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2012 Ford Focus Titanium sedan, an AutoWeek Drivers Log Car Review

Fri, 24 Jun 2011

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: After spending an evening in the upmarket 2012 Ford Focus Titanium, I'm decidedly torn. My feelings about the chassis, brakes, steering--everything about the driving dynamics--remain the same as with our SE Sport tester a few weeks back: brilliant. For a C-segment car (granted, one tickling $27,000), the Focus is incredibly composed and unflappable in all but the most ridiculous street driving. The interior is beautifully crafted with quality-feeling materials, and the seats offer a perfect blend of side bolstering and lower cushion for my sometimes awkward, lanky frame.

Likewise, despite concerns from some of my fellow editors that the normally aspirated Focus engine is a bit meager for this application, I felt its output was very well balanced with the character of the car. Particularly in Titanium trim with the automatic gearbox, it felt neither underpowered nor overpowered.

But about that gearbox--it's the one aspect of this car that has me torn. Focus uses a dual-clutch PowerShift automatic similar to the one found in the Fiesta, and quite frankly, it does some weird stuff. The shuddering disengagement when creeping in traffic is disconcerting. The no-doubt economy-oriented shift program goes into too high a gear too quickly for the engine's torque output. And the full-throttle downshifts when merging into traffic were simply unacceptable--the delay was as much as two seconds before usable power came on line.

Being a true dual-clutch box it does have an advantage, and that's in the pseudo-manual shifting department. Unfortunately, Ford saw fit to only equip the Focus with a small up/downshift button on the gear selector instead of a paddle setup which might have actually made up for quite a few of the shortcomings. In manual mode, the transmission shifted quite nicely, rev-matched well and felt mechanically connected in a way a regular slushbox can never match.

But for the general public, those who don't know why PowerShift has some of the quirks it does, or why a dual-clutch automatic is superior in many ways, I think this automatic is going to be a serious marketing problem for Ford. It simply doesn't feel as refined as a good torque-converter automatic, and the delays in power application and shifting will feel like something's simply not right to most folks. They're definitely not going to spend Fusion money for a Focus that feels wrong.

It's a shame, too. Put the outstanding Aisin five-speed automatic from our long-term Mazda 5 in this thing, and it would instantly be at the top of my C-car list. Even properly done paddles would move it up, but as is, the Focus automatic misses the mark.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I spent a lot of time logging miles all over town in this hot sedan, blinged out sportily in Titanium trim. I was impressed with the drive character of this car, and it's mainstream, agreeable and generally well done. Ford will sell a ton of these things, I'd say. Enthusiasts will like the chassis and composed body, which maintain bearing and a civil demeanor. The suspension is tight without being abusive. I found the steering to be light, but it returns plenty of feel for most regular drivers.

I like the looks of this sample. It's sharp, has a great color, and cuts a sleek demeanor. Ford did an excellent job with this design, and I would expect people will be attracted to this fresh, Euro-styled body. The interior is similarly well-done, with quality plastics, nice leather and an athletic steering wheel with well-placed grips at 10 o'clock and two o'clock. This also will sell this car to the public, which places even more emphasis on nice cabins in this competitive market.

The power from the four-banger is fine, especially for a car the slips in below 3,000 pounds. I chased an Alfa Romeo test mule down the expressway, and the Focus kept up without wheezing.

The big downer on the Ford, as Stoy points out, is the transmission. I'm not offended by it, but the shifts could be much smoother, especially low in the band and during downshifts during harder acceleration. Still, this isn't a luxury car, so it's not a fatal flaw, in my opinion.

I think I would take this new Focus over a Fusion, considering its size and price are relatively in the same ballpark. That might be a problem for Ford, as other mainstream users might feel the same way.

The good news for the Blue Oval is that the Focus is very competitive with the Chevrolet Cruze and the Hyundai Elantra among redesigned products in the small-car segment. They all have proper drive dynamics, look great inside and out, return efficient fuel economy and are reasonably priced. It's a good time to be looking for a smaller sedan, though in the case of the Focus, I like the looks of the hatch better.

COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: All I could think of every time I went to take off in this 2012 Ford Focus Titanium over the long weekend was that I would have to deal with the annoying quirks of the transmission in this otherwise fine new Focus.

The good stuff first: The sheetmetal is stylish and sharp. Once you get up to speed, the four is strong. And it's OK as long as you don't make any sudden movements. There is good bolster to the seats and they held up well over longer drives. The brakes confidently brought the car to a stop. The sound system is incredible and added fun to the driving. And the A/C was strong and cooled things off fast on a couple of super-warm days.

The not so good: There was not a lot of back-seat legroom with the front seats situated for six-foot-tall folks. The trunk space is truly compromised by the spare. And then, there is that tranny. I was more than annoyed by its odd shifts and the shuddering when stopped at a light or when slowing down. It felt as if the car was going to stall. When you attempted to take off from a light or merge onto an expressway, well, it didn't happen when you wanted it to. There was a delay of a few seconds before the car got into gear. Even in parking lots, pulling out of a space, I felt as if I had accidently shifted into neutral because the car just wouldn't move.

I had so many problems with a ‘99 Taurus that I swore I'd never own another Ford. The hubby once owned a Camry and made the same vow. And after driving this car, I wouldn't buy it. That's a shame, because I really like the Focus. But with this transmission, I'd go for the Chevrolet Cruze.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: At long last, the United States gets the Focus the rest of the world receives--and we'll be getting a hot ST version, too, which is very cool. I live close to the plant where they build these things in Wayne, Mich., so I've been seeing a ton of them running around. They are sharp-looking cars with a front end featuring large air dams, which is good for the class. It's a welcome change from the drab and uninspired looks on the majority of the usual suspects like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla.

In continuing what its Fiesta little brother started, the interior of the Focus is fabulous. Materials are first-rate for the class with all major surfaces being soft touch. It's a big difference compared with the new Civic, which now has all hard plastics throughout. The seating position in the Focus is comfortable, and the steering wheel is shaped to fall nicely into your hands.

I, too, was underwhelmed by the powertrain combo here. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder offers adequate power at best, which isn't helped by the dual-clutch's operation. At launch, there's a noticeable period of hesitation before things get rolling. That's the nature of these gearboxes, but to the general car-buying populace, Ford is advertising this as an “automatic” transmission. So when the car doesn't get going right after you step on the gas, I believe some people will find that irritating. Maybe an old-fashion torque converter autobox is the way to go here. And what's up with the dumb shift button on the center shifter? Paddles or a slap stick are needed.

As for the chassis setup, it's good. Steering is direct and responsive and the brakes are grabby and strong. The suspension strikes a nice compromise between ride comfort and handling ability to keep the Focus well controlled in corners with some body roll and a comfortable ride on the Titanium's standard 17-inch wheels.

However, this test car is a pricey piece. True, it's the range-topping Titanium model with MyFord Touch, a push-button starter, HD radio and the aforementioned 17-inch wheels. This car also has the optional premium package with rain-sensing wipers, rear parking aid and power driver's seat to catapult the price to near $27,000. That's midsize-sedan money.

INTERACTIVE ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: Ford did a great job on the styling of the 2012 Ford Focus. The hatchback looks a bit better than the sedan to my eyes, but they're both a step up from previous version. Is that a little Aston Martin in there? This one has a slick red paint job and cool rims--part of the Titanium package--to set off the look.

It's not a bad driver, either. Of course, I could ask for a bit more power. Hopefully the Focus ST will solve that problem. The PowerShift transmission seems a bit unrefined. At one point, one of the editors asked if it was a CVT.

The Focus gets buttons for manual gear changing on the shifter, but it's nowhere near as fun or engaging as a Volkswagen dual-clutch unit. Maybe some steering-wheel-mounted paddles would help. I would also ask for a manual option, but the Titanium package doesn't allow it.

On the subject of the wheel, it was a bit too busy for my liking. It has two sets of buttons for the Sync and MyFord Touch controls, and another two sets for cruise control and menu options. Not only is it hard to keep track of them all, my hands seemed to naturally fall to the ones behind the wheel as if they were paddles for shifting. I'm sure I'm not the first one to do that. It does have a good chunky feel to it, unlike the Cruze that I drove recently, which seemed a bit less expensive.

The entertainment system has a lot of great functions; I didn't really have time to get into them all. The USB audio input worked OK, but the menu system took a bit to get used to, and that's only a quarter of all the functions.

All in all, this 2012 model is much better than the outgoing car in style and performance. Ford already has a good small car. If it can work out a few kinks, it'll be a great small car.

2012 Ford Focus Titanium Sedan

Base Price: $22,995

As-Tested Price: $26,740

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter I4; FWD, six-speed dual-clutch sequential manual

Output: 160 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 146 lb-ft @ 4,450 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,935 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 31/28.9 mpg

Options: Rapid spec 401A package including Titanium premium package, rear parking-aid sensor, rain-sensitive front-wipers and six-way power driver's seat ($1,490); MyFord Touch, HD satellite radio, navigation ($795); 18-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension ($595); winter package including all-weather floor mats, heated seats, power heated mirrors with approach lights ($470); red candy metallic tinted exterior paint ($395); rapid spec savings (-$195)

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