New & Used Ford Focus: In Depth
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The Ford Focus is a compact car offered in hatchback and sedan form. The latest Focus is thoroughly modern and continues to receive updates nearly every year. This generation was launched for the 2012 model year and has been significantly updated for the 2015 model year. The Focus is the American automaker's global best-seller and a challenger for the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Chevrolet Cruze, among many others.
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 slightly larger 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 competitors, 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, the Focus lost its place as the entry-level model in Ford's lineup when the Fiesta subcompact arrived for 2011.
In its initial several years, the Focus was offered with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines making 110 horsepower or 130 hp, 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 later are generally considered more reliable than the earlier ones—and for wagon and hatch aficionados, 2005 to 2007 is the sweet spot.
For 2008 the Focus lineup was refreshed more thoroughly, with an extensively redone interior, more refinement, and expanded safety features. The wagon was dropped along with all hatchback models, replaced by 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 later 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 they are somewhat of 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.
Today's Focus ST has roots in European performance models that weren't brought here but also the original SVT Focus offered in the first generation. That car packed a high-output four-cylinder making 170 hp, a strengthened Getrag six-speed manual transmission, uprated brakes, a tony exhaust, and a stiffened suspension. It was lots of fun to drive and is still admired by hot-hatch lovers to this day.
The new Ford Focus
The current third-generation Focus was launched as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback for the 2012 model year. The two-door and wagon models offered in previous generations and in Europe are not available here, while a sporty Focus ST "hot hatch" model joined the lineup for 2013 and a Focus RS is on the way with even higher performance.
The redesigned Focus is built in Michigan and shares about 80 percent of its design with the version sold in Europe. This version has excellent ride and handling as well as a more sophisticated driving feel overall. A new-generation direct-injection engine returns good gas mileage—up to 40 mpg in special SFE trim. 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.
Ford offers a Focus Electric hatchback in a handful of states. The company doesn't do much to promote it, which leads us to believe it is simply a so-called compliance car, designed to meet California regulations that require companies to sell a certain number of zero-emission vehicles to be allowed to sell other vehicles in the state. Ford recently slashed the price of the Focus Electric by $6,000, which means the company may not be selling as many as it needs to.
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.
The Focus got a visual refresh for the 2015 model year, including a revised front end and upgraded interior. Engine offerings are expanded as well: A version using the three-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine will now be offered; the engine first became available in the U.S. in the smaller Fiesta. The ST and Focus Electric benefit from the styling updates as well, although both leave their powertrains unchanged for 2015.
In 2017, Ford will offer a new Ford Focus RS in America, the first time an RS model will be available here. This harder-core version of the Focus ST adds all-wheel drive and an even more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The new RS also has more aggressive body addenda, a reworked suspension, and grippier tires. It will no doubt be a limited-production model and should carry a price tag in the high $30,000 range.
Soon, a new version of Sync, named Sync 3, will replace the MyFord Touch interface in all of Ford's vehicles. It likely will not make it into the Focus until 2016 at the earliest.