By Allen Penticoff
One night, I was passing through Oregon, Ill., on my way to Dixon with friends when the bright flash of blue caught my eye from the tiny two-car showroom of Bemis-Franklin Family Ford. I knew it was the stylish new Focus hatchback, and it was in a favorite color — dark metallic blue. I also knew I would need to come back and check it out.
And so, I made the journey to Oregon the next day. I’ve been in Oregon many times, but the tiny Ford dealer had never really lodged in my mind as a place to visit. A family Ford dealership since 1918, Franklin Family Ford may be the smallest “big three” dealership in the country. Not only is the showroom small, so is the corner lot with their cars packed in like sardines. After meeting sales consultant Amy Stark, I thoroughly inspected the bright blue Focus SE that had caught my attention. The car in the showroom had some upgrade options that included leather steering wheel and shifter, moon roof and aluminum wheels. All these were value priced and worth adding over the base car.
Ford totally redesigned the Focus for 2012 — bringing its styling into the most modern of auto fashion. The interior is equally upgraded, and I found the sporty driver’s seat to be most comfortable and supportive. The leather steering wheel felt very comfortable, and visibility of the instruments was good. Climate and audio controls were simple and at hand on the wide center console.
After Amy pried a similar Focus out of the outdoor lot, we went for a little spin around town. I immediately noticed the wheel on this car felt quite plasticy. I definitely preferred the leather version. Heading up Route 2, the acceleration was good, but not earth-shattering. The engine revs freely while it solidly shifts through its six automatic gears. It did seem to buzz a bit during acceleration, but that is typical of a small four-cylinder engine. This was the first time I’ve driven a car with Ford’s new dual dry clutch six-speed transmission, and as one would expect, the shifts are more like a manual than one gets from a slipping fluid torque converter. This translates into manual-like fuel economy with the convenience of an automatic. The shifter only had drive and low for forward gear selection — with no option to manually shift through those six gears unless you’ve bought the SE edition (like the one in the showroom) that has button shifting on the leather knob (in which case you have drive and “select” as forward options). The base car has a five-speed manual transmission.
Playing with the Focus a bit in an empty parking lot found the handling sporty and steering precise. Otherwise, driving it around town was an ordinary experience. I did find that the console nudged my right knee. Would it be a bother? Only time would tell, and we did not drive it that long. I suspect you’d not notice after a day of driving the Focus, if ever at all. Visibility out was good. Adequate back seat and cargo area was provided.
The Focus is assembled with 40 percent U.S.-made parts and 15 percent Mexican parts — the 2.0-liter engine is U.S. built while the six-speed transmission is assembled in Mexico. Not said is where the other 45 percent are made — but it all is assembled in Wayne, Mich., by an American company, so it is about an American-made car as you can find these days. From an environmental standpoint, that saves transportation expense and carbon footprint in moving the parts about to be assembled.
The EPA ratings on the sticker for the SE were 27 city/37 hwy mpg. Some of this highway mileage comes from a grill shutter that closes at higher speeds. The base models get slightly lower mileage. Forty mpg should be easily attainable in all versions.
The Focus is a reasonably priced car. Bare bones base price is $18,300 for the five-door hatchback; $16,500 for the sedan. The SE version in the showroom with some options (the six-speed automatic is a $1,095 option, and the metallic blue paint $395) listed at $21,675 plus delivery and taxes. If you need power, there is a turbocharged ST version — and if you really want
to be different, later in the year there will be a 100 percent electric version. With decent fuel economy without being a hybrid, particularly if you drive a lot of highway miles, the new Focus could be the car for you.
From the Jan. 11-17, 2012, issue