In a break with the past, two-thirds of the Ford Focus models sold in the U.S. are now hatchbacks.

Let’s see if we can get through this review without too many references to Ford focusing on its new 2012 Focus, or how the focus is on compact cars these days, or how the Focus focuses on fuel economy. You get the idea.

What Ford would prefer you to focus on (sorry) is the new Focus’ European pedigree, its on road prowess, and its 40 mpg promise. Let’s not forget the available MyFordTouch infotainment suite.

The last Focus was an unloved compact full of panel gaps, and what it lacked in performance it made up for in lack of styling. All the while, auto journos and compact-car freaks were clamoring for Ford’s European Focus.

Well, it’s here. Available in either hatchback or sedan configurations, the new Focus is a stylish entry in a class that is suddenly filled with fashionable entrées, such as the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Veloster, Subaru Impreza, and even the Chevrolet Cruze, which may not have the haute couture duds, but does have a plenty strong package.

Ford’s Fiesta was the Blue Oval’s first volley in the small-car war, and the Focus follows in its footsteps, albeit wearing bigger shoes. Available in four trims—S, SE, SEL, and Titanium—the Focus has a 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and matches to either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Though demand might have dropped, the 2012 remake of the Ford Focus sedan is also attractive - and functional.

We had two chances to sample the Focus—once on the car’s launch in Los Angeles earlier this year, and once with a week spent in a Titanium hatchback.

Available features include a parking-assist system, Ford’s Sync multimedia suite, ambient lighting, HD radio with iTunes tagging, a push-button start, a rearview camera, a torque-vectoring system, and MyFordTouch. Titanium models offer 17-inch wheels (15s are standard, 16s come on mid-level trims), a two-tone interior, and more seat bolstering. A Sport Package is available on the SE, as is a SFE Package for hyper-milers.

We won’t focus (ahem) much on the sedan or the manual, since our time with those models was brief. What we know is that the manual is fun to work with—thanks to an accurate shifter and progressive clutch. We also know that for backroad fun, you’ll need to stick to the lower three gears—fourth and fifth are just too tall.

Buyers seem to prefer the easy access and added space of the 2012 Ford Focus hatchback.

The automatic is plagued by the same issues that irk owners of Fiestas with the automatic, which Ford has dubbed PowerShift. It’s actually a double-clutch semi-automatic that seemed promising but which we find in priactice hunts for gears at low speeds—especially when coasting up to a stop—and it occasionally exhibits rough shifting behavior unbecoming of a modern transmission. We’d skip the downgrade from the automatic-only Titanium, and go with the manual.

Too bad because other than our complaints about the PowerShift, it’s a nice powertrain.  Acceleration is fairly brisk for this class, although no land-speed records will be set.

The steering is a wonder—Ford continues to work miracles with electric-power steering. In this case, the unit feels nicely weighted and superbly accurate, and makes the Focus a joy to drive. Ride is on the stiff side, but it rarely punishes passengers.

The cabin of the 2012 Focus shows a significant upgrade from the classic econobox.

The cabin materials are handsome, and it’s a comfortable place to do business, with enough leg and headroom up front, and more than adequate cargo space out back.

Fuel economy checked in at 27.6 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving—not too bad compared to the 27/37 EPA estimate on the sticker.

We were bugged by a buggy MyFordTouch system that twice shut itself down for system upgrades without warning, consistently dropped the phone/Bluetooth connection, and was a step slow to respond to commands. MyFordTouch is a wonderful idea, but we wonder if it came out of the oven a little too early. With any luck, Ford will have the system running more smoothly by next year or so.

We did have some problems with the Ford infotainment system, though it is feature-packed.

Our Titanium tester had standard satellite radio, traction control, antiskid system, fog lamps, and dual-zone climate control. Base price: $22,765. Options included the available Rapid Spec 401A Package which added a rear-parking aid sensor, rain-sensitive front wipers, and a 6-way power driver’s seat. The Red Candy Metallic paint added $395, while a Winter Package (heated seats, power and heated mirrors with lighting, all-weather floor mats) ran $470. MyFordTouch and the navigation system added another $795. With the $725 destination fee, the total as-tested price came to $26,640 before a $195 incentive that knocked things down to $26,445.

Ford is building the new Focus at a plant in suburban Detroit that used to handle trucks - underscoring the shift in the U.S. market.

Finally, the Big Three are focusing (we can’t help ourselves) on small cars. The old Focus is dead and not much missed, along with the Chevy Cobalt (Chrysler and Dodge have yet to catch up). Shoppers in this class no longer need be penalized by lack of features or performance, and the Focus satisfies in those areas. We’d skip PowerShift and opt for the stick, and hard-core performance freaks will want to wait for the upcoming ST, but so far, so good for Ford’s new focus on the Focus (OK, that was a bit much).


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