After several days romping around in a 2016 Ford Focus Titanium -- the top trim level of Ford's compact car aside from the ST and RS performance variants -- I came away mostly impressed. It's a car that had a surprising way of growing on me, but it's not perfect.
This test model was a beautiful Kona Blue 5-door hatchback. As with rival compact cars like the Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and soon the Honda Civic, the Focus is available as a sedan or hatchback. In addition to its more flexible cargo-carrying abilities and smaller footprint that's easier to park, I like the hatch for its Euro-flavored design.
Befitting a trim named Titanium, this Focus is loaded with features. Highlights include dual-zone climate control that allows both an always-cold husband and constantly-hot wife to both be comfortable, leather seats (heated in front), backup camera, a good-sounding and easy-to-operate 10-speaker Sony audio system that thankfully still plays CDs for those who remember what those are, and the new Sync3 infotainment system.
That last feature is significant. Ford's earlier iterations of Sync have been finicky to use, with small, hard-to-read display characters. The new version is far easier to operate with big icons on the touch screen, large numbers and letters, and a cleaner interface overall. If you're adamant about having Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, wait a bit. Ford just announced that its 2017 vehicle lineup using Sync3 will be compatible with both smartphone systems.
This small hatchback was further festooned with a helpful blind-spot monitoring feature with rear cross-traffic alert (it prevented at least one collision in a matter of days), and lane keeping alert, which lets you that you're drifting by vibrating the steering wheel. Other goodies included navigation system, 18-inch wheels, and a system that helps you parallel park.
These are all welcome amenities, and they help justify this model's as-listed price of $27,455.
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Under the hood, this Focus is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. That power was more than adequate to scoot this little hatch around town and even gave it good passing power on freeways. It's how the power is transmitted where the Focus stumbles more than others.
That's because this Focus uses a 6-speed "PowerShift" transmission. Ford labels this an automatic, but in reality it's a dual-clutch gearbox. A dual clutch operates and -- this is important -- tends to feel more like a manual transmission because it has similar hardware. The difference is, you don't shift yourself with a traditional clutch pedal or even move a shifter; it's all automated.
These kinds of transmissions really pay off in fuel economy, as attested by this model's 38 mpg highway rating. But they are not as smooth as a traditional hydraulic automatic transmission. This was first noticed by wife, when the car shuddered upon initial startup and low-speed acceleration. Another Kelley Blue Book editor griped about it even more after he spent time in the car. For me, it was more a refinement issue; it's just not as smooth as the automatic transmission used in the Mazda3 or even the Honda Civic, which hits its own high mpg note by using a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Thankfully other driving manners of the Focus are laudable. It's well-planted in corners, and the chassis and suspension feel sporty enough to make it fun to drive. The Focus also deserves kudos for it comfortable seat and good driving position.
Variety of powertrains
As compact cars go, the Focus remains a solid choice, and with the introduction of Sync3 -- and for 2017 better smartphone integration -- it's even more appealing. Just know that if you opt for a PowerShift automatic transmission in the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder model, it may not feel as smooth as you're used to. Also note that if you desire a more traditional automatic, one is available -- and on a Focus model with even better fuel economy ratings, too. A traditional 6-speed automatic is paired with the 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder Focus. While not as swift as the standard model, a Focus with the tiny EcoBoost engine attains up to 42 mpg. Of course, if you're the kind of driver who loves the engagement of a manual transmission, the Focus with either the 2.0-liter or 1.0-liter engines offers that, too.