Before you reach for the keyboard to complain about the Blue Oval in eurotuner, allow us to explain. We wanted to share with you what European drivers have long known for 12 years: Not watered down to meet the low expectations of US commuters, the European Focus has evolved from a good car to an excellent one.
Its mix of driving dynamics, build quality and technology at an affordable price is almost unrivalled, explaining why more than 10 million cars have been sold worldwide since its launch in 1998.
The latest 2012 Focus is the most high-tech yet. From its 40mpg, 160hp, 145 lb-ft 2.0L 16v engine, to its multi-link rear suspension, wifi access and Sync entertainment featuring navigation and iTunes tagging, the Focus could be the new benchmark.
So while previous US-built Focii failed to deliver, we felt that the prospect of a 247hp Focus ST in the pipeline plus the whisper of an RS version, meant this car shouldn’t be ignored. Especially since it was designed and developed in Europe for Europeans and now being made available to us.
You can tell what sort of car you’re about to drive by the roads selected for the press introduction. If it’s all freeways and city streets, you’re in trouble. But since Ford chose to unveil the new Focus in the Malibu, CA canyons, we were very optimistic. These are demanding roads that find the flaws in an inadequate chassis, so it takes balls to debut a car here.
Grabbing the keys to a five-speed manual version, we headed for the hills. Yet within a few miles, we were complaining about a lack of power from the 2.0L direct-injection DOHC four-banger. Even with twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT), it seemed lackluster.
Yet its one of the most powerful engine in this class, so then we looked at the steep inclines and down at the speedo. This made us realize the sublime chassis was allowing us to push the Focus hard. Without any fuss, the chassis was getting the job done, even on 16" all-season tires. It braked, steered and responded like a hot hatch rather than a 40mpg econo-car. So what appeared to be a deficiency in the engine dept was actually an abundance in the chassis dept, making it a great driver’s car.
Since something like 90% of the cars in this class are bought as automatics, Ford had its 40mpg economy certified with its optional slick-shifting, double-clutch six-speed auto trans rather than the standard five-speed manual. Although we didn’t drive the auto for long, its closer ratios seemed well suited to the engine’s torque curve and the driving experience was still enjoyable and sporty.
Making a stylish appearance in the parking lot was the new Focus Sedan. And while we’re huge hatchback fans, the Sedan looked impressive on the optional 18" wheels. It had a little Audi A4 or BMW 3-Series to its lines, and would look good with a suspension drop and some more aggressive 19s.
Exterior fit and finish was good and that front spoiler is very aggressive. But it was the interior where they really scored highly. None of the plastics feel cheap, the seats are supportive and the available technology is outstanding.
MyFord Touch powered by the Sync system is easy and intuitive to use. Available on the more expensive models, it uses an 8" color touchscreen in the center console and two five-way toggle switches on the steering wheel. It delivers voice control, 3D sat nav, wifi hotspot capability, phone connection and iPod connection as well as USB, SD cards, etc. There’s also a display in the instrument cluster for specific driver info such as nav directions, to reduce the amount of time your eyes are off the road. What’s more, you can customize the system with shortcuts and choose what combination of info it displays.
With prices starting at $16995 for the base S model, the new Focus represents good value for money. This is not the car you’ll be expecting if you drove previous Focus models. This is grown up, refined, European.
We were captivated by its chassis, which provides high-speed stability, plenty of control and little body roll. Much of its expertise can be attributed to the torque-vectoring traction control and electronic steering assist, both of which were unobtrusive and well-balanced the way we like our driver aids.
Having driven the Mk6 Jetta 2.5 several months ago, we’d opt for the Ford at this moment, but a direct comparison is called for before we make a final judgement. Look for that in a future issue.