Car buyers who have hired me a consultant here in the San Francisco Bay Area have one thing in common: none among them have wanted an American car. That general aversion to the Big Three brands – actually the Big Two, now that Fiat has usurped Chrysler – means that good compact cars like the Ford Focus are summarily passed over.
That’s a shame, because the Focus has a lot to offer.
For many, the recent drastic improvements to US small cars are too little and too late. And just as some distance has been placed between the current models and their lackluster forebears – kids these days don’t know there was even such a thing as a Chevy Citation – the GM recall frenzy keeps the cloud over American brands, and Ford gets rained on as well.
There are a lot of cars under the Focus umbrella, from the sporty Focus ST to the Focus Electric. For 2015, the Focus gets a schnoz that falls in line with the faux-Aston Martin beak that adorns other Fords.
For this review, we drove two Focus Titaniums – a hatchback in Sterling Gray Metallic…
…and a sedan in Ruby Red. Both skipped the standard five-speed manual in favor of the the six-speed automatic, as did the previous Focus Titanium reviewed by BestRide.com.
Both had the only engine offered on the 2014 Focus, a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 160 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque. Ford’s terrific 1.0-liter turbocharged four joins the Focus lineup in 2015, and while it gives up 37 horses, it adds two lb.-ft. of torque. As of this December 2014 writing, the EPA has not yet measured the 1.0-liter for mileage, but the 2.0-liter’s 31 mpg overall is competitive with the Toyota Corolla’s 32 mpg and the Honda Civic’s 33 mpg.
The 2.0-liter is a good match for the Focus. It revs freely and sounds happy in its work, with none of the booming of the Corolla’s old mill. Note how bare-boned its presentation is, with a prop rod for the hood and no fancy valvetrain cover.
On the other hand, the automatic transmission had me wishing for the manual. No problem when you’re up to speed, it kicks right down for passing. But this automatic is simply too busy around town, and it is slow to come back to first as you hop from one intersection to the next. It was surprisingly possible to catch the engine freewheeling after the Focus came to a complete stop and then was asked to pick up again. Miss a beat, and the other drivers in the intersection will fill the gap, and so both Focuses felt slightly hobbled by the transmission’s truculence.
Get thee the manual if at all possible, which Ford offers on even the upscale Titanium, while manufacturers like Honda ban the manual from the upper trims.
The hatchback had the $595 Titanium Handling Package, which brought 18-inch wheels as opposed to the sedan’s 17-inchers. I rather liked the fine-spoked design of the 17s, and the sedan had a more supple ride than that hatchback. But the hatchback had a more direct feel; it was truly zingy, where the sedan was capable but more relaxed. Both were a pleasure to drive, with plenty of communication and an enthusiastic attitude.
Inside, the Focus is cozy and comfortable. Thick seats have plenty of padding…
…and the seat backs are deeply bolstered.
The rear seat is well-shaped but notably short on legroom – its 33 inches is dwarfed by the impressive 41 inches available in the Corolla. I could feel the knees of my five-foot-eleven passenger behind me digging into my front seat back when it was adjusted for my 6-foot-1 frame.
At least the tumble-and-fold seat creates a flat loading floor.
Now that we’ve heard the wonderful news that Ford is dropping the “SYNC with MyFordTouch” name and the Microsoft operating system behind it, we see a light at the end of the tunnel where we’re not wincing whenever a Ford pulls up for review. It’s always something with this system, and every time I’m forced to use it, I end up yelling at it. This time it was the slightly gloopy response to the touch screen, where my attempt to move the map view closer to the destination got no response and then suddenly had me out in the bay; I had to pull the Focus over to get the map back to where I wanted it, and a pedestrian walking by clasped his hands in a sign of peace after hearing my string of expletives.
I’m also weary of the system’s verbal warnings around phone use and other smaller matters. MyFordTouch is a big reason for a dip in Ford’s customer satisfaction ratings, and I’m already practicing the jig I’ll do on its grave when this system is finally put down.
The Focus sells well, and it is a shame that the Focus hasn’t found its way onto my clients’ shopping lists. Tech annoyances aside, it feels solid and handles great, and crucially, it has more personality than you’d typically find in a compact sedan. The Focus is game when you want to have fun, and that alone makes it a must-drive for small-car buyers.
2014 Ford Focus Titanium Sedan
Base Price: $23,515
Price as Tested: $25,500
Ruby Red Tinted Clearcoat: $395
Navigation System: $795
Tight rear legroom