When Ford released the new Focus, they had a bit of an uphill struggle ahead of them. The previous generation had a negative impact on a lot of folks who suffered under the yoke of ownership, beset with a myriad of quality issues. My sister-in-law had one and went through a painful ownership experience similar to many other Focus owners she met along the way – chronic mechanical problems, never-ending electrical gremlins and the body quickly started rusting in the strangest spots. To some, the previous Focus was a turd that couldn’t be polished.
Enter the “new” Focus. It arrived on our shores as a 2012 model and was a revolution in terms of interior and drivetrain refinement for this class.
Pricing: 2014 Ford Focus SE
Base price (SE trim): $19,699
Options: $1,600 SE Plus Package; $1,450 6-speed automatic transmission; $1,300 Sony & MyFordTouch package; $350 winter package; $900 Parking technology package; $100 block heater; $800 navigation system; $300 remote start
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $28,164
When it comes to the outside styling, the Focus draws on what Ford calls “Kinetic Design” language, which talks about the flow of energy, blah blah blah. Subjectively, I would say I appreciate this styling direction. It’s a sleek, modern take, adding character without taking too many risks and possibly alienating buyers.
I prefer the hatchback’s styling over the sedan’s. The front end looks like it means business with its aggressive trapezoidal grille treatment, slightly restyled and cleaned-up headlight pods and nicely integrated foglights. I really like the rear end of the hatch – it has a little roof spoiler and just the right kind of curves to make it interesting, though the huge wrap-around tail lights can’t be missed and are a bit much for me. It’s a sleek package and I think it still works well.
My SE had very handsome carbon-coloured 17-inch rims and looked stunning in Performance Blue.
The new Focus started Ford’s revolution of raising the bar in its interiors. Much of the competition has caught up now, but it remains a nice place to be. Any parts of the dash you can reach are soft touch plastics and the fit and finish seemed to be outstanding. Unfortunately everything on the door panels (short of a small upholstered panel) is hard plastic and this part of the cabin comes across as cheap. The styling is a bit busy – there are a lot of things going on, but overall, it’s a decent interior. I’ve complained about this in other Fords lately – everything is black (with the exception of a few bits of brightwork) and it starts to feel a bit sombre in there. The colour of the ambient lighting can be changed – that seems hokey, but was a source of endless amusement for our kids.
The Focus’ manually-adjustable heated fabric seats were very comfortable and equally supportive – I was very impressed with them. I was less impressed with the head room up front – drivers much taller than my 5’10” might find things getting tight. My tester had the MyFordTouch system, which handles your phone, media, navigation and climate control. The interface remains somewhat busy and not as intuitive as I’d like and although the system has ample potential, it’s not there yet. It’s controlled through the touch screen and a couple of hard buttons and control knob below it. As it has been from day one, that’s one of my biggest complaints with the system – it’s basically impossible to use MyFordTouch without completely taking your eyes off the road. The stereo is a Sony-branded system – it has a sizable subwoofer in the trunk and sounds really, really good. Audio sources are AM, FM, satellite radio, USB and Bluetooth streaming.
The wide centre console is not padded so if you rest your knee against it (like I do), it can be uncomfortable. It’s home to a traditional parking brake, the gear selector and dual cupholders – which are directly behind the 12V plug and seat heater controls, allowing uncovered beverages to splash all over these things. With that said, thank you Ford, for not burying the seat heaters in MyFordTouch and giving us actual manual controls. Driver technology consists of front and rear parking sensors with audible alarms, a backup camera with excellent trajectory lines and the infamous ParkAssist which will do almost everything for you when it comes to parallel parking with perfect results every time.
You’ll find three seats in the back, each with a seatbelt and a headrest. But the middle position is narrow, raised and anyone sitting there will need to negotiate quite a tunnel on the floor – even our kids found this seat an irritating place to sit. Rear leg room was limited for me – surprisingly headroom is more spacious in the back seats than in the front. There’s a 12V plug at the back of the centre console and that’s it. A bit of a nitpick – when you’re back there, you’ll notice the front seat anchors and rails are exposed – it’s ugly and looks unfinished. If you’re transporting kids, you get two sets of LATCH anchors. Our three kids felt cramped back there, width-wise.
The Focus’ trunk is a good, usable size at 674 litres. The back seats split 60/40 but you have to manually pop the bottom seat cushions up and out of the way for the seat backs to fold flat – flip them down and you’ll enjoy a voluminous 1269 litre cargo space. Additional room can be had on top of the removable swing-up tonneau cover that acts as a parcel shelf.
Under the Hood
Ford’s 2.0-litre direct injection 4-cylinder powers the Focus. The numbers aren’t that exciting – 160 horsepower at 6500 RPM and 146 lb.ft of torque at 4450 RPM. Mind you, those horses only have to drag 1337 kg (2948 pounds) of Focus around town. The Focus gets decent fuel economy ratings at 7.4 L/100 km (32 US mpg) in the city and 5.3 L/100 km (44 US mpg) on the highway.
During our week with it, we drove it pretty economically, using it mostly to commute, drop off and pick up kids and make an occasional freeway run and we averaged 8.9 L/100 km (26 US mpg) which is reasonable. The Focus has a 54 litre tank, theoretically allowing for 1000 kilometres between fill-ups if you’re on a road trip.
Driving the Focus is mostly a good thing. While the car is responsive off the line and does fine during everyday driving, I found the power is a bit lacklustre overall. The car feels a bit weak and works hard as it drones on up to its redline, and it definitely feels underpowered when trying things like passing.
The transmission doesn’t help matters in this department – although it is admirably smooth, it isn’t a quick shifting box and when you tromp on it, its responses can be somewhat quirky and it takes a second or two to make its way to the right gear. Again, during normal driving, I felt the combination is perfectly fine. Side note – you can shift the transmission manually but it doesn’t happen quickly and requires use of Ford’s horrid thumb rocker on the left side of the gear selector.
Things start to feel really upscale when it comes to the ride. Firm (a bit jiggly even), well-controlled and always sorted out, the Focus’ ride remains comfortable through the worst of it and only the biggest hits make their way through to the cabin. Further kudos go to the suspension engineers for the Focus’ capabilities in the corners. It stays flat, and you’ll enjoy quick, agile turn-in and truly exemplary handling abilities. Torque vectoring is standard in the Focus – drive it aggressively and you’ll notice the difference. Ford did a bang-up job calibrating the electronic steering too – it’s communicative and well done.
The suspension is superbly balanced, perfectly poised between comfort and sport – especially for this vehicle class. I was quite impressed with the noise levels. Things remain quiet in all situations – road, wind and drivetrain sounds are well damped, but I appreciated that you still get a nice 4-cylinder growl under throttle. Braking is powerful enough and easy to modulate, and visibility out of the car is quite good.
While the competition has come a long way since the Ford Focus was updated, it can still hold its head up high in this tightly packed vehicle class. I give the Ford Focus a 7 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was surprisingly high for the Focus. Though she felt our three kids were cramped in the back and would have liked some more trunk space, she said the driving experience was lovely and that most things the car did made it feel like an expensive car.
The Focus is definitely a great car. It continues to offer class-leading levels of technology and a number of upscale goodies (when you check off the right option boxes), a highly refined ride and outstanding road manners which make it a fun car to drive and great levels of fit and finish. Where it drops the ball a bit is in terms of utility (the rear seat space is certainly below average), fuel economy that no longer impresses in this class, and some strangeness from the transmission. But perhaps the biggest hit for me came from the sticker shock when I saw my review car’s invoice. While relatively loaded, 28 grand is a big number in this category and the competition offers a lot for that kind of coin. Not only that, but you know all those Focus Titaniums you see driving around? They easily crack $30,000 with a couple of options. And you’ve got some fine choices in other showrooms in that price range. Finer choices than the Focus, in my opinion.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford Canada.
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Competitors: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta