2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s web site
Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Ford Focus

Developed in Europe and built in Wayne, Michigan for the North American market, the 2012 “world” Focus is an important car for Ford. Its launch followed the 2011 Chevy Cruze’s award-winning run, and while the Focus briefly basked in the limelight of its newness and athletic styling, right now the value-packed Hyundai Elantra is getting all the glory.

Timing is everything.

Here we’re looking at the Focus SEL Hatchback, which is third in the ascending trim line-up (S, SE, SEL and Titanium) and carries a base price of $22,399. For this you get 4-wheel disc brakes (lesser models have rear drums), 16-inch alloys, 6-speaker audio, 5-speed manual transmission, dual-zone auto climate control, auto headlights, fog lamps, multi-function leather steering wheel, SYNC voice-activated communication and entertainment system, auto-dimming mirror, heated front seats and interior ambient lighting.

2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

Added to this tester was the six-speed twin-clutch $1,450 PowerShift tranny, $500 Vision Group (rain sensing wipers and rear park assist), $350 17-inch alloys, $1,200 power moonroof, and a $1,400 Style Interior Trend Package (Arctic While/Black tu-tone leather, door sill scuff plates, six-way powered driver’s seat and premium carpets). Including $1,450 Freight, the price as tested came to $27,979.

That’s a lot for a tarted-up compact economy car, indeed, yet this Focus cannot fairly be described as such. It comes across as a little car all grown up. I see this model appealing to a more mature demographic – those wanting to downsize and get the attendant fuel economy but not give up on a premium car experience.

This 2012 model is leagues ahead of our outgoing Focus which was as old as the hills and had suffered more facelifts than Joan Rivers and Cher combined (we missed a generation here in North America). The new Focus feels rock solid and carries itself with a confident European maturity that the Hyundai Elantra can’t quite muster. Like the smaller Fiesta, Ford has tuned a bigger car feel into the Focus.

2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

The Focus’ bold interior design, choice of materials, and in this case, dramatic two-tone colour scheme, separate it from most competitors when it comes to flair and quality feel. I found the seats offered a great balance of support and long haul comfort. The wide cabin translates to generous hip and shoulder room although rear seat legroom is just adequate – same as Elantra but less than Cruze, Civic, Sentra and Impreza.

Despite the centre console’s daring design, the controls are logically arranged and easy to figure out. With this tester being free of the much-maligned MyFord Touch interface (standard on the Titanium model), I found I could manipulate the audio and HVAC with ease. Of note is the multi-function steering wheel where I counted 19 points on which you can prod your digits to futz with the audio, trip computer, cruise, phone and voice commands. Again, well marked and ergonomically sound.

2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

Pairing my Bluetooth phone was a no-fuss affair.

All our Foci are fitted with a 160 hp/146 lb.-ft. 2.0L direct-injection four featuring twin independent variable camshafts. While this horsepower number is higher than most rivals’, the Focus doesn’t feel particularly quick – the Mazda3 Sport and turbocharged Chevy Cruze are punchier. Fitted with the PowerShift transmission the Focus hatch is rated at 7.3 L/100 km city and 5.2 L/100 km highway. I saw 8.4 L/100 km over a week mostly city driving.

Twin-clutch transmissions are the bee’s knees these days and usually the station of more expensive offerings, so finding one in the Focus (and Fiesta) is surprising. This unit appears to be tuned only for maximizing fuel economy, so if you’re looking for the crisp and obedient shifting nature of the VW/Audi or Porsche twin-clutch gearboxes you’re in for disappointment. It’s generally lazy, upshifts early, is reluctant to kick down, and while there is a toggle switch on the side of the shifter for manual selection, the response is tardy.

That said, this particular transmission operated very smoothly, not suffering from the clunking and low-speed hesitancy of the last two PowerShifts I drove. Has Ford been doing some tweaking?

While the variable rate electric steering is a bit numb, it’s very quick and guides the taut chassis accurately. Cornering is helped in all Foci by standard torque vectoring on the front wheels – the inside wheel is braked slightly, reducing understeer and helping the car rotate. The athletic handling goes hand in hand with a fairly stiff ride – it gets pitter-patter busy over less than perfect pavement. Not a deal breaker, but those with more sensitive derrieres will look to the Cruze, Sentra, Impreza and Civic.

2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback. Click image to enlarge

The Focus’ Euro-breeding is also evident on the highway where it tracks faithfully and quietly. Wind noise is minimal thanks to the aerodynamic shape, and like the Chevy Cruze Eco, all Focus models have active grill shutters that block airflow through the cooling system when not needed. Not only does this improve aerodynamic efficiency at higher speeds, the shutters can help reduce underhood temperatures at low speed to increase thermal efficiency. And that massive black maw that looks like it could suck in enough air for a WRC racer? Mostly fake.

I had issues with the Focus Titanium I drove last summer because of the jerky PowerShift. This SEL’s tranny worked seamlessly, resulting in a much more rewarding experience. Bold, fuel-efficient, engaging and eschewing a premium feel from tip to tail, the 2012 Ford Focus, while not inexpensive, carries these upper trim levels well.

Pricing: 2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
  • Base price: $22,399
  • Options: $5,830 (Vision Group $500; PowerShift 6-speed twin-clutch transmission $1450; 17-inch alloy wheels $350; Interior Trend Package $1400; power moonroof $1200, stewardship on ENV fee $30; moonroof and interior trend discount $900)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,450
  • Price as tested: $27,979

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    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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