Disclaimer: The Focus I drove was a Ford Focus SEL Hatchback, not this exact car. Driving experience may vary.
Introduced in Europe in 1998, and North America in 1999, the original Focus surprised the world with its’ combination of avant garde styling (hatchback version), unbeatable dynamics, practicality, and affordability. Replacing the Escort, the Focus represented a new era for Ford, in terms of design and handling. It was given a rear independent suspension which was very expensive and rare for a car of this cost and class, but it gave the Focus unsurpassed dynamic excellence that left its rivals struggling to catch up. Ten years later, the U.S specific Focus has morphed into an outdated and boring compact sedan. Meanwhile in Europe, the Focus was thriving. See, Ford in Europe has a much better reputation as a car manufacturer because they produced substantially better cars such as the Mondeo instead of the Fusion, Kuga instead of the Escape, and so on. They produced a different Focus while we got the same Focus from 1999, albeit “restyled” in 2008. In America during 2005-2011, Ford’s lineup was hampered by its fuel-thirsty SUVs and uncompetitive cars. During the recession of 2008, Ford realized it needed a solution to save its company. They started a globalization strategy, which meant we would get the same cars as Europe did. They started bringing the subcompact Fiesta over here, which quickly became a hot-seller, and the latest Focus that you see here. The Focus has been selling well, abiding to the same principles that made the original Focus such a worldwide success.
In terms of styling, the latest Focus surpasses the 2008-2010 Focus. Whereas the old Focus looked tired and frumpy, this Focus is brimming with modern design details. The front features the Ford logo cutting into the hood, while a prominent trapezoid shaped grill encompasses the bumper. You can tell Ford took its time with the exterior design. The details are fastidious, such as the fog-lights and the bumper designs. The body shape is simple, yet very stylistic, with the clever use of wraparound taillights and headlights. I particularly like the back, as it is a clean design, with a modest spoiler, attractive light design, and minimal use of cladding on the bottom. Overall, the styling is trendy and stylish. However, interior is not as well designed. The audio controls look like they came from the keyboard of a cell phone. The interior gives off a somber hue, with its use of dark color plastics. The light color plastics help alleviate the dark interior somewhat. The controls are very straightforward thanks to use of rotary knobs for the AC. However, the audio controls takes some time to master. Fortunately, this did not come with the Sync system. The Sync system is an advanced in-car voice activated technology that has been criticized for its non intuitive interface, and it is still a problem in the current Ford and Lincoln models.
The driving experience is where the Focus really excels. The steering has bundles of feedback, and it is very precise, with decent weighting. The steering and the suspension work in harmony, and this car tackles corners without hesitation. Understeer is minimal. Push this car to the limit, and the front-wheel drive bias will become apparent. The car feels very balanced and composed, especially when dealing with mid-corner bumps. The suspension is another positive attribute of this car, providing terrific isolation from the road, while also keeping the body level in turns. This car is eager to be driven in corners fast, with no hints of body lean. You can really tell this car was designed in Europe, because it handles very tidy, and feels very substantial in terms of body rigidity. This car is almost as good as my favorite compact sedan, the Mazda3. Ironically, the first Mazda3 shared its chassis with the Ford Focus. The only thing that mars the driving experience is the transmission. The transmission is a twin-clutch automatic transmission dubbed PowerShift by Ford. Essentially, it is an automatic transmission, but instead of using a torque converter, it uses two clutches. The objective is to provide fast shifts while giving better fuel economy without the delay of the torque converter. Sounds great, except this transmission was not executed well. Typical of a dual clutch transmission, the car rolls back on slight inclines like a manual transmission car. The transmission is also very jerky, and there is lurching at low speeds. The transmission executes shifts slowly, and sometimes will change gears for no apparent reason. Ford released a software update to solve the problems, but a quick look on the Ford forums indicate that Focus owners are still complaining about the transmission. My advice? Go for the manual transmission. This Focus, with its emphasis on driving enjoyment, is screaming for a manual transmission. Did you know,when this generation was launched in 2011, demand for the stick shift versions of the Ford Focus was higher than initially expected, and there were requests for increased availability of the stick shift across the Focus lineup? Ford had no choice but to increase availability of the manual in the Focus lineup. This proves my point. If you really want to get the best out of the Focus, get the manual.
Except for the turbocharged four cylinder in the ST version, the Focus is only available with a 2.0 four cylinder horsepower making 160 horsepower. In true Ford fashion, the engine note is reminiscent of an authentic growl that can only be American. It is a bit weak at low revs, but there is a power surge at higher revs. Acceleration is adequate, but the engine never falters in picking up speed. Refinement is good for the price, with muffled wind and road noise.
One flaw about the cabin is that the rear is cramped, even by compact cars’ standards. Other than that, the cabin is comfortable and there is a decent amount of headroom. It is easy to get comfortable. Fit and finish could be better, as there is hard and scratchy plastic present in the dash, and there are some panel gaps. Other than that, the interior is a nice place to be.
Growing up in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, foreign cars were the focus of the American market. I was led to believe that American cars were not as good as the Japanese. Unpatriotic I know, but we had a 1993 Saturn SL, so we did support American automakers at one point. Anyway, the only Ford cars I liked were the Fusion, Mustang, and the older F150’s, but never the Focus. Ford’s turnaround after the recession in 2008 has led to some credible cars, such as this Focus. I am impressed with Ford, because Ford truly has put effort into making impressive cars. During the 2008 recession, they also did not take the government’s bailout money, and they took it upon themselves to clean up the financial mess they were in. This move blew me away, because any company in debt would have taken the easy way out in a recession, but Ford insisted on fixing its problems. The company’s admirable efforts paid off as the latest Fusion looks incredible, and the Explorer is burning up the sale charts. This Focus has received rave reviews by car magazines such as Car and Driver and Motor Trend. Even Consumer Reports rated the Focus higher than the 2012 Honda Civic, a perennial best-seller. If I were in the market for a compact and cheap sedan, I would go for this or the Mazda 3. My ideal Focus would be a SE sedan in Sterling Gray with no options. Just the basics. With the stick shift of course, just like how the Europeans do it. This car with European handling with American performance brings true meaning to the idiom, “Best of both worlds”.
These pictures were edited by my friend Y. Sivakumar.