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Actual rating will vary with options, driving conditions, habits and vehicle condition.
The standard features of the Ford Focus SE include 2.0L I-4 160hp engine, 6-speed auto-shift manual transmission with overdrive, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), side seat mounted airbags, curtain 1st and 2nd row overhead airbags, driver knee airbag, airbag occupancy sensor, air conditioning, 16" aluminum wheels, cruise control, ABS and driveline traction control, electronic stability.
Starting at: $19,765
Like the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf, the Focus handles better than other compact cars. Its electric steering is weighted well (although it doesn’t offer much feel for the road), and its sophisticated suspension is quite firm but doesn’t crash over large bumps; ride comfort is impressive. If crisp steering and agile handling are your main priority, the Focus is a good choice. However the shift quality of Ford’s PowerShift 6-speed dual-clutch automatic manual transmission is a letdown. So you’re left with a 5-speed manual.
The base 2.0-liter engine with 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque has adequate acceleration, and the 6-speed dual clutch does a good job of keeping the revs up when you need them, but it doesn’t shift smoothly at low speeds.
We haven’t driven the 1.0-liter in the Focus, although we have in the lighter Fiesta. It makes 123 horsepower and an overachieving 148 pound-feet of torque at just 1400 rpm, to provide get-up-and-go from stoplights. It’s mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
The S and SE models use drum brakes in the rear, while most rivals have four-wheel discs. The Sport package for the SE brings a touring suspension, 17-inch black gloss aluminum wheels, H-rated tires, and paddleshifters for the PowerShift twin-clutch transmission.
The ST, with its 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed manual gearbox, is whole different animal than the S and SE, and definitely a hoot to drive. It is very well engineered and integrated, with driving dynamics that are arguable smoother than the Mazdaspeed3 or Subaru WRX STI. It uses a quick, variable-ratio steering rack, a suspension lowered by four-tenths of an inch, and rear dampers with widened mounting points.
The Focus RS is highly focused, and relatively expensive. Its 350 horsepower is extreme for a car this size. It’s got all the stuff to back it up, including full-time all-wheel drive with dynamic torque vectoring, a beefy 6-speed gearbox, big brakes, tuned exhaust and suspension modes including Track and Drift. As an everyday driver, the ride is stiff and unyielding, it turns quickly for the street, and the torque steer is a handful to manage when you get on the gas. It’s quite the toy if burning through rubber and getting tickets is your thing, but that is its only fit in the real world of transportation.
The Focus is more handsome as a hatchback than sedan. Some see its shape as too swoopy, but at least its creases and curves contrast nicely with the big-mouthed grille. The rising window line adds drama, and the huge taillamps nicely frame the corners.
Focus ST and Focus RS are restrained, even with a lower stance, bigger wheels and lower bodywork. However there’s nothing restrained about the basket of logos stuck to the sheetmetal.
The overstyled Focus cabin used to feel sleek, but since the Honda Civic has re-invented compact car interiors, it feels dated. The standard info screen is just 4.2 inches. The vertical vents and pleasant sculpting are complex and original, which is nice in a crowded class of look-alikes, but the design makes the front feel cramped, and it uses a lot of plastic. Still, the seats and door trim are nicely tailored, especially in the Titanium, with its satin chrome.
Even in the S and SE models, the front seats are fairly supportive. The plusher Titanium seats offer good thigh and back support, and a bit more bolstering. The optional Recaro seats in the ST and RS are very snug, and don’t work with all heights.
The back seat is skimpy, with slim headroom and legroom. And with small door openings, ingress and egress is awkward. The hatchback is better than the sedan. The release to fold the rear seat can’t be reached through the hatch, and the headrests have to be removed to get the seatbacks all the way down.
The optional Sync 3 infotainment system is slicker and much improved over the previous unpopular MyFord Touch system. Sync 3 has a fully capacitive screen with pinching and swiping capability, a streamlined menu structure, smart-charging USB ports, and AppLink capability for on-screen operation of various smartphone apps. But Sync 3 also has issues. Response to the buttons is slow, and we had trouble switching between day and night modes on the touchscreen.
Forward visibility is good for a compact car, but rearward visibility can be tough. However, with a standard rearview camera, at least that isn’t an issue when the car is in reverse.
Interior noise is typical for this class, as coarse road surfaces intrude into the cabin.
Swoopy styling with a dated interior. Good as the Focus otherwise is, we’re inclined to say Ford’s PowerShift twin-clutch automatic manual transmission is a dealbreaker, unless you go for the thrifty and peppy 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine. The Focus ST, in its sport hatchback class, is a different story. We like and recommend it, with its 6-speed manual gearbox and competitive price.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.
The 2017 Ford Focus S ($16,775) is reasonably well equipped, with power windows/locks/mirrors, air conditioning, Bluetooth, AM/FM/CD, adjustable steering wheel with controls, and rearview camera. The torque-vectoring system also comes standard on the front-wheel drive. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
It’s a big jump up to the Focus SE hatchback ($19,765), which adds larger 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, fog lamps, and Ford’s MyKey system. Options include leather, a power driver seat, rear disc brakes, rear parking sensors, a sport package, a moonroof, navigation, heated seats, satellite radio, and Sony audio. There’s also an available Sport package.
Focus SEL hatchback ($21,675) gets 17-inch wheels, rear disc brakes, a moonroof, ambient lighting, rear parking sensors, and the Sync 3 infotainment system.
The Focus Titanium ($24,075) gets dual-zone climate control, leather, Sony audio, HD and satellite radio, sport suspension, sport seats, and summer performance tires on sport wheels. Options include automatic parking assistance (parks itself, using cameras).
The high-performance Focus ST ($24,775) and Focus RS ($36,120), in addition to their speed upgrades, get styling kits and 18- or 19-inch wheels. Options include navigation, Recaro seats, and a carbon-fiber accent package.
Available safety equipment on higher models includes blind-spot monitors and lane-keeping assists. There are no available forward-collision or automatic-braking systems.