The Ford Focus is the small car that promises big things and, in our time with it, mostly delivered. The European-designed Focus, especially in top-of-the-line trim, brings style and swagger to an American car in a segment with stylish competitors such as the Hyundai Elantra. I comes in sedan and 5-door models.
Appearance: Our tester was the fully optioned Titanium trim and came in eye-catching Blaze Yellow, which reminds us of a metallic-hued taxi. Overall, the Focus looks sporty and aggressive; it has a large trapezoidal black grille divided by vertical pillars. The quad-beam halogen headlights wrap around the body and add to the edgy look. In the rear, there's an integrated spoiler on the trunk lid.
Performance: The acceleration of the 2-liter, 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine is satisfactory, even on highway merging. The dual-clutch PowerShift transmission tends to hold gears or downshift at odd times because of its programming. There's a manual shift button on the shifter, but not paddles. We really like the responsive steering and tight handling, thanks to torque-vectoring that adds brake force to the wheels on one side during turns, and optional sport-tuned suspension. Our Focus also had the Parking Technology Package ($1,100 option), which includes a rear-view camera and Active Park Assist that parallel-parks the car for you. Peter tried this out in a parking lot between two trucks and it worked flawlessly; on a busy street, however, it can be more difficult depending on the conditions and how much faith you have in taking your hands off the wheel. (Lyra will pass on it.)
Interior: The interior is stylish with ambient lighting, clean instrument gauges and information screen. The center stack is nicely angled for the driver. Fit and finish are good, with better-than-budget plastic and some soft-touch surfaces. Our tester's Titanium package came with stitched leather seats, which were comfortable and supportive. Some other nice touches: push-button start, keyless entry and dual-zone AC and heated seats. We found the rear seats a bit cramped for legroom — as you would expect in a small car — but not impossible for adults to sit in.
Tech: Our tester had all of Ford's electronic helpers — the SYNC system with MyFord Touch, and MyKey parental settings. These have come under some criticism for not being user-friendly or for being glitchy. The MyFord Touch system combines entertainment, navigation and communication into the 8-inch touch screen. But you have to go through several screens to get to the right function, and the buttons and fonts on the soft keys are small. Prominent on the steering wheel is the Voice Command button, which is easy to reach and activate. But as with some voice recognition systems, it's slow and buggy.
Our 3 favorites
Parking: I could have used the Active Park Assist when I was in San Francisco this year.
Styling: One of the best-looking cars in this class.
Interior: Modern-looking, with excellent fit and finish.
Interior: Combination of soft-touch material, glossy plastic finish and faux metal trim.
Quiet cabin: Good use of acoustic material plus laminated acoustic windshield.
Handling: Torque-vectoring helps zip through turns.
The bottom line: The Focus is fun to drive — we hope the transmission gets refined — and can't be ignored in a small-car field brimming with new models. The Focus should have broad appeal to all except for the tech-phobic.