One of the most popular compacts on the market, the Ford Focus has a sharp, futuristic look that leaves behind old stereotypes of small, affordable American cars. Completely redesigned for the 2012 model year, the Focus makes its claim as the technology and fuel-mileage leader in its class. The 2013 Focus lineup adds two new models: the sporty Focus ST and the all-electric Focus Electric.
The Ford Focus comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback models.
The most popular 2013 Focus models come with a 2.0-liter engine with direct injection and twin variable valve timing. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard and a 6-speed automatic is optional, with SelectShift manual mode an option for the automatic. The standard 2.0-liter engine makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2013 Ford Focus are 26/36 mpg City/Highway with 5-speed manual, 28/38 mpg with 6-speed automatic.
The new 2013 Focus ST features a more powerful 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine that cranks out an impressive 247 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque. Focus ST comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox and sport-tuned suspension. Focus ST comes as a hatchback only with a special body kit. The sporty Focus ST is rated 23/32 mpg City/Highway.
The Focus Electric is powered by a 107-kilowatt electric motor that has an estimated range of 76 miles per full charge and an EPA energy efficiency equivalent rating of 110 MPGe City and 99 MPGe Highway or 105 MPGe Combined. It's an electric car, so gas stations are a thing of the past. You charge it up at home. With a 240-volt home charger, Ford says the Electric can be recharged in four hours, half the time it takes the Nissan Leaf to get fully juiced. The Focus Electric competes most closely with the Leaf, although the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a smaller, less expensive all-electric alternative. Government subsidies, perks and kickbacks make the Focus Electric more attractive to buyers.
The Ford Focus models have nice interiors for the class. The soft materials are clearly high quality, while the hard trim looks slathered on. There's excellent legroom in front, but rear legroom is only moderate. The gauges are easy to read and include a big tachometer and speedometer with cool blue needles.
The 2013 Focus uses the MyFord Touch connectivity interface powered by Microsoft's SYNC. The system uses twin high-resolution screens, including an 8-inch touch screen in the center console, to communicate with your car. The driver uses three senses: see, hear, touch. Ford says the system is designed to be simple and completely intuitive for the driver, and maybe it was designed that way, but it doesn't always work that way. We found this latest version of MyFord Touch difficult to use.
On the road, the Focus is exceptionally quiet. A lot of productive effort went into making the cabin silent, with luxury-levels of sound insulation practically everywhere, including the doors, windshield, carpet and headliner. Ride quality was smooth and soft. We found the standard engine extremely smooth with plenty of power. However, we thought the 6-speed automatic was imprecise in its shifting, while the 5-speed manual felt ropey.
The 2013 Ford Focus competes with the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Kia Forte and Volkswagen Jetta.
The Ford Focus looks like a big Fiesta, with an unmistakably Ford shape. The Hatchback looks especially aerodynamic. The Focus spent 1000 hours in the wind tunnel to get its sleek shape and low roofline. It yields a 0.295 coefficient of drag, an improvement by nearly 8 percent over the previous (pre-2012) Focus.
Active grille shutters block airflow to the radiator when it's not required, which improves aerodynamics and fuel mileage. NASCAR racers did this with cardboard and duct tape for years, but now it's fully electronic; the shutters have 15 different positions, based on engine temperature. Other cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze are doing this, as well.
Ford calls the distinctive grille split-trapezoid. Fortunately, the grille is black and not chrome and in-your-face like other Ford models. There are eight thin horizontal bars in a huge-mouthed trapezoid whose wide side is the bottom and is divided into three segments by two body-colored vertical bars like catfish chin whiskers. It looks better than it sounds, balanced by a horizontal opening above it, with one thin chrome bar and a neat blue Ford oval. The long thin trapezoidish headlamps wrap forward and downward from the cheeks of the car. They're like sweeping dragon's eyes, says Ford.
Sculpted lines at the sills and door handles flow back from neat modest flared front fenders to give the Focus a forward-moving slant: kinetic design energy, Ford calls it. The windshield is steeply raked and roofline steeply dropped to the liftgate glass, making about as much of a teardrop as a chopped hatchback can be. The side window outline is shaped like a picture of smoke traveling over a sleek car in a wind tunnel. Big vertical taillamps make the Focus look being safe and Volvo-like.
The Focus SE looks cleaner, we think, lacking chrome beltline trim. The 17-inch Titanium wheels are multi-spoke wagon wheels, better looking than the optional 18-inch wheels that are like big chrome stars with thin prongs.
The Focus chassis uses a crash structure designed for the larger Taurus. More than 55 percent is high-strength steels, including Boron B-pillars and front beam, and a decoupling powertrain cradle to keep the engine out of the cabin in a head-on crash.
The first thing we notice about the Focus is its seats. Focus models have had comfortable seats for years tne the current models come standard in sturdy fabric, with leather optional. The seats in the Focus are much better than those in the Chevrolet Cruze.
The interior of the Focus feels like a cockpit. With all its bells and whistles, we could easily imagine being a pilot with all those dials, switches, controls that feel like they wrap around to the elbows on the center stack, and LED ambient lighting in a choice of seven colors. The Focus Electric feels even more futuristic, with two screens that show information about driving efficiency, charge capacity and other do-dads related to the electric powertrain.
The gauges on the dashboard and instrument panel are easy to read: big tach and speedo with cool blue needles, fuel and engine temp between them, and easy-to-read digital info above the fuel and temp. The soft materials are clearly high quality, while the hard materials look slathered on: for example four big vertical vents that rival the giant grille in terms of in-your-faceness, and thick shiny trim that lines the edges of the center stack, console, and thick horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. However, we haven't been in a base S model, maybe it's got a more spartan interior missing the overkill trim. We have no problem with the optional piano black trim.
The MyFord Touch powered by SYNC connectivity system uses twin high-resolution screens, including an 8-inch touch screen in the center console, to communicate with your car. Ford says it's designed to be simple and completely intuitive for the driver. We're not sure they've succeeded in achieving this, but they are continuing to work on it.
There's excellent legroom in front, but the current generation Focus is shy on rear legroom at 33.2 inches, less than the amount offered in the previous generation Focus. Rear legroom is a key feature for a compact car, but Ford appears to have discounted it in the Focus. By comparison, the Volkswagen Jetta, a stylish but not flashy car, has 38.1 inches of rear legroom with the same wheelbase.
The 60/40 fold-flat rear seats increase trunk volume from its so-so 13.2 cubic feet (the Jetta has 15.5) and the hatch cargo capacity to a hefty 44.8 cubic feet.
We took a test drive in the Focus SE hatchback, which uses the standard 2.0-liter engine with direct injection and twin variable valve timing. It makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. It's plenty powerful, but mostly, it's extremely smooth. Chevrolet Cruze's 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec engine zooms more quickly to high speeds.
If only the automatic transmission were programmed to be as smooth as the engine. Its shift points, whether in Drive or Select, were unexpected and frequent. Sometimes it shifts itself for engine braking going downhill, when you don't need it to, while other times it doesn't when you want it to. There was so much override in the Select mode, it didn't really seem to matter much which mode we were in; the car made the shifting decisions regardless. The manual gearbox is ropey, reminding us of Volkswagen manuals, but the shifting is effortless and precise.
Ride quality is good. The Focus rides on the soft side, good for commuting while sipping cappuccino. Handling is less precise, however. When we ran a modest rise in the road full throttle at about 60 mph, the car floated and the tires chirped when it came down; typically we might have expected that only at higher speeds. The suspension uses MacPherson struts in front, multi-link in rear.
The rack-mounted power steering system on the Focus was less precise than we'd like, matching the suspension. In our Focus SE with the standard suspension, we struggled to steer the car precisely in the curves, in contrast to the Chevrolet Cruze, which handled like a dream when pushed fast through turns.
Active Park Assist, which will parallel park the Focus for you, while you just sit there. It's an improvement on the Toyota Prius system, which can only park if the space is 7 feet 9 inches larger than the car; using ultrasound, the Focus needs only a margin of 3 feet. However, it will require the driver's help with the accelerator in a space that small, because jockeying forward and back is required.
Interior noise is kept to a minimum on the Focus. A lot of productive effort went into making the cabin silent, including the door structure and sealing, thick window glass, an acoustic layer in the windshield, sound-deadening body panels, foam in body cavities, thick carpet insulation and a sound-absorbing headliner.
We observed fuel economy in the mid-20s when we were driving the gasoline-powered Focus SE. Official EPA estimates are 26/36 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual gearbox and 28/38 with the 6-speed automatic. The new Focus ST hatchback with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine is rated at 23/32 mpg City/Highway.
The Focus Electric doesn't need gas. It gets its power from a battery that owners charge up at home. On the road, we found the power from the 107-kilowatt electric motor perfectly adequate. It makes the equivalent of 141 horsepower. Like all cars that use electric motors, there's plenty of thrust off the line. The single-speed, direct-drive transmission is smooth and unobtrusive.
The Focus Electric gets an EPA energy efficiency equivalent rating (MPGe) of 110/99 MPGe City/Highway (105 MPGe Combined), which is slightly better than the Nissan Leaf. Ford claims the Focus Electric can go up to 76 miles on one charge, which is less than the Nissan Leaf's estimated range of 100 miles. But the Focus has a huge advantage when it comes to charging time, at least on paper. Ford says the Focus can fully charge in four hours using a 240-volt home charger, while the Leaf requires twice as long. Owners of the Focus Electric will be able to control and check up on their cars using MyFord Mobile, a smartphone integration app that allows owners to monitor charging progress, locate charging stations and remotely set climate control functions.
We found the Focus Electric particularly smooth and quiet. We expected ride quality to be sacrificed with the comparatively huge 17-inch aluminum wheels, but we didn't detect any significance differences while on the road.
The 2013 Ford Focus is a technology leader in the compact car class. The standard Focus models get good fuel economy and are smooth and quiet. The transmissions do the job but are uninspired. MyFord Touch takes effort to learn to operate well. The Focus ST brings sports appeal with a more powerful engine. The Focus Electric eliminates the need for gasoline.
Sam Moses reported from Los Angeles, with Laura Burstein reporting from Detroit, and Mitch McCullough in New York.