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

Test Drive: 2012 Ford Focus SEL sedan
Test Drive: 2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback

Manufacturer’s web site
Ford Motor Company

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 Ford Focus

The 2012 Focus is Ford’s follow-up to the boring second-generation model sold on this continent from 2008 through 2011. Dynamically, it doesn’t have big shoes to fill, but that second-gen car was a solidly practical little car that seemed to appeal to a broad range of buyers.

This time, Ford is pretty clearly targeting buyers with a more discerning view of how a car should go down the road. Of the cars we gathered for the Autos.ca “Bestsellers” compact comparison test, few felt as planted as highway speeds and offered steering and brake pedal feel as satisfying as those offered by the Focus. Of note, too, is the car’s ride, which is tuned to the firm side, but still compliant enough to iron out all but the worst pavement imperfections. This is in contrast to the Mazda3, whose sharp reflexes come with a punishing ride. (As one of our comparo test drivers commented, it’s a wonder Mazda can sell as many 3s as it does considering how uncomfortable the ride can get.)

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

I drove the Focus we used in the comparison from my home in Ottawa to Toronto for the test and back, and had few serious complaints about the way the car carried me along. Particularly pleasing was a nearly deserted twilit drive along eastern Ontario’s Highway 7. This is a two-lane road without many serious curves, but driven at a steady 100 km/h, it allows a driver to push a car just enough to be interesting. Here, the Focus’ accurate steering was a bonus, letting me aim the car just where I wanted to at every bend in the road.

The seats are comfortable (though not generous in lateral support) and headroom was adequate, though this was largely because of my tester’s lack of a sunroof.

Notable negatives include an interior that is tight overall. Front seat legroom is okay, but the footwells are narrow and the centre console gets cozy with the driver’s right knee. There’s enough room (barely) in back for two adults and a baby seat, but the shallow trunk can make fitting a stroller and other baby-related stuff a bit of a trick, in spite of the car’s substantial-looking exterior. The high cowl and beltline do limit visibility, so my tester’s optional parking assist system and backup camera were welcome additions.

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

Of course, extras aren’t free, and our test Focus SEL hatch came with many of them, which added up to an as-tested price of $27,829 (without freight), the highest in the comparison. We’d have kept the $1,500 audio interface package (it includes Sync), but ditching navigation ($700), the parking aids ($600) and 17-inch polished wheels ($650) would have only dropped the price to $25,879, and the Focus would still have been the priciest car here.

The Focus’ 160 horsepower is more than the class average, but the car’s actually performance doesn’t reflect that. That didn’t bother me much, but the PowerShift twin-clutch six-speed automatic transmission was less likeable in daily driving, with its indecisive nature and clunky clutch operation. Chatting with a service advisor at a local Ford dealer revealed that Ford has issued a software update for this transmission that she says aims to correct that very problem, so there’s hope yet for this gearbox.

The engine’s growly-grumbly soundtrack bugged some of our test drivers, but I thought it actually sounded okay and gave the car a bit of personality, something many cars in this class lack.

After driving all nine cars in our test and my extended time in this car, I picked the Focus and the first-place Chevy Cruze as my favourites. We tested automatic transmissions because that’s what the majority of compact buyers go for, but I wasn’t the only driver who thought the Focus would have ranked higher had it been fitted with a manual transmission. This is a satisfying driver’s car with a premium feel, as long as you can live with its faults and relatively high price.

Pricing: 2012 Ford Focus SEL
  • Base price: $22,399
  • Options: $5,430 (Audio Interface Package, $1,500; six-speed automatic transmission, $1,450; Parking Technology Package, $600; Engine block heater, $100; Navigation, $700; 17-inch polished wheels, $650; Stewardship Ontario environmental fee, $30)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,500
  • Price as tested: $29,329

  • Buyer’s Guide: Ford Focus

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