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February 21, 2011

First Drive: Ford’s New Focus is On Surprising Features

I drove my first Ford Focus about ten years ago. To be perfectly honest, my own car was in the shop and the Focus was the cheapest rental available that day. And my first reaction upon seeing it was disappointment. While I knew I was getting an inexpensive car to drive for a few days, I hadn't expected it to look so cheap.

Disappointment turned to delighted surprise when I got behind the wheel and discovered that the Focus was a small car with a lot of heart. It was a peppy little thing that handled with ease.

Driving it was FUN.

Kinetic Design,"Slippier" Aerodynamics Lead to Greater Fuel Efficiency

The Ford Focus has come a long way. It's still peppy and fun, but the 2012 model looks anything but cheap:

The 2012 Focus has the same "kinetic" body style and distinctive grille as the Focus Electric that debuted at NAIAS in January. According to Moray Callum, Ford's Executive Director of Design, they tried to create the look of movement, even when the vehicle is standing still. And he says the aerodynamics of the new shape make the 2012 Focus 7% "slippier" than the previous model.

It also turns out that the new grille is more than just a pretty face: active grille shutters block airflow through the cooling system, creating better aerodynamic performance at higher speeds, while reducing underhood temperatures at low speeds. Both functions result in greater fuel efficiency. 

Advanced Engine Technology

The folks at Ford want you to know that beneath the hood of the Focus is a 2-litre direct-injection engine. This is an improvement over standard engines, which draw the fuel in as a kind of mist. Direct injection sprays the fuel directly into the engine chamber, which cools the charge and gives it a high compression ratio (and better fuel economy).

Focus also has twin independent variable cam timing – it dynamically changes the cam timing depending upon the type of driving you are doing.

A high efficiency alternator manages the battery in a smarter fashion.

All of this technology saves money and energy: Ford estimates that the non-electric, non-hybrid version of the new Focus will obtain up to 40 mpg on the highway. (At the time this was written, EPA estimates were not yet available.)

Fun Factor

I was fortunate to try the new Focus out at its launch in January on a curvy oceanside course in the Santa Monica mountains. The feel of the drive is very similar to the new Fiesta (which isn't surprising, as they share the same six-speed transmission). 

Zipping up Pacific Coast Highway, it was obvious that the new Focus still has a lot of pep. It did struggle a little when going uphill -- but just a little, which doesn't surprise me when driving a car with a 4-cylinder engine. 

I liked the way it handled. I tend to stick to the speed limit on hillside turns and I had to watch myself, because it was so easy to take them really fast. 

The driving experience mirrored the technical presentation we were given by Ford's engineers. Contributing to the Focus' "fun factor" are a new electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system (which is why cornering was so easy) and a torque-vectoring control system (which improves traction).

12FordFocus_47_LR Little Luxuries

Drivers of the 2012 Focus can enjoy features and technology usually found in luxury cars. Some of the features are obvious, like the 10-speaker Sony sound system and MyFord Touch™, part of the company's ground-breaking SYNC® system.

Other features are harder to spot, like the vehicle's acoustic windscreen, which contributes to its quiet ride.

Some options available on the Focus are unusual in the small car segment, including:

  • Rear-view camera
  • Parking Assist
  • Wi-Fi Internet Connectivity
  • Adaptive headlamps and rain-sensing wipers

Safety Features

Safety is of paramount concern to all drivers, but I think it's something women take to heart - especially if we have children.

I was pleased to learn that 55% of Focus' frame is made of either high or ultra high strength steel.

The Focus also features next-generation airbags, which utilize a technology called “adaptive venting.” They automatically adjust according to whether the seat's occupant is wearing a seatbelt, his or her size and position on the seat.

In the end, the most surprising feature of the Focus may be its price: starting MSRP is $18,790 (for a 5-speed manual transmission); with the top-of-the-line Titanium model based at $22,995.

2010by Donna Schwartz Mills
Contributing Editor

Donna Schwartz Mills is a Los Angeles-based writer who also contributes to CBS Digital Local Los Angeles, the Yahoo! Motherboard and her personal site, SoCal Mom.

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