 cubic feet of space, although with the second-row up and in place, cargo volume drops to 14.5 cubic feet. The sedans offer 13.2 cubic feet of trunk space, which falls in about the middle of the pack for the segment.
The IIHS named the 2012 Focus a Top Safety Pick, earned by achieving a top rating of Good in front, side, rear and rollover crash tests, while the NHTSA gave the Focus 4 out of 5 stars for the rollover test. However, the NHTSA has not yet tested the 2012 Focus for other types of crashes.
Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic stability control system with antilock brakes comes standard on every Focus. Six airbags, including dual-stage front, front-seat side-impact and side-curtain airbags for the first and second row, also come standard. The driver's front airbag receives a new design for 2012, with a curved mid-section to lessen the impact of the airbag on the driver's chest and ribs, and the side airbags now include vents that help reduce pressure and force on smaller passengers. And with the MyKey system, standard on all trims except the entry-level S, parents can deactivate the radio until front-seat passengers fasten their safety belts.
What Owners Think
Owners find the redesigned 2012 Ford Focus a fun and efficient car to drive, with good overall balance, a smooth ride and good road manners. The Focus's sporty nature is most often cited by owners for putting the "fun" into driving the Focus, but they also like its sporty exterior looks, and several owners comment on the excellent paint jobs on their Focuses. Owners especially like the Focus trims equipped with the optional sport-tuned suspension, but ride and handling for all Focus trims received positive comments.
Owners also like the Focus's fuel economy, which averages close to 30 mpg during city driving, according to one owner, and in the high 30s for highway driving. Some owners even report regularly posting mileage numbers of over 40 mpg without the add-on Super Fuel Economy Package. Many owners attribute the Focus's high mileage to the smooth-shifting automatic transmission.
Inside, owners report having plenty of room in the front seat, though some note that the back seat can feel cramped for taller adults. In addition, some have pointed out that the MyTouch system seems buggy. Overall, however, owners like the Focus's many standard and optional features, including its many tech features, and are happy with their purchases.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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