First Drive

2012 Ford Focus comes good

Developed in Europe and for sale in more than 120 countries, the new Focus is truly world class

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA  The compact car segment, the largest in the Canadian market, is about to heat up. Nearly half of all cars sold in the country come from this group and almost all the major players have new models for 2012. Honda has a new Civic, Chevrolet the Cruze, and Hyundai a new Elantra. And the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla have been given mild updates.

Now here comes another new contender, and a very serious one at that the 2012 Ford Focus. Just as the Cruze has no relationship with its predecessor, the Cobalt, the 2012 Focus has nothing in common with the version it replaces except a name.

The new Focus is a direct outcome of a new "One Ford" mantra, a directive to the various Ford operations around the world that they work together to reduce wasteful duplication. Previously, designers and engineers in each global market developed their own vehicles. Nowhere was this more evident than in the "C"-segment where there were different versions of the Focus in North America, Europe, Asia and others - each with a unique platform, body, engine etc. Under the "One Ford" policy vehicles are to be developed in harmony among the various global operations, yielding one platform, one design, one interior and where necessary for market or regulatory reasons, different drive trains.

Welcome to the new world at Ford and the best Focus we have ever experienced in North America. The Focus has been a mainstay in Europe where it has often proven superior in sales and independent testing to a raft of competitors. The C-segment is just as important there, and even more crowded.

Europeans get many vehicles we don't, including entries from Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Fiat, Peugeot, Seat and others. All have to meet high expectations as this is the biggest category there, as well, and vehicles have to not only stand up to rigorous duty in the uber-crowded big cities, but also at sustained high speeds on the motorways.

In this world where compacts rule, the Focus consistently rests at or near the top of the pack. That has certainly not been the case here where "our" Focus has been a neutered shell bearing the name with weak powerplants and suspensions tuned to keep you comfy on the ultra-smooth, frost-free and straight North-American freeway system. The words "excitement" and "dynamic" were seldom associated with Focus.

Now they can be. The 2012 Focus is a familiar nameplate tacked on an entirely new vehicle. Not only are all the nuts, bolts, panels and pieces new, so too was the development philosophy. The Focus of old was an after-thought. Americans did not buy small cars, the feeling was, so why spend a lot of effort on them.

But in the new world, a lot of young people have been buying small cars, most of them from Japanese, German or South Korean manufacturers. An entire generation - or two - of North Americans grew up with a Honda, VW or Hyundai, be it new or used. These consumers typically don't think of Ford or GM when in the market for a new car.

Add to that the fact that new regulations require vehicle manufacturers to obtain massive cuts in fuel consumption across the board by 2016 and you have a perfect storm of incentive to get serious about small cars.

The good news for Ford is that it already built some of the best small cars in the world - just not here. There are designers, engineers, marketers and manufacturing experts who have been churning out excellent small cars. On top of all this was a growing group of young employees in Michigan who grew up with that Honda or Hyundai and wanted to show what they could do.

Welcome to the 2012 Focus

Built on Ford·s new global C platform, it is longer, wider and lower and features a new engine, transmission, suspension and a raft of features new to the class. The new Focus is available in five-door hatchback or four-door sedan format in S, SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels.

The design is new but the look familiar and distinctly Ford. Aerodynamics played a major role in its shape, from the steeply raked windshield to active shutters behind the grille to block airflow when not needed for cooling.

The interior is much more spacious than in the past and boasts quality materials and excellent fit and finish. The Focus comes with an extensive list of standard equipment but if you have the coin and desire you can opt for some unique options not found elsewhere in the segment, including a voice-activated Sony entertainment system and automatic park assist which will parallel park the Focus for you!

The front seats are great with plenty of support. The rear is a little shy on legroom and the seats don't fold completely flat, but the trunk in the sedan and cargo area of the hatchback are impressively roomy anyway, with wide flat load floors.

Driving the new Focus reveals its true character. Well-weighted steering and a nicely-calibrated suspension combine to give the car a high 'fun-to-drive' quotient. Driven hard, it responds and rewards. Turn-in is exceptional thanks to a new 'torque-vectoring' system that acts like a limited-slip system, adjusting power to the front wheels individually in corners. Understeer is encountered only when the car is pushed very hard. The ride is a far cry from the previous Focus, more European taut than American flop. Wheel sizes range from 15-in to 18-in depending on trim and options.

Providing motivation is a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with direct injection that produces 160 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. It is mated with your choice of five-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. With all those gears to choose from the engine is almost always in the right rev range to provide instant response allowing it to fight above its weight class.

Gripes? A few. The complex MyFord infotainment system is not exactly intuitive and there are no paddle shifters for the new six-speed automatic transmission; instead just a toggle switch on the side of the shift level that only works while in sport mode.

Pricing starts at $16,000 for the S sedan and $19,000 for the SE hatchback. At the other end of the scale the Titanium trim hatchback is $25,000. Developed in Europe and for sale in more than 120 countries the new Focus is truly a world class effort.

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