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2016 Ford Focus 5dr HB Titanium Review by Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium

Ford's five-door Focus hatchback combines space efficiency and versatility with frugal fuel use

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

               • SEE ALSO: Ford Research and Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium

Are Americans finally warming to small hatchbacks? Ford's compact Focus has been an important part of its worldwide lineup since its European debut in 1998. When it made its way to North America for 2000, we got the same cars as Europe -- in sedan, hatchback, and wagon bodies -- subject to minor changes due to differing safety and emissions requirements. The first-generation Focus sold well, and its fuel-frugal nature helped Ford meet CAFE fuel-economy requirements at at time when the large SUV was king. But when the second generation appeared in Europe for 2005, we didn't get it until 2008, and then only the sedan, not the hatch.

When the current, third generation, Focus debuted for 2012, we again got the same car, in hatchback and sedan form, as Europe. With the same powertrain, 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.

There have been additions and changes to the American Focus lineup since then. The high-performance ST arrived for 2014. 2015 saw the most change. Most apparent was a front restyling that brought the regular Focus's face closer to that of the popular midsize Fusion sedan, or maybe gave it the look of a milder ST. Also at that time a new choice of power was offered -- a 1.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost three-cylinder engine. If its maximum 123 horsepower seemed weak compared to the standard 2.0-liter four's 160, it more than made up for that in torque with 148 lb-ft from 1400 through 4000 rpm. The naturally-aspirated two-liter makes 146 at 4450 rpm. Driver-assistance technologies usually though of as property of more expensive cars, such as lane-keep alert and blind-spot monitoring, were made available and a rear-view camera was standard. An electric model was offered as well.

With all of that new last year, Ford could be excused from changing much to the Focus for 2016. An available automatic transmission matched to the previously manual-only 1.0 EcoBoost engine should improve sales. Inside, the new SYNC®3 infotainment system brings a new look and interface to entertainment and information systems. And at some point in the model year, the Focus RS will debut. If you thought that the ST's 252 horsepower just wasn't enough, how about 350 hp and 350 lb-ft, thoughtfully distributed through and all-wheel drive system?

No, that's not what I've been driving for the past week. Nor a 1.0 EcoBoost. This week's test car is a 2.0-liter in premium Titanium trim, with the Technology Package of blind-spot and cross-traffic alert and lane-keep assist, optional high-performance all-season tires, a heated steering wheel, voice-activated navigation, and active park assist, all out of the norm for a small hatchback. That's nearly $3500 worth of options. I don't expect many Focuses to leave the dealership floor so equipped, but it does give a good overview of Ford technology. I'm personally not enamored of much of the "technology" that's going into cars today as it can be of dubious usefulness or even promote inattention on the part of the operator. That said, blind-spot systems are good things as mirrors have gotten smaller for styling and aerodynamic purposes. And when backing a small car out from between a couple of large SUVs, cross-traffic alert is a very good thing. Active park assist here means the car controls steering while parallel parking, while the driver must brake or use the throttle at the appropriate time. It's not completely autonomous, yet, and works very well with standard squared-off curbs. Sloped "rolled curb" as in front of my house, confuses it -- but precision is less critical there as expensive rims won't get scrunched. Adding those systems to the already high-spec Focus Titanium makes for a stealth near-luxury experience.

APPEARANCE: Details make a difference, and last year's restyle simplifies the front end with a single chrome-trimmed grille and revised hood. It fits well with the look of other current Ford sedans and hatchbacks. The lower front fascia has a less-pronounced intake, faux brake ducts (and foglamp homes), and "splitter" than the ST. Call it "ST light". As before, the windshield is highly swept and the passenger cabin arches to a rounded rear. 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. A notable feature of the Titanium is puddle lamps on the undersides of the outside mirrors.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium

COMFORT: At Titanium level the Focus is upscale in both appearance and appointment. Windshield glass has an acoustic control layer to reduce noise coming into the cabin, and thick 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. 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. MyFord Touch is history, replaced by a Sony-branded touchscreen interface for audio, phone, navigation (if fitted), apps, and car settings systems. A knob and touch-sensitive buttons below that offer further control methods. 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 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. It's the same sort of multi-configurability touted in SUVs in a smaller size.

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, well-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 even with the optional Pirelli P-Zero Nero P235/40 ZR18 all-season sport tires. Which surprisingly replace the standard space-saver spare with a full-size 215/55R16, a good feature in my book. The electrically-assisted steering has a moderate touch and much better road feel than most other EPS systems. The Focus is good 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: No changes here, and no worries about that. 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). Direct fuel injection allows a high 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 27 mpg average for my week with minimal highway travel.

CONCLUSIONS: As ever, Ford's five-door Focus hatchback combines space efficiency and versatility with frugal fuel use. In top-level Titanium trim it adds upscale comfort and available conveniences.

SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Ford Focus 5-Door Hatchback Titanium

Base Price $ 23,725

Price As Tested $ 27,650

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. / 171.7 in.

Curb Weight 3043 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.0

Fuel Capacity 12.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 235/40 ZR18 95W Pirelli PZero Nero all-season (opt)

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 26 / 38 / 27

0 to 60 mph est 8 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

18" premium aluminum alloy wheels with high-performance all-season tires $ 625

Technology Package -- includes: BLIS with Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane-Keeping Alert $ 795

Cold-Weather Package -- includes: all-weather floor mats, heated steering wheel $ 195

Voice-Activated Navigation $ 795

Active Park Assist $ 395

Exterior Protection Package $ 245

Destination Charge $ 875