by Peter Dushenski
If you live, breathe, and sweat cars from every pore of your being – like we do – then using your more logical left brain simply doesn’t enter the equation when you’re looking to buy a new car. You probably leave that up to your parents, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. Right? Of course you do, you’d be banned from your favourite forum if you even uttered otherwise. This is all well and good when you want to escape to the nether regions of the internet to shoot up on automotive heroine (also known as The Supercar), but in the real world, where people open their wallets and drive cars home from the dealer, a little sensibility goes a long way. Particularly when you’ll be keeping the car for anywhere between 5 years and the rest of your life.
So let’s delve into the all-new, entirely unrecognizable as such, Ford Focus. Bring your left brain this way, monsieur.
The 2012 Ford Focus car has been hyped to the moon and back, mostly by frothing fanboys who slavishly bow to all that is European. This Focus, as I’m sure you already know, is one of the first products of the One Ford initiative that aims to give us the same high-quality small Fords that the rest of the world has been enjoying for years. So with all the hoopla, our expectations are seriously lofty. It recently won C&D’s compact comparo, stomped the Elantra in one IL comparison, and crushed the Cruze in another. Doug can probably take some of the credit, but the car itself deserves the rest. Even though it’s roughly the same size as “competition” like the Cruze, Corolla, Civic, and Elantra, early reports indicate that it has the peerless build quality, endless feature set, and throat gagging price tag of more prestigious transport. If you don’t think it would embarrass your Audi A3, think again.
So what’s it really like first hand?
As you open the door, with the keyless “key” still in your pocket (it’s a push button start), nestle into the black and white leather throne, and close the Teutonically solid door, you’d be remiss if you didn’t notice the sheer size of the seat bolsters hugging your meaty flanks (and that’s not an insult, just a statistical likelihood). So big are the bolsters that they’ll hit your elbows as you turn the wheel. In fact, they’re so big you could cut them in half and donate the rest to the 2011 Focus out of sheer pity. This is, by all accounts, a very good thing. Most seats in mainstream cars favour flat and wide bottoms to accommodate our, uh, flat and wide bottoms. The seat backs are typically similarly featureless, less they prevent Big Earl from wedging inside comfortably. The Focus has bigger bolstering to make you feel oh so sporty, but the bolsters are still miles too wide for my aspiring triathlete frame, especially around the lower back. Is this a genuine grudge or just an opportunity for me to brag? You decide .
Out on the road, the ride quality shouts its sporting intentions with a busier ride than I might like. Fitted with 18″ wheels and sport suspension, the car never quite settles down. You can feel it constantly, even nervously, working around town. Ideally, it would soak up bumps a little more invisibly, rather than bringing every pothole, creak, and cranny to your attention. This is a 5-door hatchback, not a 2-seat sports car, after all. The paper-thin tires don’t provide much in the way of cushioning, but the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tires were never designed to be comfortable, they were designed to go, turn, and stop. As we all too happy to find out, the Focus loves a good, hard drive and can even be coaxed into oversteer, which is wholly amazing for a front-wheel drive compact. This speaks not only to the front-end grip from the summer-only tires and the lyrical finesse of your humble author, but to the overall balance of the platform as well. Hell, even the throttle and brake modulation are spot-on, particularly when the gear selector is notched into “S”Maybe those frothing fanboys were on to something. Whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute. This is a LEFT BRAIN review. Sorry guys, sometimes we’re too enthusiastic for our own good.
Back to more day-to-day details, our Focus Titanium was plagued, and that isn’t too strong a word, with MyFordTouch. This is a system we’ve had issues with before in the Lincoln MKX and Ford Explorer and it’s absolutely no different here, but it is becoming more familiar. Also, the rest of the dash interface is much cleaner than the spendier MKX, and by some measure. And if we’re slightly less cynical for a moment, MFT is arguably more relevant to the intended Focus customers – people who are likely to be younger and more accustomed to pervasive technology – than it is for the MKX and Explorer. The wealthier set who are going to buy the MKX and Explorer are likely to be older, less tech savvy, and more likely to punch MFT right in the baby maker. Making MFT standard on the Titanium trim level, which starts at $24,499 for the sedan and $25,099 for the hatchback, is a bold move by Ford towards greater adoption of the controversial technology (for an explanation of the controversy, read this Consumer Reports article). And in case there was any question as to just how left-brained this article would be, a link to CR pretty well sums it up.
Since this review is (supposed to be) all about practicality, let’s talk about visibility. The visibility out the driver’s side window is flat-out impressive. You can actually see the ground! In an era of safety-mandated tanks (see Camaro SS), side visibility is a rare commodity indeed. Ford must be using some kind of European impact alchemy here. Chalk some of the improved side visibility up to the driver’s seat that feels like adjusts over a foot in height. The rear 3/4 visibility is also commendable thanks to the extra little window slotted in there. The side mirrors also have special convex bubble integrated into the corners of the mirrors to provide you with a fish eyed view of your surroundings. The 2012 Focus is a case of good design obviating the need for electronic intervention. Blind spot monitoring? Fahgetaboutit.
One of the most innovative, and relevant technologies in the new Focus has to be the self-parallel-parking feature. It’s an amazing party trick and a much-appreciated product of the democratization of luxury. The first such system was in a $100,000 Lexus just 5 years ago and that system required the driver to control a joystick to select the parking space, whereas the Focus takes care of all those fussy calculations for you! I can’t say enough good things about this feature, especially for the urban set. It works intuitively and will probably never get old. As long as the sensors aren’t covered in poofy white snow, there’s no reason for them not to work exactly as advertised, and to leave you with a Cheshire Cat grin every time.
Speaking of urban driving, you’ll surely agree that a tight turning radius goes a long way in a city car. Unfortunately, the Focus has an 18’ turning radius that feels like 18m. It’s not nearly as nimble around parking lots as you’d expect a hatchback this size to be. The scads of cameras and sensors go some way towards providing Parking Lot Peace of Mind, but the steering wheel still feels like it wants to keep turning at the end of the lock.
But overall, from the the self-parking wizardry to the high quality switchgear, the Focus Titanium feels over-engineered in the way few cars since the W123 Mercedes have. It’s downright Germanic in the exorbitantly high level of initial quality. Whether or not it maintains Germanically high repair bills 3-5 years down the road remains to be seen, but we cringe at the mere thought of it. In our experience, cars with this high of a level of initial quality really struggle with electrical issues, rattles, and one wallet-emptying problem after another. But that’s probably because this experience was forged by German cars. Ford has been on a pretty strong reliability run of late, so skepticism is probably unwarranted, but I’d be remiss to ignore the gut feeling entirely.
So there. Your left brain has something to chew on. But what about your creative right brain? We haven’t forgotten about him, don’t worry. Our usual, and entirely unusual, entertainment will be back in full force in the coming weeks as we compare this 2012 Ford Focus to some tougher competition in our second ever CarEnvy MegaFair ComparisonTest™. So check back very, very frequently for more!