2014 Ford Focus Titanium Hatch Review By Carey Russ



PHOTO
2014 Ford Focus


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2014 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium Review

The Focus has been a major seller for Ford worldwide since its European inception in 1998. We got it, with only minor changes, for model year 2000. It sold reasonably well here, and more importantly for Ford at the time -- when its focus, so to speak, was on large SUVs -- the fuel-frugal Focus helped the CAFE fuel economy ratings. With sedan, hatchback, wagon, and even an SVT performance offerings, there was a Focus for everyone in the market for a compact car.

A second generation debuted in 2005 -- in Europe. We didn't get it until 2008, and even then, the American version was considerably different. Sedan only, no hatch, no wagon, no fun version. Who in the US wanted a small car when they could have a big, thirsty SUV?

Then gasoline prices skyrocketed and the economy tanked. Who wants a big, thirsty SUV when they could have a small, economical car? And what sort of body style maximizes interior people and cargo space in a minimum footprint for maximum efficiency?

A five-door hatchback. So 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 between here and there - 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.

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. Since its debut, there have been few major changes to the regular Focus hatch and sedan, although the high-performance ST and an electric model have been added to the lineup. The biggest changes for the regular 2014 line are a Sport Appearance Package for the core-model SE, with cloth-covered sports seats, leather wrap on the steering wheel and shift knob, rear disc brakes, and an available rear spoiler. To please import-oriented customers who can shift for themselves and still want more luxury than is typical in a compact, the Titanium can now be had with the manual transmission.

Which was not in my test car for the past week, a Titanium hatch equipped with the PowerShift transmission and the navigation system plus Sirius/XM radio and handling package of upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires (good thing there's a drought hereā€¦) and some suspension stiffening. So-equipped, it was a comfortable small car with very good space efficiency and a fine combination of Euro-style ride and handling and good performance for a fun-to-drive character. It also showed Euro-style economy with a 28-mpg average for the week, with less than a third of the miles on the highway. It's hard to beat five-door hatchback versatility, and, at least in my part of the country, Focus hatches seem to outnumber sedans. Today's hatchbacks, especially in the form of the Focus Titanium, are at the other end of the comfort and amenity level compared to the "econoboxes" that gave hatches a bad reputation here thirty years ago -- and they can also be more economical at the same time. And if you like the Focus hatch but feel the need for more go, the 252-hp ST

APPEARANCE: Ford calls it "kinetic styling", and it's distinctive, readily identifiable, and very international. It's visually interestingly but cohesive, with flowing sculpted lines and a long passenger cabin with well-raked windshield and rear window. 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 increase in wheelbase compared to the previous generation means more space inside, both front and rear. It's upscale in appearance -- and comfort. 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; at higher levels the rim is leather-wrapped for comfort, as is the shift knob. 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 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 "space-saver" or can of sealant thank you very much.

SAFETY: The 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. Responsive handling and, in upper trim levels, four-wheel disc brakes improve active safety - it's always better to avoid an accident.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A rigid unibody structure, properly-tuned fully independent suspension, and quick, electrically power-assisted steering make the Focus a pleasant car to drive. The MacPherson strut front, "Control Blade" multilink rear suspension is moderately firm with the Sport Package, which adds firmer, well-matched, springs and shocks and P235/40 ZR18 sport tires. If you live in the snow belt, you'll either pass on this in favor of the standard m+s tires or get a winter set of wheels and tires. The electrically-assisted steering has a moderate touch and much better road feel than most other EPS systems. The Focus is great on a twisty back road and comfortable on the highway or in town even with the sport setup. 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: The Focus's 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 than the same sized engine in the previous generation, and with a ten percent improvement in fuel economy. Direct fuel injection is the secret, allowing 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 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, with a 28 mpg average for my week with minimal highway travel.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Focus five-door hatchback combines space efficiency and versatility with perky performance and good fuel economy.

REVIEWED VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS
2014 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium

Base Price			$ 24,115
Price As Tested			$ 26,300
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			2935 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.3
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 / 28
0 to 60 mph				est 8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Sport Package -- includes:
  18" alloy wheels and summer tires, upgraded 
  springs and dampers				$ 595
Navigation system				$ 795
Destination charge				$ 795

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