People who read car reviews are rightly jaded by the endless press-kit recycling PR stroke jobs. Every car is a good car; no car has any real faults – let alone, just flat-out sucks. So when I say that the 2012 Ford Focus is clearly one of the top three compact economy sedans on the market right now – and arguably the best compact economy sedan on the market right now – and obviously, objectively better than the former benchmark Honda Civic – you may be thinking, did Ford slip this dude a check?
But do yourself a favor. Check my words against the car itself. Go take a look. Better yet, go for a drive. Then take a look – and drive – the Civic and others in this class.
Your decision will come down to one of three – and I’m betting one of those three won’t be a Honda.
And one of them will be – or at least, should be – a Ford.
WHAT IT IS
The Focus is Ford’s compact entry-level sedan/hatchback sedan. It competes against others in this size and price range like the Honda Civic, Chevy Cruze, Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra, among others.
Prices start at $16,500 for a base S sedan and run to $22,200 for a top-of-the-line Titanium edition.
The 2012 Focus is completely redesigned.
Feels quality; looks great. Drives exceptionally well.
Strongest standard engine/best performance in class.
Offers unusual for this class/price range technology and luxury features, including an automated parallel parking system
Great gas mileage (40 highway) with optional six-speed automatic and fuel economy package.
Loaded, it’s just over $22k
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Gas mileage drops 4 MPG on the highway with standard five-speed manual transmission
Mediocre 3/36 standard warranty coverage.
Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 start out about $1,300 less.
Every Focus comes standard with a 160 hp, 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or six-speed (dual clutch) automated manual called Powershift.
The Ford’s engine is larger and significantly stronger than competitors’ standard engines. For example, the Honda Civic’s standard 1.8 liter, 140 hp engine. Also the Chevy Cruz’s standard – and even less powerful – 1.8 liter, 136 hp engine.
The Ford also outpowers the sporty Mazda3, which comes standard with a 2.0 liter, 148 hp engine. Another rival, the Hyundai Elantra, comes standard with a 1.8 liter, 148 hp engine.
All of the above-mentioned competitors take more than 9 seconds to reach 60 MPH. A few, more than 9.5 seconds.
The Ford gets there in the mid-eights, a significant – and noticeable – difference.
Gas mileage is also top-drawer: 28 city, 40 highway with the optional Super Fuel Economy package that includes aerodynamic improvements and lower rolling resistance tires. The Focus without the package still does well, too: 28 city, 38 highway with the six-speed automated manual.
The base Civic, meanwhile, gets 28 city, 36 highway; the Cruze with its standard engine rates 25 city, 36 highway. And Mazda’s 3 comes in at a sub-par for the segment 25 city, 33 highway. Only the Elantra beats the Focus – and only just barely. It gets slightly better city mileage (29 MPG) and exactly the same highway mileage (40 MPG) as the Ford is capable of.
But, there’s a catch.
If you want to shift for yourself – or just want to keep the purchase price as low as possible by not ordering a higher-trim model equipped with the six-speed automatic – you’ll pay a bit more at the pump. The manual-equipped Focus registers 26 city, 36 highway – a significant MPG drop. In years past, a manual-equipped version of a given car would usually get better mileage, but that’s no longer always true. The six-speed dual clutch automated manual in the Focus has more favorable gearing (six speeds vs. the manual’s five) and it shifts more precisely and consistently (and so, more efficiently) than most human drivers can. But, of course, it will cost you extra to enjoy these perks.
Also, both the Cruze and the Mazda3 offer optional engines that match or even exceed the power/performance – and MPGs – the Focus delivers.The 2012 Mazda3, for example, offers a “SkyActive-G” version of its 2.0 liter engine that produces 155 hp – almost as much as the Focus’s engine – and matches its 40 MPG on the highway.
There’s also an Si version of the Civic that costs about $22k (roughly the same as a top-of-the-line Focus Titanium) and which comes with a 201 hp engine and 6.9 second 0-60 time. But this version of the Civic will cost you almost 10 MPG at the pump, too.
Acceleration-wise, the Focus is the clear pick of the litter. The numbers tell you this before you even turn the key. But once you do turn the key, you’ll discover how much more pleasant it is to drive a car with a margin vs. one that hasn’t any.
What I mean is this: The Ford’s competition starts out on the marginal side, power-wise. With just the driver on board and assuming no hills or fast-paced, aggressive traffic to deal with – they are adequate. But add a passenger or two (which means, adding a few hundred pounds of weight) or point the car onto a road teeming with close-cropped and fast-moving traffic – and you’ll quickly discover what marginal means. The Focus, on the other hand, is quick with just the driver on board, with plenty of margin – reserve power – on tap to deal with some extra weight or a request for the speedy surge that’s often necessary to assert yourself in the modern driving environment.
The optionally available engines in the Cruze, Mazda3 and Civic fix the bad case of The Slows that afflicts the base engine-equipped versions of those cars. But you have to pay extra to get them.
Ford gives you more-than-margin as standard equipment.
The other thing to mention about the Focus is the solidity of the car – literally. It weighs several hundred pounds more than the Civic (2,907 lbs. vs. 2,608 lbs.) which imparts the feel of an almost mid-sized car, not a compact.
How Ford managed to get the Focus to beat the Civic on gas mileage – and power/performance – while weighing 300 pounds more is a mystery for the ages.
AT THE CURB
$16k goes a long way today.
As recently as five or so years ago, you had to spend closer to $20k to get a decent car. By decent I mean something more than just an MPG machine – you know, basic transportation.
This Focus is a really nice car, not just relative to the competition – but a really nice car, period. It looks nice; it has a nicely laid out (and fitted out) interior. It drives nicely (see above). There are also numerous thoughtful small details, such as the twin molded-in cubbies you’ll find in the back seat area.
What’s not to like?
And for the price, there’s a lot to love.
In addition to its class-leading standard engine (and class-leading MPGs), the as-it-sits $16,500 Focus comes with all the essentials, including AC and power windows, locks and a four-speaker stereo with CD.
Competitors like the Elantra, Mazda3 and Cruze are similarly equipped – and in the case of the Mazda3 and Elantra – cost about $1,300 less to start, too. However, none of the Ford’s competition offers equipment like the optionally available Parking Technology Package, which in addition to the now-common back-up camera and buzzer also includes an automated parallel parking system that literally parks the car for you. Now, as a purely personal matter, I am not a big fan of this kind of technology, which I think takes too much responsibility for mastering what ought to be basic driving skills away from the driver of a car so equipped. But the fact is no other car in this class offers such a feature, which is generally available only in much more expensive cars.
Ditto the Wi-Fi enabled MyFord LCD touchscreen display for the GPS/audio units.
You can also order your Focus with a Winter Package that includes toasty seat heaters (some aren’t, incidentally) as well as outside rearview mirrors. Another high-end feature in the Focus is Ford’s Sync system which integrates external electronics such as cell phones/iPods with the car’s built-in infotainment equipment.
My test car had Sync, the MyFord screen, premium HD audio with Sirius satellite, the Winter Package with seat heaters, leather and brushed aluminum trim and a set of handsome black-powder coated 17-inch “mach” snowflake wheels and the sticker came to $21,150.
I have only a few complaints – most of them minor and at least one, entirely subjective.
The first minor one is the awkward location of the controls for the seat heaters that come with the Winter Package. They are mounted far back on the center console, and partially buried beneath the center console storage cubby’s arm rest. The 12V power point is also mounted here – between the two dials for the seat heaters – and it, too, is awkward to reach/use, especially while the car is moving.
The second minor nit is Ford’s “euro” style outside rearview mirrors, which include two mirrors. The main mirror is your normal rearview mirror. The second mirror is a wide-angle smaller unit mounted toward the outside of the housing. When you glance at them together, you get two views at once – which can be a little confusing when you’re used to the regular, single-view American-style rearview mirror. But you probably acclimate to it quickly and the dual-view mirrors do let you see more than the conventional type.
These are small things and may not matter to you at all. But there’s one thing that’s objectively weak about the Focus and that’s its 3/36 basic warranty coverage (5/60 on the drivetrain). The new benchmark – set by Hyundai – is a 5/60 basic warranty and ten years, 100,000 miles on the powertrain. Ford’s warranty coverage is merely par.
It’s the only thing about it that’s average.
Have you driven a Ford lately?
If not, you really ought to.
Throw it in the Woods?
I bought a 2013 Focus S. I’ve been happy with it. With a 5 speed manual, I’m able to get about 38-41 on the highway, but I put the clutch in going downhill which helps a lot.
In September of 2012, I made the worst buying decision of my life. I bought a brand new 2012 Ford Focus.
In less than 17,000 miles it has been in the repair shop 6 times – MORE THAN MY LAST 5 CARS COMBINED.
– Defective fuel filler solenoid, causing the gas pump to shut off every half gallon.
– Auto transmission refuses to engage in either “D” or “S” settings. Behaving as though it’s in neutral.
– An absolute blizzard of problems with the “Sync” system that was so highly touted. Just a few of many more examples:
– Bizarrely erratic GPS, including bad directions if you shut the car off mid-trip (like at a gas station). It recalculates and direct you from the interstate, off to a maze of side roads and eventually back onto the same interstate. Adding HOURS to your trip if you believe it.
– Garbled bluetooth connectivity with iPhone 5, meaning that I have to use the phone hand-held in order to be understood.
– Randomly disconnect from the iPhone and won’t reconnect.
Ford refuses to take the car back, even though they have a “reacquisition” program for problem vehicles.
I tried to do the patriotic thing by buying American. And intentionally bought from the one company that didn’t take the bailout money from the government.
I have been well and truly screwed for that decision. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.
If anybody want to trade this piece of junk in towards a used Toyota, I’m all ears.
I am renting one right now while my Jaguar is in the shop. The Focus kind of runs funny. My unit, with 36,000 miles idles unevenly and has a hesitation when you step on the go-pedal.
Of course, I have to keep my foot in it to drive the way I like to. I am getting under 26 mpg.
If I could only get rid of my suburban without taking a bath I would have room for another car.
Eric, you say “How Ford managed to get the Focus to beat the Civic on gas mileage – and power/performance – while weighing 300 pounds more is a mystery for the ages.”
The answer to that is an even larger mystery: how did Ford manage to conjure up an engine that runs at a 12:1 compression ratio on regular octane gas?
I’ve been looking forward to your take on this new Focus. My wife and I bought a 2012 on Memorial Day weekend when they first started to ship and we have been completely satisfied. It’s certainly not a sports car but for an-all around daily driver I don’t think that there is anything better without spending at least $10k more. Reliable, comfortable, good looking and we have been averaging 33mpg in miserable stop and go beltway commuting.
Ford has several outstanding cars in is lineup – the Focus being one of the top 5.
2012 model looks incredible, I’m a little disappointed I bought the 2011 model (Australian version). The 2011 model is nice but the interior in this new model is a huge leap forward especially that large touch screen and quality software it runs with.
You said you drove the Mazda3. Was it the Skyactive 3 hatchback?? I own a ’09 Mazda 3 sport hatchback and love it except for the mpg. I do like the new Focus, because of all the reasons you mentioned in the article. If was Skyactive Mazda3 that you drove how did it compare to the Focus as far as handling, performance, mpg. Did you drive high mileage version Focus with 6-speed auto?? I have heard this tranny is a little rough. Thanks for the great articles.
“Was it the Skyactive 3 hatchback?”
Not yet! I have one lined up, though. Look for the review in the next few weeks.. Mazda is claiming a major MPG improvement with this engine – up to 40 MPG on the highway, if I recall correctly. This would fix the one weak point with the car and make it very competitive with the Focus as well as others in this segment. I’d probably choose the 3 myself for two reasons, one subjective (looks) the other objective (driving dynamics). Mazda is what BMW once was: A builder of great cars for not too much money; cars that are great fun to drive and which almost ask to be driven with gusto – but which almost anyone can afford to buy. Minimal annoying “wet nurse” electronic aids, too.
Eric, I patriotically supported domestics for many years, with the purchase of a Chevrolet Convertible, a Chevelle Laguna, an Oldsmobile Ciera Cutlass, a 3/4 ton Chevy pickup, a Chevette, a Ford Tempo, a Chrysler Concorde LXI….they all were prone to all kinds of mechanical problems, during and after their warranty had expired.
Anything would go haywire out of the blue and with regular maintenance and careful driving!
Then, I made a resolute shift and went to Toyota (RAV4) and have not had a single problem of any kind in eight (8) years of daily driving.
No matter what GM, Ford or Chrysler design, build and market my confidence in any of their products has been so thoroughly eroded that if I would win of their marvellous machines in a raffle I would immediately sell it to the highest bidder!
I hear you…
My parents did the same. Growing up, all we had were American cars. Some were good, others not. My mom bought a Lexus RX and says it’s the best vehicle she’s ever owned and that she’d never even consider going back, irrespective of the much-improved (objectively) quality of American-brand vehicles.
The Focus RS is available here in Mexico. If you’re inventive and want to take the time, you can buy one and use it in the States.
Ford might break me of my BMW addiction. I’ll wait to see the turbo’ed Focus…I fondly remember the Focus in an XBox racing game!
What about that Europe-only Focus, the RS I believe it is called? Will they bring it here?
And the new 5.0 Mustang–ah! All the goodness of the old V-8 M5; same identical engine in fact, at domestic prices. And probably easy to work on, too. Now if I can just convince my wife to buy me a mirror set of my Craftsman tools in SAE sizes…
Thank for the great review, Eric. You go past numbers in your reviews and really pick up the spirit of these cars.
Thanks – I try!
I dig Ford’s current stuff, too. A friend down the road from us has a new Mustang GT and I admire its purity (for a modern car) and its personality.
If only Ford could sell you a “track” GT with no air bags, audio delete, power option delete, no traction control, no ABS… just the 5 liter engine, the GT suspension and maybe a set of race buckets. Out the door for $26k.
Back in ’95, Ford let me have a Cobra R (competition model, with the last of the 351s) for a week. Better than porno – and lasts longer, too!
Love it! Great review Eric.
I think the Focus is a sharp-looking car, loaded with feature at a reasonable price. I am looking forward to the ST model, which uses a turbo 2.0L engine. I am looking for something nimble and quick and is just a blast to drive. About 12 years ago, I had an ’86 SVO Mustang the I loved. Great acceleration, handling and superb stopping power. From what Ford is posting, the Focus ST is expected to have 247hp, 250ft-lb torque with large brakes. Hopefully it will be much less than the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution!
As for Doug’s post above, Here! Here! I like European cars and wish our cars had some of the same features.
I’ve driven all the cars in this segment and – much as I like the Mazda3 (my former favorite) – the Focus is, in my opinion, the best thing going right now.
And: I remember the SVO Mustang. Always liked it; would love to have a “survivor” (stock, unmolested) in my garage today!
These are NOT European Style mirrors. They are a modification of the type of mirrors European cars have had for two decades. Ford should be commended for attempting to improve rear vision safety by installing these on their US cars but they do so only because of the dimwitted NTHSA law which requires a flat Drivers Side Mirror and a Convex Passenger Side Mirror which states: “Being a typical US driver, you are too stupid to know how a convex mirror reflects images”.
European mirrors do not have this warning on the Passenger Mirror and the Drivers Mirror is aspheric meaning it is a normal convex mirror but it curved more toward the outer edge. Where the curve begins, there is a line. If the lane next to the driver is occupied by a vehicle and the reflected image of that vehicle is on the left side of the line, it is unsafe to move into that lane. There are virtually no Blind Spots with European Mirrors.
8 years ago, for a cost of less than 100€, I purchased a set of these mirrors and fitted them to my 90 year-old Mother’s ’93 Golf in Las Vegas. Since then, she has not had to take her eyes off the road and turn her head to see if it is safe to move into the next lane. Occasionally, she thanks me again for making it easier for her to drive in traffic.
A while back, in the United States, I saw a Volvo Advertisement touting a Rear Camera Option which eliminated the driver’s blind spot – worthwhile only because the Federal Government does not allow safer mirrors.
Good to know, Doug – thanks for the insight on this business!
I drive a 2011 F-150 for work which has the dual side mirrors on the driver’s side. It was awkward at first and took about a month of getting used to, but now I love it, and I want the dual mirrors on the passenger side. I’ve developed an instinct for which mirror to look in for different types of driving. For example, for a lane change on an interstate where I’ve got a good idea what’s going on behind me, just a quick look in the fish-eye lens and I’m good to go. Thanks, and good stuff Eric.
Roger that, Keith – likewise!