The Ford Focus is one of the top offerings in the compact segment thanks to precise, enjoyable handling, a useful array of high-tech features and a refined interior. Available as a traditional sedan or a cargo-friendly hatchback, the Focus isn't without faults - chief among them limited rear seat space and a quirky automatic transmission - but they pale in comparison to what this well-rounded small car has to offer.
The Focus certainly doesn't look or drive like a traditional American compact, and there's a reason for that - it was primarily developed in European, where small cars tend to be much more upscale than their U.S. counterparts.
The Old World influence is clearly evident in the Focus' classy cabin, which charms with high-quality materials and a distinctive design. Aside from a center stack that some find to be too intrusive, there's sufficient space up front, but the rear seats are lacking in legroom compared to some competitors.
There's plenty of technology inside, as all Focuses except for the base model come standard with SYNC, Ford's Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. SYNC can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.
The Focus can be spec'd with MyFord Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyFord Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen, dual 4.2-inch displays in the instrument cluster and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the Focus are advised to try before they buy.
Other nifty technology features include an automated parking system that's adept at parallel parking maneuvers - the driver just needs to worry about working the gas and the brakes, and the Focus steers itself - as well as a rearview camera and a proximity key with remote start.
Behind the Wheel
The Focus' European heritage is also reflected in its sturdy platform and well-executed mechanicals, which make for a surprisingly fun small car.
With a multi-link suspension - that's a sophisticated touch for this price point - and a well-weighted, communicative electric power steering system, the Focus is a nimble, playful and planted backroads companion. Handling is further (ahem) focused by a standard Dynamic Cornering Control system that automatically brakes the inside front wheel to reduce understeer.
When the driver is in the mood for a mellow cruise instead of canyon carving, the Focus obliges with a comfortable ride and good pothole impact absorption.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder that produces 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. A well-sorted five-speed manual is standard on most Focus models, while a six-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional.
The latter behaves differently than a traditional torque-converter automatic, which is both good and bad. On the negative side, the dual-clutch can be slightly herky-jerky at lower speeds, and it doesn't always creep forward the way one would expect, which can make parking a little touch and go. It does, however, provide smooth, rapid shifts once underway and return excellent fuel economy - 27 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, to be exact.
In comparison, the five-speed manual-equipped model is good for 26/36 mpg.
An available Super Fuel Economy package, available only with the dual-clutch, increases mileage to 28/40 mpg.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Focus sedan is offered in S, SE and Titanium trim levels.
The S comes standard with A/C, power locks, power front windows (the rear windows need to be rolled up manually), power mirrors, a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with an aux input and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.
The SE adds to that list with an upgraded six-speaker stereo, automatic headlights, cruise control power rear windows, a trip computer, SYNC, stereo wheel mounted audio controls and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Options bundles available for the SE is the SE Appearance Package, which brings leather upholstery, 17-inch aluminum wheels, rear disc brakes, ambient interior lighting, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, an anti-theft alarm, a rear spoiler and SiriusXM satellite radio. The SE winter package includes heated front seats and heated exterior mirrors. The SE Super Fuel Economy Package brings low rolling resistance tires, 16-inch steel wheels with aero hubcaps, rear disc brakes and a rear spoiler.
Also optional is the MyFord Touch, which is bundled with a navigation system, a 10-speaker Sony audio system and HD Radio.
The top-spec Titanium includes all of the features from the SE Appearance Package and the SE Winter Package. Additional content includes dual-zone automatic climate control, MyFordTouch, a 10-speaker Sony audio system with HD Radio, a proximity key, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Those looking for the sharpest possible driving experience should spring for the Titanium Handling Package, which brings a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels shod with summer tires.
All Focus models are equipped with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
The compact segment is more crowded and competitive than ever before, with capable rivals to the Focus sedan including the value-laden Hyundai Elantra and the Chevrolet Cruze, which offers a surprisingly refined interior. The perennially strong-selling Honda Civic sedan is also a viable option.