Auto Review: Handling comes into Focus

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 24, 2012
- Contributed Photo

There have been so many steady improvements in automobiles over the last couple of decades that it’s sometimes hard to highlight which are the most important. This is especially true when talking about safety, because while the advance of crash protection technology is a huge factor in lowering serious injuries and fatalities, improved handling and the inclusion of antilock brakes and stability programs have helped drivers avoid accidents altogether (the ultimate safety strategy). In the less-expensive compact class of sedans, one of the best advancements related to safety is simply better, more responsive handling characteristics. This has also made the cars more fun to drive, and a sterling example of this is this week’s 2012 Ford Focus SE sedan, with the available five-speed manual transmission.

The front-drive Focus is powered by a 2-liter Inline Four, with Direct Injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) aimed at both more response and lower emissions. Output is 160 horsepower, and two transmissions are available, including the aforementioned five-speed manual transmission and a six-speed PowerShift automatic.

A new standard feature is Torque Vectoring Control, described by Ford as, “A system that behaves like a limited-slip differential to constantly balance distribution of torque between the driven front wheels.” This innovation does a great job of smoothing power delivery, especially under hard acceleration. We weren’t too thrilled with the shifting of the automatic back when we sampled it in July of last year, but the five-speed manual is a great gearbox with well-chosen ratios and light clutch feel. Power is acceptable (although low-end torque is on the modest side) and the engine revs eagerly, but rather than awesome acceleration, the true design goal is improved fuel economy. When you combine this drivetrain with the tight, balanced chassis and well-calibrated suspension, the Focus is a very entertaining compact to hustle around on challenging roads.

Inside, there’s an interior that boasts some very contemporary control interfaces, and whether or not you’ll get along with them depends largely on how eager you are to embrace new technology, regardless of whether it makes life easier. The touch-screen interface for the radio, along with Ford’s Sync telemetric system, needs to be learned before you hit the road, or frustration will ensue when you try to do many commonplace tasks. Then you will either love this way of doing things or hate it, depending on your particular tastes (or how you like to multitask your workflow, if that’s how you roll). Otherwise, interior comfort is good with supportive front seats and sharp displays. The rear seats aren’t class leaders in the room department, but again, comfort is respectable, with stout, sturdy fabric. Our sedan had a 13.2-cubic-foot trunk, and a five-door hatchback is also in the offing with even more usable cargo space.

The 2012 Ford Focus SE sedan is EPA-rated 26 MPG city/36 highway and we saw 31.3 MPG in a week of mixed driving. With options including the SE Sport Package, our sticker came to $20, 580.

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