It’s been three years since the Ford Focus made our 10Best Cars list, but it remains a solid compact-class contender, with offerings that range from ho-hum frugality (including even an electric model) to hot-hatch torrid. Propelled by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, this test car with the base powertrain doesn’t rank at the absolute what’s-your-hurry slow end of the Focus lineup, but neither can it be considered as spirited as the driver-oriented ST and RS variants.
The other three engines in the inventory are all turbocharged, but the 2.0 is the mainspring of the Focus clockworks, an oversquare four-cylinder (increasingly rare among contemporary engines, which tend to be long-stroke designs) with some willingness to rev to its 7000-rpm redline and respectable output compared with competing non-turbo engines of similar displacement: 160 horsepower at 6500 rpm. The Mazda 3’s 2.0-liter is rated at 155 horses and the Honda Civic’s makes 158. Unless you step up to the 252-hp turbocharged ST or the bonkers RS boasting 350 horses and all-wheel drive, the only other Focus engine is the mileage-minded 123-hp 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder.
This particular Focus sent its ponies to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. We criticized this transmission for harsh, clunky shifting in earlier editions of the Focus, but Ford has significantly smoothed and refined its operation. Most Focus drivers now won’t notice much difference from a traditional torque-converter automatic.
An automatic transmission isn’t always the best recipe for haste, but modern automatics often fare better than manuals in fuel-economy tests. That’s the case here, with the EPA rating for this Focus at 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, besting the stick by 2 mpg on the highway. For the record, we logged the same 2-mpg margin, with our testing showing 27 mpg in mixed real-world driving versus the 25 mpg we got in a 2015 Focus with the manual transmission.
Not So Fast
Mainstream compacts aren’t known as speed demons. (That’s why there’s a whole separate “hot hatch” category.) In this Focus with the throttle fully depressed, a driver can wait 8.5 seconds before worrying over a 60-mph speed limit. An equivalent Mazda 3 2.0 sedan with a six-speed automatic that we tested ran to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, despite spotting the Focus five horsepower. Also worth noting: This Focus outweighed that Mazda by 153 pounds, at 3068 pounds versus 2915, and the Mazda got 29 mpg in our test. The bottom line is that our test driver noted this is the “slowest Focus 2.0 we’ve tested.” An earlier automatic got to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds; we’ve done it in 7.3 seconds with the stick. Opt for the Focus with the 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder, and getting to 60 mph takes 9.4 seconds with the stick and 10.2 seconds with its automatic (of the torque-converter variety rather than this test car’s dual-clutch). The latter fared no better than 25 mpg in our testing, so Focus shoppers could do worse than this 2.0-liter/automatic combination.
It took 179 feet to stop this car from 70 mph, a lengthy distance but not uncommonly so for this class. Our Mazda 3 sedan needed 175 feet but without the fade we noted in this Focus. Although the stopping distance stretched to 191 feet on the third repetition, the pedal remained firm.
The all-season Pirelli P Zero Nero tires have plenty of footprint for a car this size and not a lot of sidewall to flex. They were 235/40ZR-18s and were W-rated, indicating capability for a maximum speed of 168 mph, which seems gratuitous in a car barely capable of 120 mph. They delivered 0.83 g of grip, a good but not outstanding figure for this class, and the steering is both quick—at 2.4 turns lock-to-lock—and more accurate than many competitors’ systems. The suspension control of body motions in cornering is well within the category norms—you never feel as though you’re bobbing along in a lifeboat, as is still too often the case in some compacts. (Note: The Focus sedan measures in as a compact, but the hatchback, with 10 more cubic feet of cargo space, crosses the line into the EPA’s mid-size category.)
More important for a vehicle that’s likely to see family service, the ride quality is supple. Road noise is higher than in some compacts; we measured an above-average 73 decibels at freeway-cruising speed. But crumbly pavement, nasty expansion joints, and various small, sharp bumps don’t communicate themselves to occupants, which largely mitigates the subjective sensation of a noisy compact.
Considered as kinetic art, the Focus stacks up well. It looks snappier as a hatchback than a sedan, in our opinion, and particularly so with this car’s optional ($625) 18-inch wheels. Interior design and materials in our Titanium test car give it an upscale look that pretty much erases the “cheap car” impression. Choosing the Titanium trim brings a fair inventory of comfort-and-convenience features, including heated leather front seats, power adjustable on the driver’s side; a 10-speaker Sony audio system; one-touch (up and down) power windows all around; and a proximity key fob with push-button start.
The moderately supportive, attractively finished seats deliver better-than-average comfort. However, their low mounting position conspires with a high beltline and cowl to compromise forward sightlines, giving the driver a sense of sitting inside a bunker. A driver’s first line of defense is vision; a car named Focus could be better in this regard. At least there’s less distraction from Ford’s latest Sync 3 system, which brings a much-easier-to-use interface for infotainment features and now makes it possible for owners to retroactively add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Like most test cars that come our way, this one had a substantial inventory of optional equipment, $3445 worth, which is a pretty healthy bump over the already fairly well-equipped Titanium model’s starting price of $24,600. How much of it is real gotta-have-it stuff is a personal choice. The Technology package (blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist for $795) seems to be popular, particularly for those with young families. Do you need voice-activated navigation? It’s reasonably priced at $795, but a smartphone and a good phone mount may do the job just as well (see Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comment above). The most appealing extra in this car’s collection, to those of us residing in wintry climates, is the Cold Weather package, which includes a heated steering wheel, heated side mirrors, and heated seats for a mere $195.
At $28,045, this Focus 2.0 automatic can’t be called basic transportation (the average compact sold for about $20,000 last year, according to Kelley Blue Book), but it does cost less than the median sales price of all new cars last year, which was north of $34K. Considering the equipment, general comfort, and style, the value proposition stacks up well enough. It’s still in the top third of the segment by most every measure-except for rear-seat legroom, which is on the small side relative to the competition—and sells accordingly, but at least half a dozen fresher entries have outpaced this former best-in-class hatchback. Meanwhile, this one’s a placeholder for the new fourth-generation car expected to arrive as a 2018 model.
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