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The Ford Focus changed the nameplate's image when it was new in 2012, taking it from lackluster to lap-worthy. Attractive, affordable, and fun, the Focus has won our Best Car To Buy award, as much for its trend-leading features as for its excellent front-drive handling.
This year, the heat's being turned up with a seriously enthusiastic Focus ST. While most of the lineup gets a 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder with 160 horsepower, and either a five-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the new high-performance Focus ST packs a 240-hp turbocharged EcoBoost four and a six-speed manual—no automatic allowed. It'll get to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds and to a top speed of 155 mph, numbers that call out to serious driving enthusiasts.
Performance from the Focus ST is a rush, as you might guess; but it's surprisingly well-engineered, with none of the coarse or twitchy tuner-car feel that affects the likes of the Mazdaspeed3 and Mitsubishi Ralliart. As for the rest of the Focus lineup, choose the manual gearbox and you'll have one of the best-driving small cars in the segment. You have to rev the engine to get to its perky side, but it's smooth, with a nice linkage.
The PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission in general does a good job keeping the revs up when you need it—but it can be rough at times at low speeds—and there's a Sport mode or you can control shifts on your own with a little +/- button on the side of the shift knob. The Focus handles as well as—or better than—the most deft handler in the class, the Mazda 3, 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.
(There's also a low-volume Ford Focus Electric model offered in more than a dozen U.S. markets. It's built on the same production line as other Focus variants, but dispenses with the gasoline engine and transmission, replacing them with a lithium-ion battery pack that runs an electric motor. The EPA rates the Focus Electric at 76 miles of range, and its price including delivery starts at $39,995. Ford appears to be only lukewarm on its most advanced Focus; throughout 2012, it sold just 685 of them nationwide. The 2013 Ford Focus Electric continues unchanged from the 2012 model.)
The Focus blends creases and curves with an overpowering front-end design and thin front grille, a new Ford design cue shared with the Escape. We prefer the hatchback by far to the stubby-tailed sedan. The instrument-panel design doesn't at all hold back inside, and while some may find it overly swoopy and almost too stylized, its vertically-oriented vents and pleasant surface sculpting look and feel original in a crowded class of look-alike small cars. Ford offers several trims to cover a wide range of expectations, but we find the Focus tends to look best in the top Titanium trim, where all the details are well coordinated.
Inside, the Focus can feel more like a European sport sedan than a budget-priced hatchback. Add the upgraded sport seats of the Titanium model and you'll find even better support than the already impressive base front seats. 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. Our most significant complaint concerns the instrument panel design, which cuts into front passenger knee space.
Safety-wise, the Focus holds strong; it's one of the few compact sedans to have earned both a five-star NCAP Overall Score and IIHS Top Safety Pick status.
The Focus still is offered in a cost-conscious Focus S base model, but the true focus is toward those well-equipped, tech-loaded upper trims like the SEL and Titanium. A loaded Titanium can hit $28k, but these models include 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.
Active Park Assist, which helps you steer into a parallel-parking space, is optional in upper-level Focus models and is one of several segment-exclusive tech features. MyFord Touch, with text-to-voice capability and WiFi capability, is also available.
- Excellent handling and steering
- Composed, refined ride
- Focus ST is a hoot
- Extroverted styling
- MyFord Touch is unrivaled in this class
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- Instrument panel design robs space
- Cluttered audio controls (base layout)
- Moderate road noise
- Somewhat pricier than other compacts