The cars we loved.
I can’t remember a time when America had better versions of cars that were also being sold in Europe. For instance when the Ford Escort delivered us from the Pinto, we got a great sub-compact, but Europe got a better one. Then when the Escort gave way to the Focus, once again we were short-changed with a slower less appealing version of what Ford had been calling a “World Car”.
Now that Ford is using its global resources more efficiently (as is everyone else is it seems), a design that starts in Cologne might be used in Dearborn. Ford’s evolving Kinetic Design language started in Germany and England with models like the Ka and spread throughout it’s model ranges. In America, a competing design direction dubbed “New Edge” began with the now departed Cougar and represented a North American contrast to the Kinetic design language. By the time of the Focus debut in 1998, the North American and European design styles had diverged to the point of their being two different cars sharing the Focus name. US audiences got a taste of how vast this divergence had become when a Ford Mondeo was featured in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale. The Mondeo was the European counterpart to the popular American Contour and later Fusion.
Ford has finally made amends and combined the Ford Global C-Car platform to include just one Focus for the entire planet. Now we in North America share the same Focus as the rest of the world. We did not get the 5 door estate, but for now Ford compact car enthusiasts were happy to have the 4 door sedan and the sporty looking 5-door hatchback. The Focus had truly become the world car the Escort promised over 20 years ago. With five manufacturing locations as diverse as Wayne Michigan and Rayong Thailand, there was a Focus sold in nearly every corner of the globe. There were as many powertrain options with no less than 7 engine types worldwide. In America we had only one engine a 2.0L direct injected 4-cylinder with 160 hp. shared between two body types. As of 2012 there were two new types (ST and electric), three engines
The Focus has become a segment leader in the growing and hotly competitive compact car arena in America (called the C segment in Europe). The 3rd generation design had plenty of upmarket embellishments that moved the Focus closer to the domain of the VW Jetta. New interiors with high quality materials and surface treatments made the Focus feel more like a Audi than Ford’s mainstream subcompact. The interior features plenty of aluminum looking plastic bits, but the materials have the look of a more expensive car. The Focus has managed to pull off this illusion better than most compact cars on the market.
The media has taken notice, ranking the 2011 Focus highly from its design, handling and fuel economy. Sales have been equally good, prompting Ford to add models and eventually expand the powertrain options from one to three. One of those new models was the sporty ST with its turbocharged 2.0 making 252 hp. An all-electric model was added in 2012 while Ford is readying a smaller displacement EcoBoost version to join the standard 2.0. The EcoBoost engine technology is already in being used in other Ford vehicles in larger displacements.
Practicality and versatility have always been Focus selling points, but economy has become a high mark after 2010. The magical 40 mpg number was achieved thanks to direct injection, variable valve timing and a host of other technologies. Unlike the Chevy Cruise, Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, the Focus has managed to be a driver’s car while having higher EPA figures. Its only real competitor seems to the fun focused Mazda 3, a car derived from an older version of the C1 platform of the Focus. The Focus has established itself as a fun to drive car with European styled attributes (it looks somewhat Audi-like in front).
Although the Focus is not widely known for its racing heritage in America, in Europe models like the RS 500 have long-established the Focus as a performance car, in much the way the Escort RS and Turbo cars did before it. With the arrival of the ST model, the Focus is more likely to attract the tuner market back again, something that had been missed since the departure of the SVT cars of 2004. That means that the already great handling Titanium and SEL models will be subject to mutilations by hot-rodders as they appear on the used car market. It’s happened to second-hand examples of Honda’s Civic and now that the Focus is the best handling affordable compact (aside from the Mazda 3) it’s likely to follow a similar fate. My advice is to get them now before the tuners do.