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In a sea of sensibly-sized and relatively fuel-efficient—yet all rather humdrum—small cars, the 2012 Ford Focus has just a little more personality.
That's what Ford would like us to think with its new Focus, yet here it's true. The new Focus not only looks more flamboyant and sophisticated inside and out; it's also a more engaging drive than most other on-a-budget small sedans, and it offers some features that haven't up until now been offered in this class.
There's no longer a Focus Coupe, but there are two beautiful body styles—a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback—from which to choose. Both models have some nice creases and curves; and thankfully, Ford's saccharine chrome louvered grille, from several of its larger vehicles, hasn't been carried over here. Inside, the design is pleasingly complex—incorporating a cockpit-like instrument panel arrangement, with a thick center stack, some nice surface sculpting, and vertically-oriented vents.
An all-new 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine powers the entire Focus lineup for 2012. It makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque and comes paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic. You have to rev the engine to access its perky side, but the dual-clutch gearbox does a great job keeping the revs high and uninterrupted when you need it; there's also a Sport mode, or you can control shifts yourself with a little +/- button on the side of the shift knob instead of paddle-shifters or a separate gate. While the powertrain requires a little diligence, the ride-and-handling compromises are about the best it gets. The Focus handles as well as—or better than—the most deft handler in the class, the Mazda3, with a suspension that doesn't crash and bang over rough transitions. Ford's electric power steering system provides nice weighting and it performs well, providing precise control but not transmitting much feel of the road.
The Focus's inherent sportiness extends to its interior, which feels, in top Titanium trim (with upgraded sport seats), more like that of a smart European sport-sedan cabin than a low-priced small car. The base seats in the 2012 Ford Focus are quite good, with better support than those of most other affordable small cars. And whether you choose the sedan or hatchback, you get back seat accommodations that are virtually the same, with just enough legroom and headroom to fit even those over six feet. With the leather upholstery, there's no skimping on look and feel in back; you won't get mid-size comfort, but there's enough comfort back there for most six-footers.
Ford is giving shoppers a choice as to whether they want a basic small car or a much more sophisticated one with all the features and options of a larger one. Prices on the Focus range from $16,995, including destination, for the base 2011 Ford Focus S, up to about $27k for a loaded Titanium. At the top of the line, the Titanium earns you MyFord Touch, an upgraded ten-speaker Sony sound system, HD Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, sport seats, a sport suspension, and sport wheels with summer performance tires. A number of the Titanium's features—including the Sport package—are optional on the SEL.
One other segment-exclusive feature that will be available in the Titanium is Active Park Assist—that's the system Ford has offered on several more expensive models that essentially allows the car to steer itself into a spot while you modulate the brake. In a city-savvy small car like the Focus—rather than one that's more likely to be valet-parked—it finally makes sense.