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Monday, August 15, 2011

Around the Block in a Ford Focus

Straight and to the point, I've always been a fan of the Focus.  When the original Focus debuted in 1999, it showed a brand new styling language for Ford and backed it up with impeccable handling as well as a bit of grunt from the Cossie engined SVT in the U.S.  The problems with the Focus in America arose when Europe got an all new car in 2004 while the U.S. car was neglected like a red-headed orphan.  It grew uglier, lazier, and slower especially compared to the ST and RS versions that the old country received.  So with much expectation, I sunk into the sculpted driver seat of the 2011 Ford Focus SEL and was met with both delight and aggravation.  Read on to find out why.

Apologies for the awful, unstaged pictures!

Upon first glance, the car looks cohesively designed and makes a strong statement with its front and rear light clusters.  Designers who can make a car look good with well executed, interesting lights will always earn my respect.  Of course aesthetics are a subjective thing, so we'll move on.

Slipping into the very comfortable, sculpted driver's seat, I notice the info center between the gauges and I like them a lot.  Aside from the usual trip computers and fuel mileage figures, there's a diagram that tells you which door is ajar, very handy compared to today's dome lights which just tell you a door is open.  It's the little things...

After prying my eyes away from the gauge cluster, the center stack caught my attention.  I was none too pleased to discover that it can't do a damn thing intuitively!  Trying the voice commands yielded the same nonexistent results.  Take a look at the picture below and just try to find a "seek" button.  Ford, you can keep Sync all for yourself.

Ok, enough about the electronics!  What about the driving?  The Focus feels great in everyday traffic and the basics are in place.  Steering feel is good with a nice amount of heft to the wheel.  Acceleration feels strong and instantaneous while in traffic.  However, off the line with the dual-clutch transmission in auto, it's only so-so and suffers from what feels like an excessive amount of clutch slip.  This car is not a stoplight to stoplight dragster.  Though, slotting the shifter into manual mode isn't all roses and pretty babies either.  The Focus doesn't have the obligatory flappy paddles or slappy stick to change gears.  It has buttons located on the left side of the shifter (can be seen in the picture above).  Although this solves many problems like wheel vs. column mounted paddles and push or pull for upshifts, this is ergonomically and fundamentally wrong.  Those slappy sticks and flappy paddles were born in the racing world to minimize the amount of time a driver has his hands off the wheel.  Manual mode in a car like this is mostly reserved for the performance oriented driver and trying to locate a chiclet sized button during a spirited drive takes up precious time and concentration.

After stepping away from the Focus, it seems like Ford has built a car that is easy to spend time in but tried to push the envelope and be different in a few areas.  The interior is light years ahead of the outgoing car with a modern design and good quality plastics.  While the Sync system is complex and annoying, it can be figured out with some time spent in the library with the owner's manual.  The transmission issues would probably go unnoticed by the average consumer and are a simple programming fix for the hotted up versions of the Focus.  Throw some flappy paddles on the column of the ST/SVT/RS version and the Focus will be less of a neglected orphan and more like Goldilocks with a trim that's just right for everyone.


  1. A Fuckus with a dual clutch? Wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole

    1. I've had one since 2012, once you're used to it, it's nicer than any GM in it's class