Review: For real-life roads, Ford's Focus is still sharp

  • The 2017 Ford Focus SE. The 2017 Focus S, practically unchanged from the 2016 model year, is safe, reliable and, depending on traffic patterns, enjoyable basic transportation.

    The 2017 Ford Focus SE. The 2017 Focus S, practically unchanged from the 2016 model year, is safe, reliable and, depending on traffic patterns, enjoyable basic transportation. Courtesy of Ford

 
 
Posted11/13/2016 7:22 AM

As a young journalist, I thrilled at invitations from automobile manufacturers to drive exotic cars in exotic locations. But there always was a troubling disconnect.

We journalists would arrive a day or night before the drive, which often would be arranged to run against the rush hour of the host location. The idea was to provide us the luxury of enjoying the luxury cars without traffic jams.

 

We could concentrate on the design and engineering of the subject automobiles without paying much attention to reality, which is that few of the world's roads are traveled by exotic cars because few of the world's motorists can afford them.

That reality is seen daily on highways such as Interstate 66, where models such as the subject of this week's review, the 2017 Ford Focus S sedan, abound.

It is a well-constructed compact car -- safe and fuel-efficient, affording 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 miles per gallon on the highway using regular-grade gasoline. It has been around since 1998 and is a common sight on streets as diverse as those of the District of Columbia, London and Moscow.

Technology has kept the little Focus updated. But it has been aggressively matched in that endeavor by the South Koreans, who have loaded with value and likability models such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte. The Japanese, of course, understand the global market and have countered with affordable rides such as the Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris.

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But the little Focus keeps rolling on primarily because it is designed to safely and efficiently get you where you are going at a base price -- $18,175 -- that makes the car reasonably accessible.

Accessibility and reliability trump the romance of "fun to drive" here, although the Focus is a nice, tight compact car that can be had with performance credibility if purchased as a Focus ST or RS. But most people who buy it are looking for the basics of reliability and economy and thus will get it in one of the more popular trim levels of S, SE, SEL or Titanium. The Focus also is available as an electric and hatchback SE EcoBoost.

The Focus S is basic personal transportation. You don't buy it to impress. Nor do you get it to zoom past the competition. You get it to get there. Period. And the little car does a very decent job of doing that.

It is equipped with a 2-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine delivering 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A six-speed automatic is optional. Spend the extra money on the automatic. It will be worth it in one of the Washington area's traffic jams.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I found the Focus S to be a good little get-about, although somewhat disconcerting after spending weeks in models that have jettisoned pieces such as ignition keys and locks in favor of push-button ignition. The Focus can be had with lots of modern safety technology. But it does appear to be getting a bit long in the tooth.

Still, it makes sense as a basic transportation car, particularly in S trim. It remains a "buy" here.

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Bottom line: The 2017 Focus S, practically unchanged from the 2016 model year, is safe, reliable and, depending on traffic patterns, enjoyable basic transportation.

Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets decent marks in all three areas.

Head-turning quotient: It has the styling signature of the larger Ford Fusion, which clearly has "borrowed" styling cues from the Aston Martin, which once was a Ford property.

Body style/layout: The Ford Focus is a compact, front-engine, front-wheel-drive economy car available as a sedan or hatchback. An electric version is also for sale.

Engine/transmission for Focus S: It comes with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing (160 horsepower, 146 pound-feet of torque). A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A six-speed automatic is optional.

Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 13.2 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 12.4 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is fine.

Mileage: I averaged 36 miles per gallon mostly in highway driving.

Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc brakes, rear drum brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; traction and stability control; post-collision safety system; side and head air bags.

Pricing: The 2017 Ford Focus S starts at $18,175 with a dealer's invoice price of $17,357. Price as tested is $21,190, including $2,140 in options (automatic transmission, cosmetics and other items) and an $875 factory-to-dealer shipment charge. Dealer's price as tested is $20,266.

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