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2012 Ford Focus Titanium 4 Door Sedan Road Test

What It Is/Who It's For

Ford's popular compact eschews low-income families for low-income, tech-savvy students.

Best Thing

It wasn't fast, but it sure was fun to drive.

Worst Thing

Where is the backseat and what happened to the trunk?

Snap Judgment

The Ford Focus is a worthy, but compromised step from the top of the compact heap.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Introduction

After work one cold, dark evening, I sat in our 2012 Ford Focus Titanium sedan, familiarizing myself with the interior and drive controls before heading home. Fellow associate editor Jacob Brown was standing just outside the window, giggling like a school girl, when he asked, "Want to see something cool?"

I should have known he was up to something mischievous, when without warning, he touched the steering wheel and rambled off a succession of voice commands: "Audio," then "Sirius," and finally, "Playboy."

It all happened so fast, and with the volume up and all the windows down, Jacob smiled and walked away, leaving me embarrassed and scrambling to mute the babblings of two sultry female radio hosts. Where was the volume? How do I change the stations? How do I make it stop?!

Ford's Sync had struck again. Minus the promiscuous adult erotica, Sync's somewhat arcane operation is a familiar issue for many consumers considering a Ford. With that in mind, we wanted to find out whether the perceived technological hurdle of jumping into the new Ford Focus was too steep a learning curve, or whether in the end, a worthwhile endeavor. Would the initial unfamiliarity and confusion subside? Would my mother be comfortable using Sync and MyFord Touch? And, fresh off driving the 2012 Honda Civic, which would we recommend to a young professional? Or, a small family?

What We Drove

Our 2012 Ford Focus was the range-topping Titanium model with a base price of $22,270. Included was the leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; premium Sony audio system; dual-zone climate control; and Ford Sync with MyFord Touch. Exterior styling enhancements featured halogen headlamps; fog lights; and a rear spoiler. Performance upgrades included four-wheel disc brakes, and a performance suspension. The Focus Titanium also comes standard with 17-inch aluminum wheels, though our model came with optional $595 18-inch wheels and a $470 winter package, including floor mats, and heated seats and mirrors. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, driver and passenger front and side airbags, three child LATCH points, and electronic stability control. The total price, including destination, comes out to a hefty for the segment $24,060.

The Commute

The 2012 Ford Focus Titanium sedan's interior is well appointed, belying its once modest beginnings. It's still a small compact, though the Titanium model is now one of the most upscale cars in its segment, a fact reflected by its $24,060 price tag.

The Titanium is the top model in the Focus range, and inside, it shows. There are supportive, heated leather seats and soft-touch dash pieces highlighted by high-contrast white stitching. The center stack is dominated by the MyFord Touch screen and Sony audio system, and vertical AC vents. Below, on a separate panel, but above the gear selector lever, are the digital climate controls.

At first, many of the knobless controls are cumbersome, distracting, and appear over engineered. This actually pushes you to rely on Sync and the voice-activated controls. By selecting the voice-activation button on the steering wheel, the climate controls and audio system come alive. And they work, too. So, while stuck in traffic we were able to adjust the temperature and strength of the air conditioning, and change audio sources from FM, to satellite, to iPod, and back to satellite with ease. That's not to say it was perfect, only that it shows promise. On several occasions, Sync didn't recognize clearly enunciated channel station number selections. And although one editor was able to sync his Bluetooth phone in a couple minutes, another had trouble syncing his iPhone in less than ten minutes. And still another found the MyFord Touch buttons on the screen flashy, but outdated, too small to see while driving, and distracting.

On the road, the transmission in Eco mode is smooth and hiccup free at speed. In stop-and-go traffic, every editor on staff complained of jerky up- and down-shifts, a result of limiting revs to conserve fuel. Don't count on accelerating hard, or building speed to change lanes -- it won't let you, unless you change to Sport mode. Fortunately, though, whether you're into talk radio or thumpin' bass, the powerful Sony audio system is good enough to drown away your commuting and powertrain frustrations.

The Grocery Run

Our 2012 Ford Focus Titanium sedan came with a full-size spare tire in the trunk. Never mind that most consumers have some sort of factory, dealership, or third party roadside assistance program, like AAA, or that other manufacturers are forgoing spares altogether with an emergency tire repair kit to reduce weight and increase cargo space. The Focus Titanium's optional full-size spare tire drastically reduces cargo space so much, that it practically ignores an entire demographic: families.

If you're single, or a college student, you could probably squeeze one week's worth of Top Ramen in the trunk, and two kegs in the empty backseat. Yet, if you're not a student, and those kegs grow small legs, the 2012 Honda Civic, with its class-leading backseat and decent-sized trunk suddenly seem very appealing. Our Focus Titanium sedan with its full-size spare wouldn't fit anything more than a cheap umbrella stroller, and you can forget about a week's worth of groceries. On the other hand, in the Whole Foods parking lot, our Focus' electric power steering was nimble and simple, making parking little more than a thought.

The Weekend Fun

For a few days in early October, southern California was unseasonably battered by a torrential sprinkling of moisture from the sky. For most of the country, driving in the falling wet is no big deal. But in the southland, where Autumn is Summer's blockbuster sequel, the ripples from this kind of panic wreak havoc on our concrete thoroughfares. Exposure to the unknown, it seems, elicits confusion. And so, too, the 2012 Ford Focus Titanium.

By most measures, we unanimously loved the optional 18-inch alloy wheel package and sport suspension, if not the additional price. In the rain, we found the Michelin tires to have exceptional grip, and even maintained a composed and well-executed emergency stop with minimal effort. The downside, though, is that the tire's sporty low profile amplifies road noise and does little to mask its sporty intentions. This is a welcomed addition for enthusiasts who don't mind a stiff but intuitive ride, yet, commuters and families may prefer the softer ride of a different trim level.

Unfortunately, there's little choice when it comes to the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission. With 160 horsepower and the front-wheels pulling nearly 3000 pounds, our Focus Titanium felt sluggish and decidedly non-sporty. Even with the sport mode transmission, it proved difficult to pass on the freeway, and was far from confidence inspiring. Strangely enough, our sister publication, Motor Trend, reports a satisfactory but conflicting 0-60 time of 8.3 seconds. That's not bad, but it sure didn't feel like it.

Still, with beautiful European design cues and dynamic handling and braking, we enjoyed driving the Focus Titanium. But the repressed enthusiast inside each of us can't wait for the turbocharged Ford Focus ST, reportedly with 87 more horsepower, coming sometime in 2012.

Summary

The 2012 Ford Focus Titanium sedan is a decent car, but it has a hard time justifying its price premium. Sure, there are a lot of features, but at nearly $25,000, the Titanium is a tough sell, especially when you can get into a nicely equipped Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata or even Ford Fusion for the same price. But it doesn't really end there. Even without the full-size spare tire, the polarizing backseat and cargo space just aren't up to snuff for the compact segment. Comparing technology and features, then, and you're left with an attractive, intelligent, and efficient sedan that does little to stand out from the crowd.

The good news is that you can still enjoy the Focus's European panache for much less by opting for lower-priced model -- such as the Focus SEL -- and the cargo room situation can be solved by opting for the five-door hatchback body. But when you lower the price, you're also stripping out some of the premium features that make the Focus attractive in the first place, shifting the limelight to the feature-packed Hyundai Elantra and roomier Honda Civic. For the enthusiasts, wait for the upcoming 247-hp Focus ST.

Spec Box

$24,060
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 27 mpg
EPA Highway: 37 mpg
EPA Combined: 31 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 384 miles
Intellichoice Value Rating: Average

Notebook Quotes

The Focus Titanium is weird. It sells itself as a sporty alternative, yet throughout the car, these sporty features are either toned down, or handicapped. Why? - Blake Rong, Associate Editor

I was able to sync my old-school phone to the Sync and call friends in under ten minutes with no prior experience using a Bluetooth system. How much easier could Ford have made it? - Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

The seats are sporty and supportive, but the driver's position has way too much knee room and nowhere to brace my knees on a 'spirited' drive. Also, it has heated seats, but no power seats or moonroof? - Jason Davis, Associate Editor

I'd forego the ultra-high performance tire package for a sunroof or some backup sensors. - Joel Arellano, Associate Editor

Some of the buttons feel like they were stolen off a Nintendo controller. Cheap! - Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor

The blue accent lighting in the instrument panel was cool at night and gave the cabin a very modern feel. - Matt Askari, Associate Editor

A major weakness is the trunk. Not only does the lid pop up quickly, but the opening is small. You don't drop things into the trunk, you slide them into it. Not much space for taller objects like grocery bags, or to stack luggage. - Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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