"Is that a Lexus?" a passerby asked as we were setting up a photo. No, I responded, it's the 2012 Ford Focus TItanium. And it's the most important new Ford in a long time. The first all-new Focus to come to America since the Clinton administration, it's the first "world car" with a chance at actually selling well all over the globe, as the moniker suggests.
While the rest of the world got a new Focus in 2004, America got… new bumpers. The U.S. market wasn't deemed important enough for a modern Ford compact then, but rising gas prices and the success of small cars such as the Honda Fit, Mini and Mazda3 means that we were no longer forgotten.
The 2012 Ford Focus is an all-new car that brings premium, grown-up features to the C-segment. So is it worth the wait?
This Focus Titanium 5-door hatch starts at $22,765, which may seem like a lot to those familiar with the last Focus. But with everything this newest edition offers, it's a bargain. The Focus has a complex and aggressive shape that looks pricier than most everything in its class.
The Ford Kinetic design language was born in Europe and launched in the U.S. in the 2011 Fiesta. (Kinetic Design is the name Ford has given to an emerging design language that symbolizes "energy in motion.") The 2012 Ford Focus takes the idea even further, particularly in five-door hatch form.
The steering wheel is aggressively sculpted and extremely comfortable. It encourages you to hold it at 9-3 (the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock position) and draws you in physically to be engaged in the driving experience. The ergonomic contours and creases on the back of the wheel make it feel more like a pilot's flight control grips than a typical car steering wheel.
The interior is dominated by the MyFordTouch LCD display, which controls many functions in the car. It's a lot of tech, but if you're anything like me and have been accused of being "attached to your smartphone at all times," then you probably won't have any problems adjusting to the interface. I was streaming music through Bluetooth and enjoying iPhone connectivity within minutes. SYNC just works, as advertised, every time.
The Focus has a thoughtful design met with solid execution. The plastics and interfaces are Volkswagen-like. The heavy parking brake lever again feels like it's from a commercial aircraft.
The interior is filled with smart details. A real standout: The interior lighting. Unexpected LED hints of light abound, adding an upscale sense of occasion.
One drawback: The folding rear seat arrangement is inelegant and not as space efficient as we would like.
But the visibility is fantastic. The hatchback provides clear sightlines most of the way around, and the large side mirrors and backup sensors compensate for where you can't see.
Details like the illuminated entry LEDs under the mirrors make the experience that much more special. What other car caters to its occupants so thoughtfully?
The suspension is brilliantly sorted, and comfortable even with the massive 18-inch wheels equipped on our Blue Candy Metallic tester.
On our test drive, the Focus ate up some of the worst Houston roads we threw at it while still delivering a reasonably sporty feel. It remained compliant over railroad tracks and those brutal speedbump-sized seams on Memorial Drive westbound. The steering is a little overly power-assisted but still pleasing to turn-in.
Driving around town, the car feels quick and confidence-inspiring. It never misses a beat while maneuvering around lumbering obstacles such as Metro buses, and the six-speed automatic consistently provides low-end pep. You can't ask for more in an urban runabout.
The gaping trapezoidal grill is a signature of Ford's successful kinetic design language.
The 5-door Focus offers advantages in styling and practicality over the sedan.
The exterior has unique details such as the fuel filler door integrated into the stretched tail lamp. The Focus is rated at 38-mpg highway. Pushing it hard, in all sorts of conditions, we averaged around 23-mpg.
The 2.0 I-4 engine features direct-injection technology, which lowers emissions, improves fuel economy and helps the engine produce 160 horsepower.
The 2012 Focus is a giant leap forward, and even more than that, it's a statement: We live in an age where people drive smaller cars not because they have to, but because they choose to.