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2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Ford Focus


FYI: Ford Buyers Guide

Good things come to those who can wait.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Ford Focus

Since its European introduction in 1998, the Focus has been one of the mainstays of Ford's passenger car line worldwide. We got it in 1999, for model year 2000, little-changed from its European counterpart. But when the second generation debuted in Europe for model year 2005, we kept the original Focus. SUVs were declining, crossovers were the Coming Thing, and Ford's American attention was directed out toward the Edge…

We did get Focus, Generation Two, sort of, for 2008. It diverged more than a bit from its Euro counterpart, and was more a major freshening of the original than an all-new car. Small cars still weren't selling here - until gasoline prices started to climb during that summer. In a separate development, when then-new CEO Alan Mulallay came over from Boeing, one of his earliest comments was something to the effect of "at Boeing, we sold the same 737 worldwide. Why are you selling different cars under the same name in different markets?"

While the consumer automobile market is not much like the commercial aircraft market, Mulally did have a valid point. And American automotive tastes have changed since the days of the softly-sprung full-sized "land yacht" sedan - today's buyers have likely grown up in imports, and want cars that handle and are fun to drive. So why change from the European version, especially in chassis settings?

So, even though it's built in Wayne MI, the American third-generation Focus is as close as it can be to the European one. The styling is nearly identical (as was the case back in 1999), and it has a fun-to-drive character that is lacking from most comparably-priced Asian and even European competitors. "European character" also means European-level fuel economy -- if you think gas prices are high here in the States, not even…

The 2012 Focus comes in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, in trim levels from basic S (sedan only) through ever-fancier SE and SEL to top-level Titanium. Engine choice is simple, a new 160-horsepower 2.0-liter direct fuel-injected twincam inline four. That drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual (S and SE only) or six-speed "PowerShift" dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

Watch TACH's exclusive promo video of the Focus models

Perusing the specifications, it's my guess that the SE will be the core model. Offered in both body styles, it adds fancier trim and a few upgrades to the S's not-quite-basic spec. It also allows a comprehensive list of possible standalone options and packages for the widest appeal. A Focus SE can be made into a sporty and economical compact, a fully electronically-equipped technology showcase, or anything in between.

Last week's test car was definitely of the sporty persuasion. An SE sedan, it had the stick and Sport Package for maximum driving involvement and pleasure. To showcase Ford's cabin electronic technology, it was also equipped with the Rapid Spec 203 A option group of Convenience, MyFord, and SYNC packages and Sirius satellite radio. The result was a fine combination of Euro-style fun-to-drive character, contemporary convenience, and fuel economy, with 28mpg achieved with maximum fun with the willing engine and gearbox and minimal use of highways. YMMV, probably upwards there…

APPEARANCE: Meet the Fiesta's big brother. The look of Ford's latest small sedans is distinctive, identifiable, and very European. The styling is visually interestingly but cohesive, with flowing sculpted lines and a long passenger cabin with well-raked windshield and backlight. 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 sedan is quiet and stable at all speeds, even on the highway in strong crosswinds.

COMFORT: A nearly two-inch growth in wheelbase and massively redesigned interior mean that there's more room inside, for front and rear passengers. Where some competitors have de-contented their compact offerings, most noticeably by replacing soft-touch interior panels with hard plastic Ford has gone in the opposite direction. Even in SE trim, the 2012 Focus is a cut above the norm in interior materials and attention to detail. 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 the SE with the Sport Package and above the rim is leather-wrapped for comfort. The Sport seats are very good, with firm, supportive padding and reasonable bolstering. Yes, everything is manually adjustable, even driver's cushion height. Windows are power, though, and air conditioning is also standard in all models. Instrumentation is complete and presented well, with main instruments and trip information under a hood in front of the driver and, here, audio in a small screen at the top of the center stack. Nav system screens live there in Focuses so-equipped. Part of the Rapid Spec 203A package is a good AM/FM/CD (audio/MP3/WMA)/Sirius/auxiliary jack and USB audio system. Useful storage spaces abound in the cabin. Rear passengers are not an afterthought. The rear seat offers good accommodation for two, or occasionally three mid-sized adults. In the SE, the back folds in one piece. Sedan trunk capacity is good for the car's size, and the hatch should be even better.

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: Really only the Focus name is 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. As far as I could tell, the only changes to the fully-independent MacPherson strut / "Control Blade" multilink suspension for the Sport Package are upgraded wheels (alloy instead of steel), further upgraded on my test car from 16 inches to 17, with H-rated 215/50 tires. No spring and shock differences. No complaints! The SE Sport Package also replaces the standard (in S and SE) rear drums with discs, a worthwhile improvement. The electrically-assisted steering has a moderate touch, and the Focus is great fun on a twisty second-gear 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: Ford's best improvement here is under the hood. The new 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 undoubtedly optimized for fuel efficiency. With the five-speed stick, it's the driver's choice. Yes, you can short-shift the engine no problem. But it's happiest above 2500 in the lower gears, and 4000 in the upper gears and rewards the driver with enthusiastic performance. No, it's not a hotrod Mustang -- but as the old saying goes, it's more fun to drive a slow car (relatively) fast than to drive a fast car slow. And even staying away from highways as much as possible, and enjoying the engine and smooth-shifting, moderate-throw gearbox as much as possible, I still got 28 mpg overall. Better would be no problem, just dial back the right foot.

CONCLUSIONS: With its new Focus, Ford moves to the front of the compact class.

     • SEE ALSO: Demand Rising for New Ford Focus as It Earns Top Safety Pick


2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan

Base Price $ 17,270

Price As Tested $ 20,580

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 5-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 104.3 in. / 178.5 in.

Curb Weight 3000 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.8

Fuel Capacity 12.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P215/50R17 91H Conti ProContact

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


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 26 / 36 / 28

0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec


Rapid Spec 203A - includes:

Convenience Package - includes: cruise control, map lights, perimeter alarm MyFord & Sync Package, Sirius satellite radio $ 1,385

SE Sport package - includes: 16" allow wheels, rear disc brakes, piano black grille, rear spoiler, metallic interior trim finish, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob $ 1,130

17-inch machined alloy wheels $ 495

Destination charge $ 725

SE Sport Package Discount -$ 235

Total Savings -$ 425