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Ford Focus, 2012 car review

The new, redesigned compact Ford Focus is a sleek, mildly Americanized version of Ford’s European Focus. Developed and tuned in Germany, it’s a big improvement over its dated predecessor.

The new, tightly assembled Focus is a very early 2012 model that will be sold in many worldwide markets. It comes as a versatile sedan or hatchback. The “hatch” has the same 104.3-inch wheelbase as the sedan, but is 6.9 inches shorter. Both versions have wheels pulled to the far corners of the body for better ride and handling.

Both versions provide decent cargo room. The rear seatbacks on most Focus models flip forward but are too thick to allow a completely flat cargo floor when moved forward.

There’s good interior occupant space, but a tall passenger behind a driver needs more legroom.

The 2012 Focus, which had a media preview in the Los Angeles area, looks more expensive than it is, inside and out. Its five-passenger body has sleek, aerodynamic lines and the exceptionally quiet, nicely designed upscale interior has such items as fairly soft-touch plastics.

There’s even an available Active Park Assist feature that automatically steers the Focus into parallel parking spaces.Ford Focus, 2012 car review 1

Major rivals include the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze.

Focus list prices range from $16,270 to $22,765. The S sedan is the base model, followed by the SE sedan and hatchback, SEL sedan and hatchback and Titanium sedan and hatchback.

Even the $16,270 S sedan has manual air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rear bench seat with tip-fold-flat feature and power front windows with a driver one-touch-down feature.

The S comes with 15-inch wheels and a decent-shifting five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is optional. Only five to 10 percent of Focus buyers are expected to get the manual.

The $17,270 SE sedan adds 16-inch wheels, body color door handles and mirrors, steering wheel secondary audio controls and power front and rear windows. It’s also offered with a bunch of convenience packages and a power moonroof and Sport package. The $18,065 SE hatchback adds such items as split rear seats.Ford Focus, 2012 car review 2

Also offered for the SE is a “Super Fuel Economy” package said to help provide 40 mpg during highway driving. Ford gave no official city/highway fuel economy numbers for the car at the preview, but figure on the high 20s in the city and high 30s on highways with the six-speed automatic. Economy numbers probably will be a little less with the manual because it only has five speeds.

The $20,270 SEL sedan lets you move up further in the world with a standard automatic transmission (no manual gearbox offered), dual-zone automatic temperature control, all-disc brakes, mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators and a better sound system. You can get a leather power driver’s seat, and let’s not forget the chrome beltline.

Offered on the $21,065 SEL sedan and hatchback is Ford’s MyFord touch driver connect package, which controls many high-tech features.

The top-line $22,270 Titanium sedan and $22,765 hatchback have 17-inch sport aluminum wheels that work with a standard sport-tuned suspension. They also have a push-button engine start/stop feature, very supportive sport seats and McFord Touch with an 8-inch center stack touch screen. You can even add a handling package to either Titanium body style.

However, I didn’t expect to see the car’s old-fashioned hood prop, and the brake-fluid  filler is partly buried in the engine compartment.

Despite all the comfort and convenience features, the Focus might be described as a “chassis in search of an engine.”  That is, the handling of a Focus sedan and hatchback I drove on winding mountain roads was so good it showed the car’s chassis is so good that it needs more power and torque to accompany it. The small four-cylinder engine simply requires more punch for such driving, although it does OK on flat roads.

The car’s six-speed automatic transmission often “hunted” for the right gear on hills to keep the engine in the most effective  power band. The dual dry-clutch “PowerShift” automatic is a good one, providing crisp gear changes — although it has an awkward manual control on the side of the console-mounted shifter.

Not that the engine is dated. It generates 160 horsepower at high revs and 146 pound-feet of torque with such features as dual overhead camshafts with variable camshaft timing and a direct injection system. But the car weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, and you can only ask a quiet, docile engine with a displacement of just two liters to do just so much.

Help is on the way, though, for those who want more verve. Called the Focus ST, it’s due in early 2012 and has a two-liter EcoBoost engine and six-speed manual transmission. There will be a special exhaust system and the engine will have high-pressure direct injection, low inertia turbocharging and twin independent variable camshaft timing to create an advanced combustion system. Ford gave no ST horsepower number, but figure on approximately 250. The ST also will have sport design cues, a lowered chassis, high-performance brakes and sharper handling.

But most should be happy with the current new Focus. It’s no hot rod, but the titanium sedan and hatchback versions I tested had quick, nicely weighted steering. The Focus also has an all-independent suspension that delivers a supple ride. Likewise, the brake pedal’s linear action allows smooth slow-downs and fast stops.

The Focus gets generally high marks and is among class leaders in the compact car market.

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