Just in time for $4-a-gallon gasoline prices, the 2012 Ford Focus compact arrives as a handsome new model with head-turning fuel mileage, comfortable ride and luxury options not usually found in small cars.
The early-introduction Focus, available as a sedan and five-door hatchback, is rated at 28 miles a gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway as a sedan with automatic transmission and an extra-cost Special Fuel Economy (SFE) package. Ford's Fiesta small car also has a 40-mpg highway rating.
The $495 SFE package on the Focus swaps out standard tires for low rolling resistance rubber, adds special wheel covers that are more aerodynamic than the regular ones and a spoiler at the sedan's trunk lid and puts a newfangled grille in front that can adjust air flow. All this boosts the mileage rating above that of the regular Focus sedan with automatic transmission mileage of 28/38-mpg.
Best of all, pricing for the Focus remains affordable. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $16,995 for the base 2012 S sedan and $18,790 for a 2012 Focus SE hatchback. Both have the strong, 160-horsepower Focus engine and standard manual transmission.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2012 Focus sedan with automatic is $18,090, while a 2012 Focus hatchback with automatic, an SE model, starts at $19,885. The starting price for the fuel-miser Focus sedan, again with 160-horsepower engine, is $19,585.
Notably, Ford also offers an upscale version of Focus_ with Titanium Premium Package _ that adds luxury touches like six-way, power driver's seat, rear-seat center armrest with storage and rain-sensing wipers. Its starting MSRP, including destination charge, is $23,490, and the price can run beyond $26,000 with other options, such as navigation, added in.
Focus competitors include long-running compact car favorites, such as the Toyota Corolla, which starts at $16,360 for a base, 2011 sedan with 132-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission. The Corolla only comes as a sedan.
The newly revamped 2011 Hyundai Elantra has been getting attention because it, too, has a government fuel mileage rating of 40 mpg on the highway, with 29 mpg rating in city driving. This is one mile a gallon higher than that of the new Focus.
Testing a 2012 Focus hatchback with Titanium package and other goodies, I didn't have to drive carefully to get noteworthy gasoline mileage of nearly 32 mpg in combined city/highway travel. And this wasn't the fuel miser version of Focus.
The test car impressed with its striking exterior style, which mixed elements of a European hatchback with Lexus cues like the slick headlights. It looked a bit more like a station wagon, albeit a stylish one, than a hatchback. And painted a Tuxedo Black metallic color, it got looks from some passersby.
Note the hatchback is some 6 inches shorter in length than the sedan.
Inside the test Focus, the optional interior style package provided seats that looked attractive with a mix of black and dark red leather pieces. The steering wheel with silver trim pieces even looked upscale.
As has become typical in Ford vehicles, a lot of technology is available, and it all seemed to be in the Focus Titanium hatchback.
I talked to get the sizable and colorful display atop the center of the dashboard to post the map. I talked to get a Bluetooth-enabled phone to dial my friend. I changed the radio channel by voice command. And the system eagerly offered suggestions when I didn't know what to say.
There were only a couple times when the MyFord Touch system, as it's called, couldn't understand what I said.
Once, for example, I must have enunciated the "p" sound at the end of the word "map" too much, because the system responded by telling me there was no USB connected. I learned it's best to talk naturally to this car.
Engine power came on pleasingly through Ford's PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission. I eased into traffic without fuss and while I could hear the four-cylinder at times when I accelerated hard, engine sounds were not harsh.
The 160 horses is more than the 132 in a Corolla and 148 in an Elantra. Torque, or low-end "oomph" in the Focus peaks at 146 foot-pounds at 4,450 rpm, so there's a steady progression of power and speed, not some quick thrust.
I enjoyed the ride and handling, which was tuned with help from Ford's German operations. The Focus rides stably and with agility and hews well to the road. It manages road bumps while providing good feedback to the driver. The electric power assist steering had a bit of an artificial feel, though.
Most Focuses sold will have the automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual is available. Interestingly, manual transmission Focus cars have a lower government fuel mileage rating _ 26/36 mpg.
There's good legroom in the Focus front seats _ more than 40 inches. And I appreciated that I could move the driver's seat up a good ways, heightwise, for comfortable views out.
But I still had to watch out and crane around the metal pillars at the sides of the windshield to see pedestrians in crosswalks as I made turns. Rear-side view also is blocked by the rear metal pillars aft of the back seats.
Back-seat legroom in the hatchback is a bit tight at 33.2 inches. But headroom of 37.9 inches is commendable.
The hatchback offers way more cargo room than the sedan. There's 23.8 cubic feet behind the back seat and a full 44.8 cubic feet of storage space when the back seats are folded down. They didn't fold down exactly flat in the test car.