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2012 Ford Focus SEL Review

2012 Ford Focus SEL Review front angle

The recent global economic recession and the – what seems to be never ending — rise of gasoline prices has caused the small car segment emerge once again as an important center piece for most, if not all, car manufacturers. Typically, cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have reigned supreme, effortlessly seeing to the wants and needs of consumers with their excellent reliability, superior fuel economy, and overall build quality. But while at one time Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda were synonymous for quality and economy — happily maintaining their collective grip on the small car segment – recent outings from Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Ford have begun to deliver a compelling argument, climbing their way to the top of the hill in the process. In fact, it is the latter’s newly designed 2012 Ford Focus that has managed to wrestle the crown from its far-east rivals.

Really, Ford?

Yes, Ford, which has seemed content to let the Focus flounder in mediocrity, has recently undertaken or undergone (you decide) a renaissance of sorts, and managed to produce one of the best cars it has in years. And while beating the Japanese at their own game was never going to be an easy endeavor, a combination of style, performance, and fun has given the Focus a new lease on life.

We’ll start by highlighting the saucy new design: The 2012 Focus has a completely overhauled look from previous iterations which, put nicely, have always come off boring. Time has clearly been taken to craft a much sportier outline with Ford employing some visual trickery throughout the car’s design. For example: one of the more prominent visual features of the new Focus is its instantly recognizable front-end. Ford’s engineers have strewn across a series of outstretched faux radiator ducts that does little for the car other than providing it with some much appreciate visual pizzazz.

2012 Ford Focus SEL Review city
2012 Ford Focus SEL Review front angle city   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review side park   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review rear angle   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review front emblem   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review front angle park

And while hatchbacks have traditionally been unpopular in American markets, the new Focus’ visual fidelity seems to flourish best when tucked away by a rounded backside. Not only is it more practical – offering up 23.8 cubic feet of trunk space as opposed to the 13.2-cubic-feet found in the sedan version — but it fits well with the overall aesthetic Ford is clearing shooting to have. Our only complaint would have to be those cradled rear taillamps that hugged the bum of our full-equipped $24,000 SEL model. It’s not make or break by any means, just a minor annoyance to an otherwise solid design.

Outer beauty, inner flaws

The Focus isn’t perfect, and nowhere is that more apparent than once you step inside its somewhat cramped cockpit. Whereas Ford succeeded in implementing its design wizardry to the car’s exterior, it failed to duplicate that magic entirely inside the car. But before we start griping away at what could have been we’ll, uh, Focus for a moment on what is, or at least what was done right.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the interior is bold and stylish. Inside the vehicle you easily forget you’re mulling about in an “economy car,” and instead there’s a real sense of refinement to found. The seats are relatively plush, and though snug fitting — for those of us with uh, slightly portlier proportions — offers up enough comfort for the majority of drivers. All in all, Ford has done a great job moving away from the intrinsically cheap feel past generations have exhibited.

2012 Ford Focus SEL Review interior
  2012 Ford Focus SEL Review interior seats   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review dash   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review sony audio controls   2012 Ford Focus SEL Review steering wheel  

But while drivers and passengers will remain considerably comfortable up front, cabin real-estate is much cozier in the back. And not the “hot cocoa on cold winter day” sort of cozy, but the uncomfortable sort of cozy one feels flying on a packed flight to New York. So while plopping the kids in the back will more than likely suffice, average-sized passengers will more than likely need to stretch their legs during longer trips.

Rather not touchscreen

Where the Focus fails to deliver, however, is the poor implementation of its tech-laden interior. While the leather-wrapped steering wheel on our review unit certainly felt great, the crowded center stack was needlessly confusing — piled high with a flurry of buttons and icons most will find irritating and confusing at best.

2012 Ford Focus SEL Review touchscreen

Sadly things don’t fare much better when it comes to all that in-car technology Ford is so often heard touting. While driving the Focus is a treat, battling the MyFord Touch system is not. From a design perspective there’s no denying that entertainment systems like MyFord Touch add an unprecedented level of geek chic we all love and appreciate, but unfortunately this is a cut and dry case of form over function. Utilizing features such as voice commands is painstakingly slow. We also found the gorgeous eight-inch center display lacking responsiveness in even the most rudimentary tasks like adjusting various settings or music tracks. Considering that the system will set you back $1,170 ($2,755 if you opt for the leather seat package), that’s unacceptable.

A treat on the street

We’re not one for conspiracy theories, but there is at least some magic going on in Dearborn. That’s because the most remarkable aspect of the 2012 Focus (the drive experience) derives from the least remarkable aspect of the 2012 Focus: its engine. That’s not to say the Focus’ 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is dull, just that it isn’t anything mind-blowing. No, you see the magic we speak of is how Ford managed to make our daily commute actually enjoyable and fun with such a small mill. So while 160 horsepower, 146 lb-ft of torque and a 7.6 second dash to 60 won’t ignite a fire in your belly, it does provide just enough spark for an engaging driving experience not typically found in your average compact car — let alone previous Focus models.

Simply put, the 2012 Focus is a treat to drive. That goes double for those willing to become familiar with the car’s 6-speed PowerShift automatic which came standard on our upgraded SEL model but will cost you $1,095 on lower trim levels. It adds another dimension to your driving experience and invites those behind the wheel to an increased level of enjoyment.

Of course it’s not executed perfectly and we found it to be rather jerky during our jaunts in the city. Ford still needs to iron-out the kinks as we experienced on more than once occasion our shift times to be rather hurried in one instance and then lagging in others. Drivers will also experience varying degrees of roll back when stopped on even the smallest of gradients. Some may see it as a deal-breaker while others will enjoy the added boost to fuel economy and performance it provides. And if you’ve grown unhappy over the lack of manual transmissions in many of today’s automotive offerings, and want to add a dash of sportiness to your ride, going manual is worth the extra coin.

Miles and smiles

Three little letters: M, P, and G. They seem so trivial, yet they make such a huge difference in the minds of today’s consumers. Up until recently, Ford wasn’t exactly known for its fuel efficient vehicles, but it’s fair to say the American automaker has begun a concentrated effort to clean up its act. Be that as it may, the 2012 Focus isn’t the most fuel efficient car in its class. Official EPA fuel economy estimates place it at 27/city and 37/highway, with the Honda Civic besting the Focus with slightly higher EPA rating of 28/city 39/highway. In fact, our average fuel returns were lower than what we expected and often hung around the 24 mpg mark. Of course that may have been largely due to us putting the car through its paces, but it’s worth noting. But while fuel-economy is paramount to any compact car, there are those that will happily trade a mile per gallon here and there for a more engaging drive experience, us included.

Finish Line

At a starting price of $21,000 the 2012 Focus SEL isn’t exactly cheap, (bare-bone trim levels start at $16,500) but easily justifies the expenditure with excellent handling, comparable fuel economy, a sporty design, and first-rate engineering. Sure money could be saved by opting for one of its less pricey competitors, but the Focus is a compelling and enjoyable ride that shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you can maneuver past some of its flaws like the lackluster MyFord Touch system and slightly cramped cabin space, which thankfully don’t detract too much from the overall driving experience, the 2012 Ford Focus more than earns a place at the head of its class, and is a solid choice filled with all the bells and requisite whistles (and then some) one could ask for.

With the redesigned 2012 Focus, it’s no secret Ford took the ball and ran with it, and it shows. But it’s not as if the 2012 Focus has a secret winning formula that other companies will fail to keep up with, but with any luck it will help keep Ford on its toes lest it wishes to replicate the past mistakes of its peers and lose the ground it so fiercely fought to gain.


  • Responsive handling
  • Quiet ride
  • Stylish design
  • Bold interior
  • Lots of tech features and options
  • Fun to drive


  • Unresponsive MyFord Touch
  • Engine could do with more power
  • Little expensive
  • Cramped rear cabin
  • Hatchback may not appeal to everyone

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