2012 Ford Focus: First Drive

January 30, 2011

While it's easy to find a good, sensibly-sized and relatively fuel-efficient small car, it's really hard to find much personality.

At the same time, you could argue, Americans haven't seemed to want much charm behind the wheel. The first-generation Focus, for instance, came in a wide range of body styles (including three- and five-door hatchbacks), and had a standard of ride and handling arguably better than anything in its class at the time, but it became a sore reality after a few years that Americans weren't willing to pay for small-car sophistication. A couple of refreshes cut body styles from the lineup and left the Focus feeling a little more refined, but also more conservative.

Times have definitely changed since then—and they've definitely changed since the last time Ford went to the drawing board for its last 2007 refresh of the Focus, when the vehicle gained Sync connectivity as a central selling point, but lost its hatchback body styles, became more conservative-looking, and lost even more of the dynamic spirit of that original Focus.

While Hyundai has simplified its Elantra down to just a handful of build combinations, Ford is offering a wide range of possibilities for the 2012 Focus, to serve as everything from basic transportation (for those who still think of small cars as 'economy cars') to a small family's primary vehicle—or even a surprisingly sophisticated sport sedan.

Two shapely body styles

Now, shoppers have two beautiful body styles—a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback—from which to choose. They're both rakish and sleek, and while the profile of the Focus sedan is uncommon (and remarkably close to that of the recently introduced Chevrolet Cruze, as well as the Elantra), the distinction is in the details. Both models have Ford's kinetic design attributes, with the rising beltline that's become par, but accented here with some nice creases and curves—including a subtle curve that runs from the headlights all the way to the taillights, just below the beltline, and a sharper crease that starts after the front wheelwell and runs through the door handles. Taillamps are huge and form much of the rear corners on both vehicles. Thankfully, Ford's saccharine chrome louvered grille, from several of its larger vehicles, and which we never warmed up to, hasn't been carried over here.

Inside, the design is complex—incorporating a cockpit-like instrument panel arrangement, with a thick center stack, some nice surface sculpting, and vertically-oriented vents. Trims and finishes look classy and inviting, and there's a nicely tailored look to the entire interior that extends to door trim and even seats. The turquoise-colored gauge pointers are a nice touch.

While turbocharged EcoBoost power is on the way, the Focus lineup includes a single engine now, an all-new 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder making 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque; that's 20 hp and 10 pound-feet than before, though when you correct for the 200-300-pound weight gain of the new Focus it's no big bump. The new mill has Ti-VCT variable valve timing, though, and can be paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic.

Engine is very smooth, but needs to be revved

The engine settles to one of the smoothest idles we've noted in a small-car; direct-injection engines can be rather noisy at idle—sounding almost a little diesel-like at times—but engineers have done a great job here in masking those sounds.

2.0-liter GDI Duratec - 2012 Ford Focus

2.0-liter GDI Duratec - 2012 Ford Focus

Enlarge Photo
Although the new engine carries the Duratec name, it has a very different character than the other U.S.-market powerplants that get that moniker; in short, you have to rev this engine to tap into its perky side. It's in a few rare instances—like coming out of a tight corner in third when we should have been in second—that the new engine's relative (and surprising, given the valve system) lack of low-rev torque is highlighted. The engine feels nearly lifeless below 2,000 rpm, but rev it above 3,000 and it really begins to hit its stride; peak torque is at 4,450 rpm. Luckily it's refined and entirely lacking the boominess that used to be a small-car norm. But Ford has done a good job in making the Focus feel light-footed off the line, with low first-gear ratios in either gearbox, and the dual-clutch gearbox does a great job keeping the revs high and uninterrupted. Take off, foot to the floor, and the Focus feels quick.
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