First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
2012 Ford Focus SE. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
2012 Ford Focus

Los Angeles, California – With temperatures in the mid-twenties, it is a beautiful day for driving a nice handling car through the scenic canyons that border this sunny southern California city. Driving the all new 2012 Ford Focus, with its smooth shifting five-speed manual transmission and torquey 2.0-litre direct injected four-cylinder engine, I’m thinking this really is a dream job.

Forget about the 4:30 a.m. wake-up, the nine hours of airport frustration and cramped rear cabin seating. Forget that I have to get up tomorrow at 4:30 again to endure yet another nine hours of airports and airplanes to arrive home tired and hungry to a car covered in ice and snow and no scraper. Forget that this escape from an Ottawa winter to the California coast is indeed fleeting. Four hours in the 2012 Ford Focus makes it all worth it.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
2012 Ford Focus SE. Click image to enlarge

The new Focus is very tight, with a firm suspension, but not jarring or uncomfortable by any means. The electric power assisted steering is quick and precise. You sit lower in this Focus than the previous one. And save for an armrest that interferes with my elbow, the shifter comes easily to hand. The car is lower than the previous generation, by only half an inch, but the lower seating position makes the car feel much sportier.

It’s not particularly fast, despite a boost in horsepower and torque – 160 hp vs. 140, and 146 lb.-ft. vs. 136. And an extra gear might help, but keep the revs up in its 4,500 – 6,500 rpm power band and the Focus is quite responsive.

But the roads we are driving on are not about the speed. These canyon twisters challenge both the driver and the car. We pull up behind an older BMW Z4 – a Californian with time on his hands for a mid-week drive – and follow along even as the BMW driver picks up the pace. With fellow AJAC member Paul Williamson from Winnipeg at the wheel, the Focus is no embarrassment, easily keeping up with the much more expensive roadster, easily making the rapid transitions through tight left and right and right and left turns, again and again. True, we could do with a little less rear wheel hop, but it is controllable and doesn’t upset the balance of the car.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
2012 Ford Focus SE. Click image to enlarge

The big handling improvement is due not only to a stiffer chassis, but to something Ford engineers call torque vectoring. An electronic control system constantly balances the distribution of torque between the front wheels, similar to a limited-slip differential. It is standard on all trim levels.

If the Ford Focus has a BMW Z4 driver looking in the rear-view mirror, the makers of other compact sedans, both foreign and domestic, had better keep an eye on the sales charts. This new Ford is bound to please.

The big jump in driving enjoyment is only one of the many big changes in the Ford Focus. No doubt the driver of the Z4 was impressed by the monster trapezoidal grille staring at him in the rear-view mirror, enough to get out of cruise and get on the gas. In both five-door hatch and four-door sedan, the 2012 Focus looks as sporty as it drives, particularly with the killer optional wheels on our SE, part of an optional SE sport package.

When the Focus goes on sale in March or April, it will be available in S, SE, SEL and Titanium trim levels. Five-door versions begin with the SE trim. A base S four-door sedan will be priced at $15,999 (less than the U.S. entry price of $16,995 before incentives) and prices go up from there in increments to $25,099 for a five-door Titanium. There are still more options that can be added, but a fully loaded Titanium is not unobtainable, coming in at a tad over $30K.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus ford first drives
2012 Ford Focus SE. Click image to enlarge

Standard equipment on the entry level S includes manual transmission, 15-inch steel wheels, remote keyless entry and power door locks, quad beam halogen headlights, power side mirrors, air conditioning, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, electronic stability control, front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS and electronic brake assist, and a 110-watt, four-speaker audio system with input jack and speed-sensitive volume control.

When fully-loaded at the Titanium trim level, the Ford Focus is a compact luxury cruiser with such must-have standard features as a 10-speaker Sony audio system, dual zone climate control, one-touch power up and down on all windows, heated cloth seats, intelligent access with push button start, seven-colour ambient lighting, MyFord Driver Connect Technology with eight-inch touch-screen display, overhead console, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, Ford SYNC with USB, six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, cruise control, sport-tuned suspension and rear spoiler.

Of course much of this equipment is also optionally available on SE and SEL trim levels, giving buyers a lot of flexibility in outfitting their personal 2012 Focus. For example, a luxury package with leather seating, power driver’s seat and sunroof are available for both SEL and Titanium trims.

Other optional equipment – depending on trim level – includes some interesting technologies as well: rear parking sensors, active park assist (the Focus will parallel park itself), rear-view camera, rain sensing wipers, remote start, navigation system and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Still, check off all the options you just have to have and you will still spend no more than $30,000 (plus delivery, taxes, yadayada..).

I would like to spend more than 18 hours in California at the end of January, but if I couldn’t spend another day driving the canyon roads of southern California in the 2012 Ford Focus, I might as well go home.