Buying the Focus

I finally bought a new car, over a year after I first started seriously considering it. Say hello to my candy red 2012 Ford Focus.

Focus in light

I’ve been a fan of small European hatchbacks for years, and lamented that so many of them never make it to American shores. We had the Golf, and the first Focus, but never had the huge variety of small, practical cars that the Europeans have. We also, for some reason, were denied the well made and well regarded Fords that they had in Europe.

But then Ford finally brought their small, well made hatchbacks here. I was excited about the 2012 Focus spaceship from the first announcement I saw on Autoblog, and almost immediately started considering its potential as my next car. The Subaru Outback was getting old, and the Focus was great looking with a nice interior and great gas milage.

This kickstarted my thinking about cars, and not much longer after I started looking more seriously we got the revised Mazda 3 and a new Subaru Impreza. I had already decided to focus my attention on small practical hatchbacks, and with so many changes in this category I stepped back and took a look at the overall market.

There were certainly other cars to consider, but I decided to limit my market range. I excluded the smallest cars such as the Fiesta, Mazda 2, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris. I also excluded anything that couldn’t get 35 mpg on the highway.

This pretty much narrowed down my choices to three:

  1. 2012 Ford Focus Hatchback
  2. 2012 Mazda 3 Hatchback
  3. 2012 Subaru Impreza Hatchback

Yes there was also the revised Hyundai Elantra but I didn’t feel anything for it, and crossed it off the list early. I had driven several Fords as rental cars, including the most basic hatchback they sell and a nicer SEL with leather and a lot of options. Ben let me drive his Mazda for most of a day, and I did a more normal test of the Subaru.

The Subaru was definitely the biggest inside, with the best sight lines and smallest blind spots. The AWD was a very tempting practical feature as well. It was also the least fun to drive and the least nicely put together inside. The Mazda was great fun to drive and might, by a hair, have the best drivetrain of the three. The Ford though was the best car overall, and it didn’t take much time to make up my mind. I’ve driven the previous Focus, and the difference in interior quality, fit, and finish are enormous.

In fact, I essentially bought the exact car that Ford had brought to the Denver auto show I attended last year: same color and most of the same options. I remember the first time I sat in it and how much I liked it, and now I own it. It’s great fun to drive, with a firm suspension and smooth responsive engine, and all the “silly” toys I got with the option packages have turned out to be great. I love not having to take my keys out at all. I can walk up to the car and grab the handle and the doors unlock, then I sit down and hit a button and the car fires up. It’s like the future.

Surprisingly, the built in navigation is actually good. Voice input works very well, including putting in a street address by simply saying the address out loud. POI searches can also be done by voice. In fact the whole voice control system in the car is better than expected. It is certainly not perfect, but responds to the vast majority of commands exactly as expected. I can choose music, control navigation, set the climate control, and make phone calls without ever looking away from the road. The rearview camera is very useful, and the automatic parallel parking worked exactly right the one and only time so far I tried it.

And somehow, unusually, the Sony stereo and Microsoft software that runs it are actually tastefully designed. That’s just weird. And it sounds great.

I’m enjoying the car more than I expected, and I have far fewer complaints than I expected. Even the manual mode is better than I was lead to believe. Reviewers had complained that a small rocker switch on the side of the gearshift wasn’t a great way to run the gear changes, and wished for paddle shifters or another system. Paddle shifters could be nice, but there are so many things on the wheel already that another set could just confuse things, and although I consistently pushed the gearshift lever on Ben’s Mazda the wrong direction when shifting, I’ve never made that mistake on the Ford.

— Steve

Posted on 11 June 2012