Refined and Easy Going, Focus Shines Light on Ford's Global Success

Njuguna Kabugi | 1/16/2013, 12:39 p.m.

Ford Motor Company is enjoying spectacular sales success. It is on track to top 2 million U.S. vehicle sales - the only auto brand to do so in North America within the last 12 months. Ford is also the only

automaker with three vehicle nameplates in the global top 10 in sales - the compact Focus and this week's test vehicle at No.1, the F-Series pickup trucks at No. 4 and the tiny Fiesta at No. 5.

Though the Ford Focus barely cracks the top 10 in the U.S. market sales, globally, it has now eclipsed the decade-long reign of the Toyota Corolla as the world's best-selling car - testament to a remarkable turnaround for the only domestic automaker to not have received a bailout from the Obama Administration.

The Ford Focus has leapt from unremarkable to class leading in many different respects. For a week, we probed the secret recipe that makes this Ford so popular. We are convinced that with the Focus, Ford has finally cracked the code that leads to small car greatness.

Though not a mystery at all to the average car buyer, many manufacturers seem to ignore the obvious: those small car shoppers are no longer looking for a basic, 'economy car' transportation appliance.

With the current Focus, Ford has given us a small and economical but also stylish, tech-focused, and fun to drive car. An affordable price, sharp handling, expressive styling and availability in multiple body

styles have contributed to making this one of Ford's most popular cars worldwide.

Completely redesigned last year, the current, third-generation Focus is available in sedan and four-door hatchback body styles. My favorite is the Titanium trim, where all the details are well coordinated with the exterior featuring a mix of creases and curves, with a rather aggressive front-end design and thin front.

The Focus shines on tight District of Columbia streets and twisty Virginia and Maryland roads. Steering is quick and accurate, a pleasant surprise coming from a car in this class. Our test vehicle featured Ford's 2.0-liter I-4 that produces 160 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque, with the optional Selectshift six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Though it's not the fastest we have driven, it drives well and is quick enough for most drivers. The Focus ranks with the Mazda3 as one of the best-handling vehicles in its class. It's rated at 27/37 mpg city/highway, and we averaged an indicated 33 mpg over a few days of mixed city and highway driving.

Inside the Focus is attractive, but the available sitting space is disappointing, especially for tall persons. I found this out the hard way when I had my family drop by to pick up our 6'2' son for a weekend visit from college. With my wife occupying the front passenger seat, and our 17-year-old 5'8' son sitting behind her, my older son could only sit sideways on the trip home. It turns out that the Focus hatch offers 33.2 inches of rear legroom - just 2 inches more than the pint-sized Fiesta. The Focus' competitors generally offer more room. The VW Golf has 35.5 inches of rear legroom, while the Mazda3 has 36.2 inches. In auto space, 3 inches make a big difference. Safety-wise, the Focus is one of the few compact sedans to have earned both a five-star NCAP Overall Score and IIHS Top Safety Pick status.

A bare base Focus S starts just below $17,000 but the fun well-equipped, tech-loaded upper trims demand thousands more. A loaded Titanium can hit $28k, but these models include MyFord Touch, an upgraded 10-speaker Sony sound system, a sport suspension, and sport wheels.