The Ford Escort is getting long in the tooth, having last been redesigned for the 2012 model year, but it still offers a good combination of ride and handling attributes. The Focus comes in sedan and hatchback versions, with front-wheel drive standard and a choice of powertrains.
Little has changed for the 2016 model year, except for the emergence of a greatly improved Sync 3 infotainment system. Installed in much of the 2016 lineup, Sync 3 replaces the much-criticized, non-intuitive MyFord Touch interface. Sync 3 has a capacitive screen, streamlined menus, smart-charger USB ports, and AppLink capability.
Conveying a sportier aura than many compact sedans and some hatchbacks, the Focus comes in a broad range: from budget-priced Focus S to luxurious Focus Titanium trim and high-performance Focus ST.
Offered only with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the Ford Focus ST can reach 60 mph in a frisky 6.3 seconds.
Reaching further yet, a super-performance Focus RS with all-wheel drive joins the lineup late in the model year as a 2016 model.
Most models hold a peppy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 160 horsepower, teamed with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission. Buyers can choose instead a 1.0-liter EcoBoost turbocharged three-cylinder engine, now available with a 6-speed automatic transmission as well as manual shift.
Also available, on a limited basis, is the Focus Electric, which is EPA-rated at 105 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).
Outward visibility is quite good compared to other compact cars, although rearward vision can be an issue. However, a rearview camera comes standard. You can even get Active Park Assist, which actually steers the car into a parking space.
Ford offers a selection of safety features, including a Blind Spot Information System as well as Lane Keeping Assist. Unfortunately, you need to step up to a higher trim level to obtain such features, and some of the latest forward-collision and automatic-braking technologies aren’t available at all.
Built on a global structure engineered to meet international crash-test standards, Focus has earned top Good ratings in all categories, for tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Sole exception was an Acceptable score in the more rigorous small-overlap frontal test. Testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted in a five-star overall rating, with five-star scores for frontal and side crashes. A rearview camera and driver’s knee airbag are standard.
The 2016 Ford Focus comes in sedan and hatchback versions. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.
Focus S sedan ($17,225) includes the 2.0-liter engine, manual transmission, air conditioning, CD player, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cloth upholstery, and 15-inch steel wheels. Automatic ($1,095) is optional. SE sedan ($18,515) or hatchback ($19,015) adds cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, and Ford’s MyKey. An SE Sport Package includes a touring suspension, 17-inch wheels, and, with automatic, paddle shifters.
Focus Titanium sedan ($23,225) or hatchback ($23,725) get dual-zone climate control, automatic transmission, 10-speaker Sony audio, Sync 3, HD radio, sport suspension, and navigation.
Focus ST hatchback ($24,425) features the 252-hp turbo, manual shift, unique fascias, and 18-inch wheels. Focus RS hatchback ($35,730) has 2.3-liter turbo and all-wheel drive, plus unique front fascia and grille, partial leather Recaro seats, and sport exhaust.
Focus Electric hatchback ($29,170) includes eco-friendly heated cloth front seats, Sync 3, EcoGuide instruments, and Sony nine-speaker audio.
Among the most extroverted-looking compact cars, Ford Focus feels more upscale than its rivals. Whether in four-door sedan or five-door hatchback form, it teases the eye with its sporty air.
2015 brought a modest restyling, led by a wide oval grille, like the Fusion and Fiesta. Sheetmetal shaping mimics other Ford models. Curves and creases mate with a smooth front end. Protruding fenders echo the Focus’s arched roofline. Immense taillamps frame the rear corners.
The high-performance ST and hotter-yet RS stand out enough to attract the enthusiast crowd, with their bigger wheels and modestly lower stance.
Nothing about the Focus suggests that it’s merely a small car. Details grasp at your attention. Trim elements look classy and well-tailored. Careful sculpting suggests complexity, while the refined Focus is almost as comfortable as a European sports sedan.
Space-efficiency, in contrast, falls short because of a constricted dashboard design. Sharp and angular, it steals knee space. Otherwise, leg space and headroom accommodate riders just over six feet, in both front and back.
Whether it’s a sedan or hatchback, rear seats are effectively contoured, though legroom could be greater. Seat-folding isn’t the easiest, and headrests interfere with the procedure.
If you’re seeking agile handling and crisp steering responses, Focus is the compact to beat. Regardless of trim level, Ford’s compact feels nimble and athletic. Naturally, ST and RS versions are the ones that set enthusiast hearts to racing.
Installed in most Focus models, the 2.0-liter engine is sufficiently spirited for nearly every driving need. At low speeds, the optional dual-clutch automatic isn’t always smooth, but it keeps engine revs high, ready to be called upon. With this automatic, the 2.0-liter Focus is among the thriftiest in its segment, EPA-rated at 27/40 mpg City/Highway. Manual shift is a bit lower (not as good).
Stepping up to a 240-horsepower Focus ST is the way to get the best handling. The well-engineered ST feels like a performance car, yet it lacks the twitchy behavior that plagues some extra-hot compacts. Premium fuel isn’t needed, and the ST is EPA-rated at 23/32 mpg City/Highway.
Beneath the hood of the new Focus RS, an EcoBoost 2.3-liter engine produces more than 300 horsepower. Full-time all-wheel drive incorporates dynamic torque vectoring. Ready to go against the high-performance Subaru WRX and STI, in particular, the Focus RS features a selectable sports suspension and heftier brakes.
At the other end of the spectrum, the high-efficiency Focus SFE gets a 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 123 horsepower, as well as a heftier 148 pound-feet of torque. The SFE is EPA-rated at 30/42 mpg City/Highway. For 2016, Ford is offering this engine with a 6-speed automatic, which loses 2 mpg compared to manual shift.
Even in basic trim, Focus is among the better-handling cars. Nicely weighted electric power steering ensures precise control, though road feel is somewhat lacking. Despite a rather firm suspension, a Focus won’t bang and bounce through harsh surfaces. Unfortunately, the Focus S and SE still halt with slightly less effective rear drum brakes.
Although a Focus rides more firmly than many small cars, passenger comfort excels. Sophisticated suspension tuning smooths out the most irksome bumps and holes. Still, road noise manages to get inside.
Ford’s Focus provides just about everything to be found in a compact sedan or hatchback. The more basic S and SE models deliver the best value, while the Titanium brings premium amenities at a comparatively reasonable price. Focus ST and RS bring performance.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.