New & Used Ford Focus: In Depth
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For a decade and a half, the Ford Focus has been a solid competitor to the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, and the Chevrolet Cruze. Its current incarnation, launched in 2012 and updated with a new face and a revised interior for 2015, is both stylish and fun to drive. It offers a comprehensive suite of infotainment options, some of which Ford is working hard to get right.
The current third-generation Focus was launched as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, for the 2012 model year. The two-door and wagon models offered in previous generations are gone, but a sporty sporty Focus ST "hot hatch" model joined the lineup for 2013.
The redesigned Focus is built in Michigan and shares about 80 percent of its design with the version sold in Europe. Over multiple drives starting in 2012, we've noted the excellent ride and handling, as well as the more sophisticated driving feel overall, of the current Focus. A new-generation direct-injection engine returns good gas mileage—up to 40 mpg in special SFE trim—and the lineup so far consists of four-door sedans and five-door hatchbacks. The current Focus is great evidence that small cars don't have to seem like appliances, but can offer style, rewarding drivers, and upmarket features--if you're willing to pay for them.
On the efficiency front, Ford has lately emphasized sales of its Prius competitors, the compact hybrid C-Max (built on Focus underpinnings) and the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid model, offering 21 miles of battery range backed up by a gasoline engine. But for 2015, a new model joins the Focus lineup: one with a tiny turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual gearbox. It's the kind of car that would have been unthinkable for a U.S. maker only a few years ago, but more efficient smaller engines and ever-rising corporate fuel economy rules have brought this most efficient of Focuses to the tale.
At the other end of the scale, the Focus ST launched in 2013 features a 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four and much sportier suspension tuning, along with performance improvements throughout. We've driven the 2013 Ford Focus ST and found it to be a very satisfying enthusiasts' car, while remaining one that you can drive daily on your commute, as well as for long highway trips. It was good enough, in fact, that it won a nomination for the Best Car To Buy award by Motor Authority.
In some states, there's also a battery-powered Focus Electric hatchback model. But Ford seems disinterested in the all-electric car--rated at 76 miles of range--leading to suspicions that it isonly a so-called compliance car, however, offered purely to meet California regulations requiring zero-emission vehicle sales.
While the current Focus is base-priced just under $17,000 with delivery, it's easy to spend upwards of $10,000 more if you ladle on the luxury items that Ford offers--separately and as part of the top-end Platinum trim level. Ford dropped the SEL trim from the Focus lineup after a year, going from SE to Platinum. But the current Focus has all sorts of class-first options—including the MyFord Touch interface, an active parking feature, and HD Radio.
For 2013 and 2014, the Focus rates an overall five-star NHTSA safety score, while early models were slightly lower. It's one of the few compact sedans to have earned both that and IIHS Top Safety Pick status. It earned an 'acceptable' rating--just one notch down from the top 'good' that it earned on all other tests--in the tough new IIHS small-overlap front crash test.
Older Focus models
The original Ford Focus replaced the old Escort back in 2000, and has been the company's compact car line ever since. When it was first introduced that year, the Focus replaced not only the Ford Escort but also the Ford Contour sedan, which was then discontinued. At that time, the Focus was a more upscale-feeling small car than most, offering a better interior experience than most small cars, plus critically lauded handling, so the top rivals at the time were the Volkswagen Golf/Jetta and Mazda Protégé.
Over its life, the Focus has had a variety of body styles, including two- and four-door sedans, three- and five-door hatchbacks, and a wagon. As compacts have gotten larger over the years, its place as the entry-level model in Ford's lineup was assigned to the Fiesta subcompact when it arrived for 2011.
In its initial several years, the Focus was offered with 110-horsepower or 130-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, with the 130-hp (DOHC) version being the pick of the two. Most models could be equipped with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, though for many years wagon models were oddly offered only with an automatic. Some models were offered with a 2.3-liter engine. In addition to all the body styles, the Focus was available in many different trim levels and could be loaded with luxury items like leather upholstery and a moonroof.
A 2005 model-year refresh simplified the lineup in many ways and brought crisper front-end styling; the engine lineup changed to 136-hp (2.0-liter) and 151-hp (2.3-liter) versions of Ford's more modern Duratec engine. Focus models from this era and more recent are generally considered more reliable than the earlier ones—and for wagon and hatch aficionados, 2005-2007 is sweet spot.
For 2008 the Focus lineup was refreshed more thoroughly, with an extensively redone interior, more refinement, and expanded safety features. The wagon, along with all hatchback models were dropped, replaced buy a rather homely looking two-door coupe sold alongside the sedan. Also of note, Ford chose the youth-oriented Focus in which to introduce its new Sync hands-free interface, which has since spread to the rest of the lineup.
Ford offered electronic stability control early on for the Focus, but then discontinued it in 2004. Focus models without the optional side airbags have been rated 'poor' by the IIHS, so it should be a must-have. Through this era, the Focus didn't do so well in federal crash tests—for the early years of the Focus, three-door hatchback versions earned one star (out of five) for rear-seat passengers in the side-impact test, while it was only rated three stars in several categories.
The only serious performance model in the Focus' history before the 2013 Focus ST has been the SVT Focus. Worshipped by pocket-rocket fans, the SVT Focus offered a higher-output, 170-horsepower four, stronger Getrag six-speed gearbox, plus better brakes, a more vocal exhaust, and a greatly enhanced, stiffer suspension that altogether made the Focus a blast to drive.