published Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Ford Focus sets standard in compact class

Our red candy metallic-colored Ford Focus test car from Mountain View Ford is outfitted in top-of-the-line platinum trim.
Our red candy metallic-colored Ford Focus test car from Mountain View Ford is outfitted in top-of-the-line platinum trim.

FAST FACTS


Model: 2012 Ford Focus, 5-door Hatchback (Titanium package).

Exterior color: Red Candy Metallic.

Interior: Charcoal black.

Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder.

Horsepower: 160.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy: 37 mpg highway, 27 mpg city.

Dealer: Mountain View Ford.

Price (as tested): $26,745.

For years, the Ford Focus has soldiered on with the same basic body style and mechanics, while other automakers zoomed ahead developing small cars for the fast lane.

Well, the blue oval folks have outdone themselves with the redesigned 2012 Focus, which boasts revolutionary (not just evolutionary) advances in comfort, performance and styling.

Some believe the Focus, a finalist for North American Car of the Year (along with the Chattanooga-made Passat, and the eventual winner, the Hyundai Elantra), has actually catapulted past the small-car competition and now sets the standard in the competitive compact class.

STYLING

Our eye-catching candy red metallic test car from Mountain View Ford embodies all that is good about the new Focus. The five-door, hatchback body design is sleek and contemporary. The fascia features wraparound headlight treatments and a blackout grille that would look at home on a fighter jet.

"It's sure not the old Focus," says Mountain View Ford sales manager Doug Cawood, who notes that a performance version of

the new Focus with Ford's sweet EcoBoost turbocharged engine is in the product pipeline.

A tail badge reveals our test car is decked out in top-of-the-line Titanium trim, which includes such upgrades as rear parking sensors, a six-way power driver's seat and a rear armrest. Our tester came with sharp, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. (In case you haven't noticed, black is the new chrome.)

Inside, our Focus had seats trimmed in sumptuous charcoal black leather (part of the Titanium package), with contrasting light stitching, a Ford trademark. The well-bolstered front seats are an instant reminder that the new Focus is a true driver's machine.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The new Focus handles like a $40,000 German import. The steering is so well balanced and responsive that it feels like you could simply lean in one direction and the car would follow.

The standard 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine makes 160 horsepower, which is plenty for this size vehicle.

You don't have to wait for the turbo version to experience an entertaining ride. Punch the accelerator, and the Focus gathers itself to shoot through traffic. It's a wonderful experience when mated to the car's pinpoint steering.

In rush-hour traffic on South Broad Street, the Focus soaked up pavement imperfections. The cabin is nicely isolated, with only the Focus' melodious exhaust note to disturb the peace. (One small nit to pick: Ford's turn signals are too loud.) A six-speed transmission helps the Focus make 37 mpg highway and 27 mpg city.

The Focus is chock-full of cutting-edge technological features, including Ford's MyFord Touch system which eliminates many of the switches and buttons on a typical center stack in favor of touch and voice controls. Our tester responded to voice commands to set the climate control temperature at 72 degrees, for example. Cell phone and MP3 interfaces are standard.

Ford even offers a parking-assist option, which allows the Focus to parallel park itself. Whoa!

BOTTOM LINE

If estimates are true that gasoline will drift up past $4 a gallon this year, people will be lining up to buy this new Focus, which is both nifty and thrifty.

Even if gas is cheaper, the Focus is a stylish, fun-to-drive ride. While our Titanium tester came with almost every conceivable option and stickered for $26,745, a well-equipped Focus can be had for thousands less.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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