By Sara Lacey, Cars.com
Tribune Media Services
Ford has significantly upped the ante in the compact-car segment with its redesigned 2012 Focus, which has taken a giant leap in terms of looks and quality.
When test-driving the 2012 Focus hatchback, I felt like I had two personalities, "College Sara" and "Family Sara." College Sara liked its updated, racy looks with its large grille and swoopy taillights, but it wasn't quick enough from a stop. It was better suited for the more rational Family Sara, who liked its cargo space and ease with which the hatchback handled child-safety seats -- something College Sara wouldn't care about.
The Focus has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that lacks some zip off the line. Once I got going, I didn't feel like I was missing power. The Focus sticks to the road and seems to enjoy being pushed a bit. The steering was sporty, making turns and curves fun.
So, where did College Sara and Family Sara agree? In more places than one, but the most important thing was price. The Focus sedan has a starting MSRP of $16,500 and the hatchback comes in at $18,300. My test car, a Focus SEL hatchback, cost $24,720 and included the optional MyFord Touch and Cold Weather packages.
The Focus' angles and curves are in just the right spots, giving it a modern look, but it looks best from the rear. The curvy hatch and angled taillights are sporty and youthful. Optional 17-inch aluminum wheels help the Focus look more interesting than a regular commuter car, and even Family Sara likes that the Focus adds some visual excitement to the carpool lane.
My elementary-school-aged kids had no issues getting in and out of the Focus; the doors opened and closed easily and are lightweight. The cargo area was squared off due to a subwoofer that shaved off some of the space's width. Parents who regularly haul strollers in their cars will want to make sure they fit in the Focus' trunk.
Parents of teen drivers will like the Focus' MyKey system. A programmable key allows parents to set limits on the car's top speed -- 65, 70, 75 or 80 mph -- and the radio's volume. It also mutes the radio and sounds a chime until the driver buckles up.
The Focus has a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's paired with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It uses unleaded gas and gets an EPA-estimated 28/38 mpg city/highway. This falls short of some competitors that get 40 mpg highway, but Ford offers the Focus SFE trim that hits 40 mpg highway.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some-Good Times
While the Focus is inexpensive, it doesn't feel cheap. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather, and the metallic accents have some heft to them. I wasn't such a fan of the fabric upholstery -- that's personal, though, as I prefer leather interiors for ease in cleaning -- but I must admit it was sturdy and comfortable.
The main complaint for both College and Family Sara is the interior's lack of storage spaces. This is a hazard of a smaller car; in the front row I just had two cupholders, the center console and a glove box. I missed having a little bin for my phone or my wallet.
My test car had the MyFord Touch system; a touch-screen in the dash controls the stereo, climate and more. Of course, Family Sara worries about the distraction factor of these systems, while College Sara had lots of fun pushing the buttons and figuring out how to make it work. In addition to MyFord Touch, the Focus also had the voice-activated Sync system that enables you to make calls or play music without fumbling with controls.
The Focus had good legroom in the backseat. I chalk it up to the deep seat benches. There also were interesting cubbies for gadgets located next to the rear doors.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2012 Focus hatchback received four stars out of five overall. It got five stars in side crash tests and four stars in frontal and rollover crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't crash-tested the 2012 Focus hatchback.
There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the Focus' outboard seats. Child-safety seats were easy to install in the hatchback. With the driver's seat adjusted for my 5-foot-5 frame, a rear-facing infant-safety fit well in the backseat.
The Focus has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. Ford's programmable MyKey is optional. The available Parking Technology Package ($695) includes a backup camera, parking sensors and Active Park Assist that parallel parks the car with minimal assistance from the driver.
© 2012, Cars.com
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