2012 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback (Titanium Edition) Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Ford Focus 5-door hatchback

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide - Specs, Comparisons and Reviews

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS


The Focus has been a mainstay in Ford's worldwide passenger car lineup since its European debut in 1998. The North American market got that car in 1999, model year 2000. Ford here was all about SUVs at that time, and the compact, efficient Focus provided some balance for CAFE fuel economy ratings and also made people looking for a small, efficient, and fun car happy. A model range that originally included hatchbacks, sedans, and wagons with a variety of engines from economy to SVT high-performance spec, and chassis to match, made the Focus a success.

There was considerable divergence between North America and the rest of the world when it was time for the second generation in 2005. As in we didn't get it until 2008 and then it was a very different car from what was available elsewhere. No hatchback or wagon here, either. Small cars weren't selling well -- until the economy faltered and fuel prices rose.

There was another development at Ford around that time as well -- a new CEO. Alan Mulally was previously with Boeing, which sold the same aircraft worldwide. Subject to minor customer-preference details, a 737 sold to a domestic carrier is the same as one sold to a European or Asian airline. Mulally was shocked that the auto industry was very different.

The consumer automotive market is not the commercial aircraft market, but Mulally did have a point. One car, worldwide, is less expensive to develop and manufacture. And American preferences have changed over the years, with an increasing number of people preferring smaller, more economical cars, with a bonus for cars that actually handle well and are fun to drive.

All of which meant that when the third-generation Focus debuted for model year 2012 (2011 introduction), we got the same car as did Europe, with only minor differences due to differing safety and emissions regulations. We didn't get the wagon -- Americans still don't understand small wagons -- but did get the sedan and five-door (four plus hatch) hatchback. Drivetrains are the same - a 2.0-liter, 160-horsepower four with direct fuel injection driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or six-speed "PowerShift" dual-clutch automated manual transmission. And the chassis tuning is nearly identical as well, even though our Focuses (Foci?) are from Wayne MI, not Europe.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Ford Focus 5-door hatchback

Trim levels are S, SE, SEL, and Titanium, starting with good basics in the S and adding standard and optional features until the near-luxury Titanium is reached. As is increasingly common, the hatchback is positioned above the sedan, and for that reason not offered at S level. I drove an SE sedan with the SE Sport Package and manual transmission earlier in the year and was quite impressed. As is typical, the mid-level SE is the heart of the line, and can be outfitted from econo-commuter to budget sporty fun, with that one definitely on the fun side. Last week I had the top-of-the line Titanium for a test car, in hatchback form with the PowerShift transmission. With (optional) leather seating and all of Ford's current cabin electronic tech goodies -- Sync, myFord Touch, Sirius satellite radio, and an SD card-based navigation system -- it represented the luxury aspect of the Focus, although with the Sport package for a more European experience. The hatch offers more interior storage and versatility in a slightly shorter package, but in any form Ford's newest Focus is one of the best cars in the compact segment, from anywhere in the world.


Watch TACH's exclusive 2012 Ford Focus all-models video


APPEARANCE: The look of Ford's latest small cars is distinctive, identifiable, and very European. Like the smaller Fiesta, the Focus's styling is visually interestingly but cohesive, with flowing sculpted lines and a long passenger cabin with well-raked windshield and backlight, even on the hatchback. Close inspection reveals that the popular oversized grille is mostly blacked-out body paneling, with small upper and lower openings. Look under the front of the car and find careful attention to underbody aerodynamics in panelling beneath the front and rubber air dams in front of all wheels. That's functional more than for style, and works as the Focus is quiet and stable at all speeds, even on the highway in strong crosswinds.

COMFORT: A nearly two-inch growth in wheelbase and completely redesigned interior mean that there's more room inside, for both front and rear passengers. While some competitors have de-contented their compact offerings, Ford has gone in the opposite direction. Soft-touch materials are used on most interior surfaces. Windshield glass has an acoustic control layer to reduce noise coming into the cabin, and thicker side and rear glass further reduces interior noise levels. All models feature a steering wheel manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach; in higher-level models the rim is leather-wrapped for comfort. If in the lower trim levels the 2012 Focus is a cut above the norm in interior materials and attention to detail, it attempts to take on the luxury compacts at Titanium level, especially with the Premium Package. The front seats are very good, with firm, supportive padding and reasonable bolstering. Leather seating surfaces and a power-adjustable driver's seat are part of the Titanium Premium Package.

Power windows and air conditioning are standard in all models, with upper levels getting dual-zone automatic climate control. Instrumentation is complete and presented well, with main instruments and trip information under a hood in front of the driver. The MyFord Touch "glass cockpit" touch-screen at the top of the center stack controls audio, phone, and navigation systems, replacing multiple hard buttons with context-sensitive soft buttons and smartphone/audio player-like external controls. Climate control is thankfully separate, a simple analog system lower in the stack. Audio choices at this level are everything - AM, FM, and Sirius radio, CDs in all popular formats, and USB and A/V inputs. Useful storage spaces abound in the cabin. The rear seat offers good accommodation for two, or occasionally three mid-sized adults. Here it's split 60/40 for maximum versatility, with great access via rear doors and the large hatch. A real spare tire can be found under the rear load floor, no can of sealant thank you very much.

SAFETY: The newest Focus was designed and built to meet or exceed worldwide crashworthiness standards for the foreseeable future. Its unibody structure is built with extensive use of high-strength steel for strength and light weight. Over 31 percent of the structure is made of ultra-high strength and boron steel for further weight reduction and strength and rigidity increase.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Only the Focus name remains the same. The new unibody structure contributes as much to road manners as it does to safety, and the 2012 Focus is a very enjoyable car to drive. Suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts in front and the "Control Blade" multilink system in the rear. The Titanium Sport Package upgrades wheels and tires to P235/40 ZR18s on alloy rims and adds firmer springs and dampers. No complaints. Despite the low-profile tires, the ride quality is still very good, if appropriately firm. The higher trim levels replace the rear drums found in lesser models with discs, a worthwhile improvement. The electrically-assisted steering has a moderate touch and much better road feel than most other EPS systems. The Focus is great fun on a twisty back road and comfortable on the highway or in town. Torque vectoring via the ABS/traction control system helps emulate a limited-slip differential to better get power to the ground, and to reduce understeer in corners.

PERFORMANCE: As good as the chassis is, Ford's best improvement to the Focus is under the hood. The 2.0-liter aluminum alloy inline four makes 160 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 146 lb-ft of torque (at 4450 rpm), 20 more horses and with a ten percent improvement in fuel economy. More is less? Yes - direct fuel injection allows a higher compression ratio -- 12.0:1 here, and on unleaded regular at that -- which increases both torque (and therefore horsepower) and fuel efficiency. "Twin independent variable camshaft timing" (Ti-VCT), Ford's term for dual cam phasing, further contributes to a broad torque spread, efficiency, and lower emissions. With the twin-clutch automated-manual "PowerShift" transmission, shifting is optimized for fuel efficiency, choosing the highest gear possible for any given situation. This is less an issue than it may seem because of the engine's good low-rpm torque, and Sport mode keeps it in a lower gear, with manual shifting possible. That's by a strange little rocker switch on the shift lever, which gives me the message "let the computer do it". The computer does a good job, with shifts tending to be slower and smoother than more performance-oriented dual-clutch implementations. Fuel economy is good for the car's size, high 20s around town and high 30s on the highway, even over 40 in some instances.

CONCLUSIONS: Small American car that's international in flavor with good looks, fun performance, a low appetite for fuel, and lots of room inside? Must be a new Ford Focus.

Sidebar: Ford Automated Parking
You can get a new Focus with Ford's Active Parking Technology active parking system. Do you need it? Probably not, but it does do an admirable job of parallel parking, with some restrictions. It cuts closer to both other cars and curbs that I would, but then I can't see those as well from the windshield and mirrors, or even rearview camera, as can the systems sensors. It doesn't work in simple situations -- it needs a reference vehicle, and a space considerably longer than the car, in order to work. But work it does -- pull up next to the vehicle in front of the desired space, and if that space meets with computer approval, a message will flash on the screen at the top of the center stack. Then take your hand off the steering wheel and let the computer take over. You still do control the brakes and throttle, though, so pay attention.

It's not a necessity by any means, but it is just the thing for the committed gadget fan to use to impress and amaze passengers.

SPECIFICATIONS

2012 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium
Base Price $ 22,765

Price As Tested $ 26,870

Engine Type dual overhead cam aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing on both camshafts

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 160 @ 6500 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 146 @ 4450 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automated dual-clutch

Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 171.6 in.

Curb Weight 2948 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.4

Fuel Capacity 12.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 235/40 ZR18 97W Michelin Pilot Sport 3

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent

Control Blade SLA (multilink)

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 27 / 37 / 31

0 to 60 mph est 8 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Rapid Spec 401A in includes:

Titanium Premium Package -- includes: leather-trimmed seats with 6-way power driver's seat, rear parking aid sensor, rain-sensitive front wipers $ 1,490

Parking Technology Package - includes:

automated parking system, rear-view camera $ 1,100

Sport Suspension and 18" alloy wheels $ 595

MyFord Touch / HD Sirius radio / Navigation $ 795

Destination charge $ 725

Parking Tech package discount -($ 405)

Total Savings $ 600


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