There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the all-new 2012 Ford Focus. It's been a long time in the works, and an opportunity for Ford to rejuvenate a vehicle that has seen better days.
Ford's new approach to the subcompact segment started with the launch of the Fiesta in early 2011, which was shortly followed by the Focus. Previous generations of the Focus were "North Americanized" and differed from their European counterparts, which were spoiled with a superior interior, more size, and a sleeker design. Not so this time around: the 2012 conforms to an international design, with just a few tweaks for regional preferences (such as MyFord Touch).
My tester for the week was the Focus Titanium hatchback, which came in a vibrantly yellow, blaze-metallic colour. The five-door-hatchback iteration of the Focus was last seen in 2007, but it clearly never should have been retired since the hatch adds character and appeals to the younger demographic.
When I first put eyes on the Focus Titanium hatchback, I felt like I was looking at a contestant on one of those makeover shows – I've only heard about them – where a European designer has carte blanche to go to town on middle-aged housewives that have let themselves go. The new Focus is no housewife, but it's also nothing like its predecessor. The new look, feel, and design makes this vehicle a hot commodity in the subcompact segment. Ford's emphasis was on design, and it's paid off in the Focus's sportier lines, curvaceous body, and overall appeal.
And the Focus's good looks are not just skin deep: the interior is also sensational. The two-tone front leather seats are comfortable and have power height and recline functions. A plush, soft-touch plastic surrounds the front cabin and centre console, which houses the MyFord Touch screen. The gadgets read like a laundry list, including an engine start-up button, a rear-view camera for reversing, side mirrors with blind-spot-indicator lights, heated seats, a sunroof, XM radio, and navigation. But the most interesting gadget of all has to be the Active Park Assist, which – lo and behold – allows you to manoeuvre the Focus into a parking spot at the push of a button.
The Focus has also been transformed beneath the hood, with a 2.0-litre, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine. This baby commands 160 horses, 20 more than its predecessor, and 146 lb-ft of torque. Granted, these numbers aren't exactly earth shattering, but they are a marked improvement. The Focus provides two transmission options: a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with a manual shift option, the latter of which was in the tester. In automatic mode, the Focus is a little slow out of the gate, but acceleration is smooth once you start to cruise above 40 km/h. I wasn't impressed with the manual shift option, and I'm not sure how many people will have any use for it. It took a while simply to figure out how to get into manual mode, and, once there, switching gears feels awkward on account of the shifter's being too low.
The steering is light and easy and seems to buff out the bumps on the road. The Focus may not have the upper hand on the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf when it comes to power, but it does offset this imbalance with its fuel economy. After driving it throughout the city and on the highway for a week, the Focus averaged a combined 7.2 L/100 km, better than most of its rivals.
The Focus Titanium hatchback was in desperate need of a makeover, and it's now a real contender in the subcompact segment. It's a bit pricier than other cars in its segment, with the sedan starting at a base of $15,999 and the hatch at $19,899, but Ford has finally struck the right balance between design, gadgetry, and fuel economy to help it succeed.