For a decade and a half, the Ford Focus has been a solid competitor to the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, and the Chevrolet Cruze. Its current incarnation, launched in 2012 and updated with a new face and a revised interior for 2015, is both stylish and fun to drive. It offers a comprehensive suite of infotainment options, some of which Ford is working hard to get right.
The current third-generation Focus was launched as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, for the 2012 model year. The two-door and wagon models offered in previous generations are gone, but a sporty sporty Focus ST "hot hatch" model joined the lineup for 2013.
The redesigned Focus is built in Michigan and shares about 80 percent of its design with the version sold in Europe. Over multiple drives starting in 2012, we've noted the excellent ride and handling, as well as the more sophisticated driving feel overall, of the current Focus. A new-generation direct-injection engine returns good gas mileage—up to 40 mpg in special SFE trim—and the lineup so far consists of four-door sedans and five-door hatchbacks. The current Focus is great evidence that small cars don't have to seem like appliances, but can offer style, rewarding drivers, and upmarket features--if you're willing to pay for them.
On the efficiency front, Ford has lately emphasized sales of its Prius competitors, the compact hybrid C-Max (built on Focus underpinnings) and the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid model, offering 21 miles of battery range backed up by a gasoline engine. But for 2015, a new model joins the Focus lineup: one with a tiny turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual gearbox. It's the kind of car that would have been unthinkable for a U.S. maker only a few years ago, but more efficient smaller engines and ever-rising corporate fuel economy rules have brought this most efficient of Focuses to the tale.
At the other end of the scale, the Focus ST launched in 2013 features a 252-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four and much sportier suspension tuning, along with performance improvements throughout. We've driven the 2013 Ford Focus ST and found it to be a very satisfying enthusiasts' car, while remaining one that you can drive daily on your commute, as well as for long highway trips. It was good enough, in fact, that it won a nomination for the Best Car To Buy award by Motor Authority.
In some states, there's also a battery-powered Focus Electric hatchback model. But Ford seems disinterested in the all-electric car--rated at 76 miles of range--leading to suspicions that it isonly a so-called compliance car, however, offered purely to meet California regulations requiring zero-emission vehicle sales.
While the current Focus is base-priced just under $17,000 with delivery, it's easy to spend upwards of $10,000 more if you ladle on the luxury items that Ford offers--separately and as part of the top-end Platinum trim level. Ford dropped the SEL trim from the Focus lineup after a year, going from SE to Platinum. But the current Focus has all sorts of class-first options—including the MyFord Touch interface, an active parking feature, and HD Radio.
For 2013 and 2014, the Focus rates an overall five-star NHTSA safety score, while early models were slightly lower. It's one of the few compact sedans to have earned both that and IIHS Top Safety Pick status. It earned an 'acceptable' rating--just one notch down from the top 'good' that it earned on all other tests--in the tough new IIHS small-overlap front crash test.