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Ford puts Focus forward

The 2012 Ford Focus gets a ground-up redesign and takes on a new role in Fords product lineup.

The 2012 Ford Focus gets a ground-up redesign and takes on a new role in Fords product lineup.

No longer can Focus be called the small Ford, as that distinction has been handed over to the new Fiesta, and a more sophisticated and polished new Focus is striving to become the best-selling Ford automobile.

Designed in Germany, the new Focus is built on Fords new C-car global platform and is produced at Ford plants in Spain, Russia, China and Germany, as well as North America (Michigan). From a distance or close up, the new Focus is a great-looking car with body panel fit thats normally associated with high-priced luxury vehicles.

In Canada, Ford offers the new Focus in both a five-door hatchback and four-door sedan body styles. It comes in a broader range of trim levels, including technology packed, upmarket trims, and theres more to come.

The base S trim level comes exclusively in the sedan body style. SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels are available in both the sedan and five-door body styles. While theres a price premium ($600 to $900 more) for the five-door version, its added utility and style will probably sway most buyers.

The top-line Titanium trim certainly elevates the Focus to premium compact territory and into competition with the likes of the Mini Cooper and Volvo C30, or even the Audi A3. Packed with technology, the strikingly bold black and white leather upholstery on my test Titanium edition ($29,525) attracted a lot of attention and its optional self-park feature ($600) is certainly a unique offering in this class of vehicle.

Parallel parking is a skill that many drivers have trouble mastering. Fords parking technology first identifies that the Focus will fit in a given parking space (following a driveby) and when ready it automatically steers the car into the parking spot.

Other technology upgrades available include a keyless entry and start system, a rear-view camera, next-generation MyFord driver connect system and a new generation of Ford Sync, which includes voice control, Bluetooth and satellite navigation, along with connectivity with external devices and media players.

A completely new direct-injection 2.0-litre gasoline engine features Twin Independent-Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT). More powerful and fuel efficient than last years engine, it can generate 160 horsepower and 146 foot-pounds of torque and offers 10 per cent better fuel economy.

The new engine is mated to Fords new six-speed PowerShift transmission. This is a high-efficiency dual clutch automated manual gearbox, which alone can reduce fuel consumption by as much as nine per cent when compared to a traditional four-speed automatic.

Ford will also build (in Detroit) a full electric version of the Focus, which is expected to be released next year. A full recharge is expected to take three to four hours at home with the 240-volt charge station, which is a shorter charge time than the Nissan Leaf.

The looks

A visual representation of energy in motion is how Ford describes its Kinetic Design styling language. From just about any angle, this is a great looking car, especially the 5-door hatchback. Sculpted character lines that stream back from flared front fenders along the lower sills and through the door handles add to the impression of movement. The slick design gives Focus a 0.295 coefficient of drag, which is an eight per cent improvement over the previous generation car.

Structurally stronger, the body has 25 per cent more torsional rigidity than the current Focus. Thats because 55 per cent of the new body shell is comprised of high-strength steels and more than 26 per cent of that is ultra-high-strength or Boron steel (in the B-pillars), which is a significantly higher ratio than any other Ford product.

The inside

The focus (pardon the pun) inside is on the driver, with a cockpit-style wraparound centre console. I was particularly impressed by the quality feel of the leather upholstery on the supportive seats with generous side bolstering.

Although the black and white hide also gave it a somewhat eerie Jersey cow appearance, the upfront space provided is excellent and theres an impressive range of seat adjustments to accommodate above-average-height drivers. Legroom in the rear, however, is limited and taller occupants will need the co-operation of front seat occupants to achieve a reasonable comfort level.

Safety

In addition to a strong body structure, a new generation drivers airbag uses a tether system that pulls in the lower section and creates a pocket that lessens its impact on the drivers chest and ribs, if deployed. Smaller occupants also benefit from unique side airbags with shoulder vents that stay open, to reduce pressure.

The drive

Ford has made impressive advances in the reduction of cabin noise in the new Focus. Door sealing, thicker window glass, an acoustic windshield, sound-deadening body panels, foam in body cavities and a sound-absorbing headliner are all part of this package.

While the suspension design is the same as in the outgoing car, the new Focus has different bushings, control arms, shock valving, and antiroll bar mountings. The track is also wider (by seven centimetres in the front and 6 cm in the rear) and the ride is good, and about neutral on my softness scale.

A Dynamic Cornering Control system that uses torque vectoring techniques is a new standard feature. It can enhance the cars cornering ability by lightly applying the brakes to an inside front wheel, although there doesnt appear to be any way of knowing when this system is active.

That said, the Focus is a good handling car and most drivers will find time spent behind its steering wheel rewarding. Its a wheel that both tilts and telescopes and combined with a height-adjustable seat, finding that perfect driving position is almost assured. The wheel is also attached to a quick-ratio, electric assist rack and pinion steering gear. The new 2.0-litre engine has ample power for this size of car, plus its quiet and extremely smooth. Not only is it easy on gas, refuelling the Focus is also uniquely easy as it has a self-sealing filler tube no gas cap!

The score

Packed with advanced technologies, the all-new 2012 Ford Focus looks, feels, and performs like an ultra-modern compact car.

The specs 2012 Ford Focus

Trim levels: S, SE, SEL & Titanium

Sticker price: $15,999 to $25,099

Power: 2.0-litre I4, 160 h.p.

Transmission: six-speed automatic/five-speed manual

Fuel consumption (auto): 7.5/5.3 litres/100 kilometres (city/highway)

Basic warranty: three years/60,000 km

Powertrain warranty: five years/100,000 km

Rust warranty: five years/unlimited km

The competition

Chevrolet Cruze: $14,995 to $24,780

Honda Civic: $14,990 to $25,880

Hyundai Elantra: $15,849 to $24,699

Mazda3: $16,295 to $25,425

Nissan Sentra: $15,398 to $23,398

Toyota Corolla: $14,835 to $23,480

Volkswagen Jetta: $15,875 to $28,055

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