2012 Ford Focus SE: Quck Lap evaluation

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by Rob Schermerhorn on December 13, 2011

Quick Lap: 2012 Ford Focus SE

I had the pleasure of evaluating a 2012 Ford Focus in SE trim; the summary is I am impressed, especially when taken in context of the revival of US based automobile manufacturers….

See, domestic manufacturers lost me as a customer back in my formative driving years—late 70’s – early 80’s. Sure my first car(s) (depending on your definition) were American V8 powered; I discovered the wider automotive world via the cover of a 1979 Car+Driver at the drugstore mag rack: a blazing red RX-7 feature, tuned by then (and now after hiatus) Technical Director Don Sherman (who still owns that car).

The new Focus is helping bring me back (though I did go all-in with the purchase of my 2010 Mustang GT, hehe) to completely re-evaluate what USDM has to offer.

Okay, first impression: I like the styling trends at Ford and do believe the Focus visually attractive at both first and second glance; much more modern than some in its class, this Focus is a head turner, an affordable-for-a-family-man head turner. Days of chunky three-box sedan styling are gone.

Interior is engaging, I found controls easy at hand and intuitive—fabric patterns too conservative for me but tastefully bland I suppose—surfaces less-cheap than in past offerings… overall interior styling blends well with its outside skin. My interior styling gripe is “what’s up with the radio?” as it takes up so much real estate in center stack and is likely non-upgradable. The preset buttons are huge and laid out in bizarre fashion-over-function design; makes a statement but is it a statement that must be made? Instrument panel is well designed, easy to read and features an lcd-blue center multifunction display for information, programming and settings (and I used this display frequently). There are multi function buttons on the steering wheel for audio (likely Sync/ My Ford Touch too, my evaluator Focus did not have that upgrade), information/ settings and cruise control. Oh, btw, love the new-across-the-line lane change indicator feature of one tap yields three flashes of the indicator. I would rate interior volume as perfect for a growing or shrinking family (specifically in transition, not with three full sized near-adult kids).

2012 Ford Focus gear selector with hill decent switch

The driving experience is rewarding in general and I did enjoy piloting this little (not so little) white blur for a couple days. There exists an eco-bent message in the driving experience; when puttering around in traffic the throttle is laggy for a moment and light throttle settings cause the transmission to get to high gears quickly. This just takes a little getting used to and a reminder that you should expect great fuel economy from such strategy. Ford calls this transmission “PowerShift” and it’s a dual-clutch (dry clutch) manumatic. At first it feels like many modern automatic transmissions with a low-drag torque converter in that there’s virtually zero power creep when motionless in drive; in reality it’s a manual transmission with the selector in neutral to save fuel. Just a slight tip-in throttle re-engages the drive to the wheels…. Again something to get used to, not really annoying.

I believe this transmission is what really made the car fun for me: split personality, do you want economy or acceleration? The Focus, with 160hp does launch well if that’s what your heart desires, putting power down perfectly under hard acceleration and before you know it illegal velocities are yours to embrace.

Handling? More than competent, bordering on rewarding. Comfort? Much better seating than in my 2010 Mustang GT; plus I could crank the seat low to the floor for my best BTCC touring car impression or raise it for improved close-by visibility and comfort. Said transmission has a “hill decent” button on the gear selector that I used frequently to provide more manual transmission feel with lift-throttle engine braking; when dis-engaged (by default) the trans saves fuel by virtually freewheeling. Oh, the transmission blips downshifts in the “hill decent” mode! Bravo Ford!!! The powertrain obviously uses stability control and other sensors to anticipate lower gear selection when in this more-engaging mode, drive one and see for yourself!

So what do you think? Are you a domestic convert, die-hard domestic or still convinced better value and technology is available from beyond US/ North American borders? Please post comments below.


Brian Hertziger December 14, 2011 at 9:49 am

I can also state that the suspension on the Ford Focus is surprisingly agile, well tuned and responsive for a car in its class. In fact, I had always thought that the suspension is highly underutilized by the engine and powertrain paired with it. Perhaps a chipping would make the driving a little more sporty, since the the transmissions seems to be sluggish in changing gear when power is applied.

To take it a step further, this would be a really awesomely fun car to drive with a small turbo attached to it and a change in the firmware. A lot may have changed since the 2003 model we purchased, but nothing so far can’t be changed.

The only real complaint, now that we have just over 90K miles on it is that the balance on the car puts little weight on the rear end. Factory alignment means that the rear tires will be bald in 25K miles. Further, the alignment means on slick roads the rear-end is possessed lurching side to side as grip comes and goes at each wheel. We found a pro shop that understood the issue and adjusted it to ease it a bit, but have since moved and have to start our search again.

Rob Schermerhorn December 14, 2011 at 10:38 am

Hi Brian, thanks for sharing your experiences! You have 90k miles on a new ’12 Focus, wow!? You’re right, in fwd platforms typically 60% of the weight is on the front axle but it’s a design compromise we all accept so we can buy fun/ practical cars at reasonable costs. You’re smart to adjust rear alignment; I’m curious if you can share more detail (where specifically is the high-wear area and what does it look like (cupping, flare or just really worn))?

Brian Hertziger December 29, 2011 at 7:10 am

Just to clarify, the 90K is on a 2003.

Surprisingly the tires didn’t have one of the common alignment wear patterns. My feeling is that the car has a setup that has some toe in on the rear, which adds to stability. However, since there is so little weight on the rear end, the tires don’t grip and slip that would lead to the diagonal wear pattern you’d expect. Instead, the tires are in a constant state of sideways slide that wears them evenly.

Also, I’ve noticed that Ford’s recommendation for tire inflation offen differs from the manufacturer of the tire. If you follow the recommended pressure as stated on the tire, the tire wear increases even more.

As a result, we’ve taken a non-standard approach to tire maintenance. Now, when the rear tires are worn out, we put a new set on the front and rotate the fronts to the rears. Since the frequency of tire replacement is greater, now we can replace two at a time rather than all fours at the cost of a slightly increased frequency since we are not doing normal rotation.

Aside from the tire issue, there hasn’t been any other mechanical issues on the car, so it has actually been quite reliable.

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