2012 Ford Focus Titanium HD Video Review
Compact cars are boring.
Compact cars are cheap.
Compact cars are noisy.
Compact cars don’t have cool high tech options.
Compact cars make me feel unsafe.
Recognize any of the above statements? Chances are you believe at least one of them if not most. Americans have never embraced smaller vehicles because 1) we’ve never had to because fuel has been cheap and 2) they have been sold as budget rides for those who can’t afford large luxurious cars.
That’s about to change.
The same European Focus that has eluded Americans for years will hit Ford showrooms in March. Just in time. Economists believe gasoline prices are headed north right when our personal finances are going south. Also, Uncle Sam is hiking the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (or CAFE) numbers drastically, forcing automakers to build more fuel efficient cars. So the 2012 Ford Focus isn’t just another compact car, it is a glimpse into the future.
Is That a German Accent I Detect?
The Focus name is known throughout the world but the version sold in the US for the past four years has been significantly different from the one sold in Europe. Ours was built on an older architecture to keep it affordable because, well, you know, compact cars are cheap to buy. For enthusiasts that have pined away for the version sold across the pond, it is now party time. It is every bit as good as you might have hoped.
The new Focus that’s being screwed together in Wayne, Michigan is about as close to the Euro car as it can be considering safety regulations and our engine preferences (no, we are not getting the diesel engine or the station wagon version). The very useful five-door hatchback design is back after being MIA for years, a four-door sedan is available as well. Both look distinctive in sheetmetal Ford calls Kinetic design. It’s a huge improvement.
Focus starts at 17 grand with a five-speed manual transmission. At the press event in Los Angeles I’m driving a fully loaded top-of-the-line Titanium model that’ll ding your checkbook for $27,500. Not cheap. The same price buys a fully optioned Kia Optima. Does the Optima parallel park itself? Focus can, and it goes farther on a tank of gas.
The only engine at launch is a 2.0-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder. It makes 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque @ 4450 RMP. Standard on Titanium is the six-speed automatic PowerShift twin-clutch transmission. Manual cog swaps are done via a small button on the transmission lever on the console.
The PowerShift is more than just a marketing name. Using two clutches allows for very quick gear changes with no drop in engine torque. This box is smooth as silk, drop it into sport mode and it seems to read a driver’s mind.
While aggressive pilots might find it doesn’t always downshift quickly when the throttle is floored, it has an uncanny knack of knowing the gear it needs to be in for the situation at hand. It does not have blink of an eye shifts like Volkswagen’s DSG but overall it is nicely done.
Acceleration is brisk and Focus is quiet so it’s good for road trips. The big news is handling. Titanium models get a sport suspension and its supple comfortable ride quality remains compelling in the curves. This is very much a driver’s car.
A torque vectoring system that acts like limited slip differential is standard on all Focus models. In corning, it uses the brake system to reduce power-on understeer and power-off control. It’s not overtly detectable, it just makes you feel like a better driver than you are.
EPA fuel economy hasn’t been released yet, expect high 20s in the city, close to 40 on the highway.
Features Not Found in Some Premium Cars
The instrument panel that’s made with soft touch materials wraps around the driver. The door latches feel good, power window switched get a slight bit of shiny trim and the dials and switches all feel expensive. In other words, it’s worlds better than the hard grey plastic panels found in the outgoing model. The thick hefty leather wheel in the Titanium is a pleasure to hold and it adjusts for rake and reach.
In addition to elevating the overall quality of the car, Ford is making advanced options available (and not just heated leather seats). The list includes the new advanced version of SYNC, Sirius and HD Radio tuners, adjustable color ambient lighting, rear view camera, and keyless ignition.
The optional leather chairs are comfortable and well bolstered, a good place to listen to the premium Sony sound system with its satellite and HD radio tuners. Your passenger may not agree with your music taste but at least there’s dual zone climate control.
Have a smartphone with a data plan? Tether it Ford’s system that turns Focus into a Wi-Fi hot spot so kids can surf the internet with laptops, iPod and iPads. I find the automatic parallel parking system to be better than the one found in a Lexus. In short, there’s tech here that’s not found in cars twice the Focus’ price.
MyFord Touch is a new color-coded attempt to make the user interface easier. It’s like a touch based Audi MMI interface. On the eight-inch LCD display, the home screen is divided into four squares each with it’s own colored tab (red for entertainment, blue for climate, green for navigation and yellow for phone). Touch the tab of the feature you want to control and it fills the screen and adds more detail. Push the “home button to get back to the quad view with it’s basic rudimentary controls. There are also buttons on the center stack and steering wheel that duplicate the screen controls. Often simple and intuitive I find the screen can sometimes use better touch response.
There’s also MyKey tech that allows a parent to limit the speed to 80 miles an hour, force traction control on and set a volume limit for the sound system (good in the case of the Sony). Glad my parents didn’t have that but I’d like it for my kids.
Moving to the Back
The rear seat easily handles two average adults. Three should be okay for trips across town. Foot and legroom are about average in class, don’t expect to stretch out. This space is where automakers often cut content but higher trim Focus models get a fold-down armrest, 12v power port, map pockets on both seatbacks storage in the doors and unique cubby holes near the floor.
The five-door is like a small crossover and it has more trunk room than the sedan. Beware the shoebox-sized subwoofer, its placement is a price to pay for awesome bass. As expected the seatbacks split and fold to create a large handy cargo hold.
Americans shy away from smaller cars in part because of perceived safety issues. Focus is 55 percent high strength steel, some reinforced with boron. The body shell is 30 percent stiffer than the outgoing American Focus and it was crashed 12,000 times in development- most in virtual computer simulations- to make sure it protects well. Specially tuned airbags account for size, weight and position of occupants and adjust accordingly.
Back to That Price Tag
No doubt it’s possible to buy a well-equipped mid-sized sedan for the price of this Titanium model. As gas prices head higher, Ford believes Americans will want the opportunity to have these fancy options on a fuel efficient car to remind them of the large car they traded in. Remember, you don’t have to buy all the bells and whistles, though the Titanium is very nicely done.
Ford is not the only manufacturer going the premium route in this segment. Chevy Cruse can be outfitted with all sorts of luxury touches and is very quiet and comfortable and the Hyundai Elantra even gets heated rear seats as an option. Buyers have never really had the option of a smaller well-equipped car before. Now they do.
The US is getting an electric version of Focus at the end of 2011. In early 2012, the 250 horsepower Focus ST performance model hits the streets. Car geeks have begged Ford to bring this car to America for years, now let’s see if they put their money where their mouth is. This is no longer a cheap and cheerful compact. The 2012 Focus is heads and shoulders above the outgoing car but more importantly it effortlessly competes with Corolla, Civic, Sentra, Mazda3, Cruze and Elantra. No longer basic transportation, Focus will please the masses and those who love to drive.
FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY FORD MOTOR COMPANY.