By on November 14, 2013

focus

D. Alexander is back with another reader review. If you’d like to be where he is — and I don’t mean flexing your maxed-out biceps in the company of a bunch of attractive people, as he’s always doing on Facebook, but rather on these hallowed pages — let me know! — JB

Nothing makes you appreciate your own car quite like giving it up for a day. I recently put about a hundred miles on a 2013 Ford Focus SE sedan. Since my daily is a late-model Nissan Maxima, the gilded Altima that I once reviewed for this site, that’s my (unfair) benchmark for this review.
Powertrains and handling tend to blow my skirt up, but let’s start with the interior.

I’m very much in the mold of ‘give me good seats or get off my lawn.’ Ford scores points here: not too wide, exceptional lumbar support, and attractive leather. A two-hour stint behind the wheel left my persnickety back much as it started. Cushioning is up to Volvo’s standard, though for lack of vertical lift, some folks might find the seats too low. I was more enamored with the steering wheel shift, a criminally underequipped feature that keeps the long-legged and short-armed among us from fiddling with the seatback every two miles.

Passengers too slow to claim the front won’t be left with a penalty box. I’m six feet and change with 50 Cent’s driving posture. Setting the driver’s side to preference imposes on rear seat room, so I was surprised to discover that I could actually fit behind myself. The headliner bopped me getting in and my knees bumped into the side of the front seat, but I had an inch to spare when they were centered in the seatback.

The rest of the interior reminds me of a Sonata in style and quality of execution: consistent, avant-garde, and with no egregiously cheap pieces. Mash the dash (something only a car reviewer or crash-launched occupant would do) and soft foam pushes back. I was disappointed only by the hard plastic on either side of the driver’s footwell, because I splay my legs out in seats without side bolsters. The knee contact points became unpleasant after an hour or so.

This particular Focus was, despite the stitched leather (or faux-stitched; who knows, it looks real), just one notch above the base model. No navigation. No fancy electronics. I was all primed to jump on the bandwagon lambasting the MyFord Touch system that this car lacks. Instead, I’ll just complain about the two LCDs it does have. Both are miniature and cut-rate, with the contrast ratio of my decade-old Garmin. It’s odd to me that manufacturers save money on parts you rubberneck and spend it on the feel of surfaces you never touch. Likewise the indifferent UI programming: the driver information interface is awful. Once I lost the mileage readout screen, it took three minutes of button-pushing on the side of the road to find it again. The base stereo is comparatively goofproof and compensates for lackluster sound by having both USB and Aux inputs.

Onward to the fun part: how the Focus drives.

No, wait. Let’s talk about how it idles. This thing shimmies like a big-block Corvette with cams from a powerboat. I couldn’t think why; the transmission isn’t even in gear at a stop, so the engine couldn’t have been lugging. A very strange first impression for a car with 24,000 miles. It was about 45F outside when I started it; maybe that contributed? It was still shaking away after five minutes. Later that trip, either it stopped or I tuned it out.

That quirk aside, this engine has to be my new favorite naturally-aspirated four in this price class, and among the few that actually improves as it winds up. While soft in the low range, it’s a turbine from 4K to redline with a rather beastly power curve. I don’t say that lightly coming from a car with an oversized six. I’m sure the temperature and the modest passenger load contributed, but on the freeway, the Focus put me on cop-watch in a hurry.

And yet, no engine is an island. The question mark for this test was Ford’s dual-clutch transmission. I wasn’t even sure this model had one until I looked it up. If you drive on autopilot, it’s butter. Instant and smooth shifts, engineered (and rather fast) creep from a stop, and endless coasting free of engine-braking. The only manual-esque attribute is a bit of drivetrain judder if you hold a gear at high RPM at a constant speed. Otherwise, it’s not far removed from a CVT or anything else.

The provisos come when you pretend to be Ken Block. ‘Drive’ mode doesn’t like to downshift, so flooring the fast pedal yields a long pull from 2.5K while you count Mississippi’s until the engine wakes up. Rarely do you find that sweet high range. ‘Sport’ mode will downshift, but seems to lock out sixth gear and keeps the revs on boil, so you’re buggered on efficiency. Choosing your own gears with the rocker on the stick (the sole method because the flappy paddles only adjust the phone controls) is just barely useful for aggressive driving. There’s over a second of lag before each change. Whatever voodoo Mitsubishi used to sportify the Evo’s dual-clutch box is totally absent here. This one’s running on scotch and valium, chased with lethargic throttle response and a lazy power cut between gears. Why hurry? You look tired. Rest yourself.

And what of the handling? She’ll move, but she doesn’t care to. The suspension is stiffer than I would have expected for this sort of car, transmitting heaps of road texture no matter the speed. Which is odd. Because that tune is coupled with the steering character of an Accord sedan. The wheel is dead and heavy on-center, so the car tracks a highway lane like a luge course, but there’s no motivation to turn. Vibration through the steering column is constant. Steering feel, not so much, particularly as the lateral forces rise. There’s no hard ‘limit’ with this SE trim, just a wishy-washy mess as traction gives up. Blame stock tires with the sidewall stiffness of a bouncy castle.

The chassis is otherwise unflappable. In high-G turns, the car takes a smooth and controlled set. No drama at all with fast transitions: a round of applause for the damping, please. Likewise the brakes. ABS engagement was immediate over sequential stops. For the purpose of avoiding that thing in the road, this is a top-drawer performance. And lest I forget running costs, economy was another high mark. I was doing pedal-to-firewall acceleration between freeway runs and constantly twiddling with Sport mode and manual shifts. Speeds between 40 and 70, I pretty much ignored. The ‘average mileage’ readout (if there was a live readout, I couldn’t find it) at the conclusion of this hooliganism reported 27 MPG. I’ll bet I could crack forty with steady-state driving near the speed limit.

Really then, a strong effort in aggregate from Ford. I think this car is good value for money. But there’s a problem. I found it a touch uncomfortable at high speeds. Relative to the Maxima, and despite the placid steering, the Focus seems like it’s going 20 MPH faster than it is. Road and wind noise are intrusive and weirdly variable above fifty or so. That and the stiff ride pushed my pulse ten or fifteen ticks higher than usual. When I’m blasting Kenny G on a commute and striving not to become road gristle between semi-trailers, a car that can emulate the tranquility of a koi pond is worth a premium. This one doesn’t quite qualify.

Put another way, despite a fine interior and confident underpinnings, the Focus still feels like a creature of its market segment. And it really doesn’t have to. I wonder about these half-hearted attempts at ‘sport’ with mainstream sedans. Save for the engine, there’s nothing about this car that encourages spirited driving, so why compromise the ride? And why not reserve a few more pounds for sound insulation? I can see why Chevrolet went another direction with the Cruze. But then, if you looked far back enough in my family tree you’d probably find that I’m somehow related to a ’95 Buick. So what do I know?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

68 Comments on “Rental Review: 2013 Ford Focus SE Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Flybrian

    This generation of Focus is a very competent car with some outstanding quirks – the PowerShift DCT being one of them. Very herky-jerky in idle-speed operation both in this and the Fiesta. Also, the quizzical Focus S with power windows up front and cranks in the rear. WTF? Neon redux?

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      I didn’t detect any more jerk than a conventional automatic. The only oddity was the programmed creep took a second or two to kick in. Maybe it shows with more miles.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The first time I drove a rental Focus was way back in 2002 out of Atlanta on business. I hated the thing, especially that offset steering wheel and the rest of the slab-sided car reeked cheap.

    My opinion didn’t change when my Father-in-law bought his last car – a 2003 Focus.

    I like the look of the new ones – those slab sides are thankfully gone and the result is a nice-looking car with an Audi sort of look except for that plug-ugly grille maw. Hideous.

    My only complaint is that the Focus and Fiesta look so much alike, it’s hard to tell them apart, but that could just be me, for I’m not really interested in any of them. I am happy that the Focus has become a competent car.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m going to completely disagree with you here – I owned a first-gen Focus (2005) and it was a GREAT car. It was certainly built to a price, but in terms of driving dynamics and overall durability, it was outstanding.

      • 0 avatar
        st1100boy

        I had an ’07 Focus ST and I also loved that car. Got rid of it after 5 1/2 years and 80k miles to make room for a ’12 V6 Mustang. Never should’ve made that change. I still miss that Focus. It was good fun to drive and outstanding as far as reliability with exactly two unscheduled repairs (total cost: $30).

        It was an inexpensive car to buy and own, and sure it had some cheap details (plastic fantastic dash and so-so seats), but very fun to drive with a good, tight suspension and a decent shifter. The 2.3 Duratec wasn’t super powerful, but it had a pretty nice dollop of mid-range torque, and it sounded punchy too what w/ not having a muffler. Fuel mileage was nothing special though at 28 mpg in commuting duty and maybe 30 on a good day on the highway.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I had an ST as well – very entertaining car to drive. I had similar MPG figures to yours and I think the gearing was the culprit.

          • 0 avatar
            st1100boy

            Gearing may well have been an issue. I thought the car was geared about right as far as balancing mpg vs responsiveness. Taller gearing wouldn’t have been a problem for that 2.3, but it would’ve meant a lot more downshifting during overtakes.

            The one time the car actually felt under geared was when I drove at high speed in the Dakotas. 95+ mph cruising was a bit noisy. The car didn’t seem to mind a bit.

            I test drove a 1st gen Fusion and Mazda 6, both 2.3-powered, before pulling the trigger on the Focus. Now those cars were geared too short. Probably a good 5% shorter than the Focus. 80 mph was 3600 rpm. Reminded me of a 600 sportbike.

        • 0 avatar
          cdnsfan27

          I had an 05 Focus ST that I just traded in at 139,000. Bought it new, took care of it and had no maintenance issues (1 alternator)gobs of fun, slamming Sony stereo w/sub-woofer in trunk. The car was fast, handled great and always brought a smile to my face. It went through alot of tires and breaks but that was me, not the car. Still miss it

        • 0 avatar
          CelticPete

          What’s wrong with the stang? I realize this is off topic..

          BTW hate very small sedans – dumb form factor. I much prefer hatches when you get to the size of the Focus.

          • 0 avatar
            st1100boy

            The Mustang was a car I had lusted after since high school, but I’m much more a motorcycle guy and a cheapskate, so I never could pull the trigger on a GT.

            When the 3.7 came out w/ the performance package I had to have it as a good compromise between speed and efficiency. Then I found out how the car is a bit underengineered: numerous reports of problems with the Chinese-built 6spd gearbox and exploding driveshafts. Thankfully, my gearbox has been OK so far, but I did spring for an aftermarket driveshaft, just in case. After a trackday and a 150 mph blast (I chipped it w/ an SCT tuner recommended by a frequent TTAC contributor), everything has held together well.

            On the downside, the car has required more repairs than the Focus ever did, most notably a new steering box, an intermittent dash buzz, and a bogus trunk lid ajar warning light…thank goodness for warranties.

            Gas mileage is about what I expected: 24 mpg commuting, up to 27 or so on the highway. It’s been a good tow rig: towed a sportbike to a trackday 500 miles round trip and posted 25mpg. Using 87 octane is nice.

            I guess the Mustang hasn’t been bad or truly disappointing really, but I think I would’ve been better off just keeping the Focus and all that cash in my pocket. More a problem with my decision making than the car itself. I’ve put 24k miles on it in 2 years. Not sure how long I’ll keep it. Probably one more year at least, but it won’t be another 5 or 6 years I’m sure.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        In what must be a first, I agree completely with FreedMike. We have a 2005 Focus SE sedan, and it has been reliable during the 178,000 miles we have driven it. The dynamics are good and I find the seats to be comfortable.

        I really like the new Focus, but I’m waiting to see if Ford gets rid of the current DCT.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Well, there’s a simple solution to the DCT problem: buy a manual.

          A red SE hatchback with the Sport package, and no My Ford Touch, would be just ducky for me.

          • 0 avatar
            droman1972

            That’s exactly what I did. Got a Ruby Red Manual Trans with no My Ford Touch. Best choice I ever made. Love this car.

          • 0 avatar
            geeber

            My wife doesn’t want a car with a manual transmission. She learned to drive a stick years ago – on her brother’s 1980s Buick Skylark – but says she has forgotten how to do it. And doesn’t seem to inclined to learn again.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          The writing is on the wall for the death of the DCT. It will depend on which engines Ford uses in the Focus going forward. It won’t be a quick death though. You may have to wait for the next generation of Focus.

      • 0 avatar
        Monty

        I’ll agree to agree with FreedMike – our ’05 Focus SES hatchback was a great car. It was just shy of 200,000 KMs (120000 miles) when we sold it, and in almost 8 years of ownership we had ONE repair on the car, and it was covered under warranty. I looked after it, as in regular oil and filter changes, all fluids replaced according to Ford service schedules, swapped out summer and winter tires on dedicated wheels, washed and waxed it, kept it clean (engine bay and undercarriage included).

        We paid $15K in early 2006; I sold it for $7 after almost 8 years of ownership. It turned out to be the best car I’ve ever purchased. Most reliable, durable and economical car I’ve had in 37 years of car ownership.

        Yes, it was built to a price, but we bought the SES with every available option, except for an automatic transmission, and it was worth every penny. Oh, and the shifter was as good as the BMW’s that replaced it, and the clutch, while not BMW standard, was even better than the Mazda’s I owned.

        The 2003 – 2007 Focus is one of the best used car values available. By 2003 Ford had ironed out all the bugs from the initial launch, and until the 2008 redesign, didn’t mess with success. If only FoMoCo built every car to the standard of the 03-07 Focus, they wouldn’t be at the bottom of the CR list.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I’m still driving my 2002 Focus SVT, and I have yet to notice the steering wheel being off centre.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Having driven a first-gen Focus ten years ago as a loaner while my Accord was in the body shop after an accident, besides the lack of cruise control, I remember one other thing: the “click-click” of the turn signals could wake the dead!

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    “I’m very much in the mold of ‘give me good seats or get off my lawn.’ Ford scores points here: not too wide, exceptional lumbar support, and attractive leather.”

    Really? I sat in one in the National rental lot and felt that the seats had a too-short cushion, which, combined with the tight space in the driver’s footwell, caused me to get out and choose something else.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      We’re not all one gigantic, monolithic butt cheek so opinions will differ.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      I’m not the right person to comment, my legs skew upward so only butt to mid-thigh is actually on the seat. I’m mostly interested in solid lumbar and soft and supportive cushions that don’t make me feel like I just fell into an easy chair.

      (I’m the author.)

  • avatar
    david42

    D, how many miles on your rental? I recently drove a rental Focus SE with 30k miles, and it was UNACCEPTABLE.

    Let me repeat, UNACCEPTABLE.

    Every time I accelerated from a stop, the car shuddered like it was going to stall. I wish I had taken the Cruze from the line-up instead.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      Ok, why are you yelling it at us?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Five out of the last six rentals I’ve had I could classify as unacceptable. Hyundai Sonata, Fiat 500, Dodge Ram, Honda Accord, and the worst was the Toyota Avalon. The only rental I’ve had in the last month that wasn’t a POS was a Ford Taurus Limited. I don’t even like the D-platform sedans. Maybe it was because it replaced the Avalon that was so bad or that I am familiar with the Ford IP and dash.

      The Powershift transmission in the Focus is unacceptable. It seems not long for the world, as Ford doesn’t want to put it in any application besides the NA 1.6L and 2.0L in the US. I could see all Ford FWD/AWD vehicles going to the new 9 speed transmission being developed with GM.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Could it be, oh, I don’t know, that most RENTALS are cars that people beat to death and the rental corporations loathe to spend money on? Especially considering your anecdotal evidence of five out of six rentals being crap.

        I have two Foci in my GSA fleet and love them. Drove both all the way down I-35 from Des Moines, IA, to Killeen, TX, with barely a concern doing 80mph and getting 38mpg. The trunk is large for a compact, though I prefer a hatch to the sedan. The stereo is so-so, but for long trips for me, its NPR and books/blogs downloads with the occasional switch to tunage. Considering the cheap price, the Focus SE is an outstanding car that doesn’t make the buyer feel like they’ve settled.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I agree with that completely dolorean. I don’t think any of those cars are actually bad, but after 30000 abusive rental miles, cars don’t always feel new.

          I have owned two newer Foci, and I liked them both quite a bit. Between the two, I put over 80,000 miles on the clock. The only complaint I have between the two is DCT transmission issues on the first. It was never an unsafe issue, just more of an annoyance that was eventually corrected.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Good grief – What cut-rate rental companies do you guys use? It’s time for you to switch to National. 50+ rentals every year and I don’t recall the last time I was given a high mileage vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Some of the rentals I thought were garbage didn’t have that many miles on them. The Avalon only had 13000 and the Sonata had 16000. I have yet to drive an Avalon from a dealer, so I don’t know if they are typically that bad.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        National has a policy of keeping high mileage cars off of the Aisles, and I think eventually farms them out to Alamo or Enterprise. It’s a good arrangement.

        Then again, no one’s perfect. This week’s car from the Exec Aisle has dried puke on the back seat. I wish I were making that up.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          At least you HAVE a car – I’m using Shank’s Mare in NYC! And you know how much I LOVE NYC…

          Though I did get to ride out to NJ in the world’s most clapped out Black Car Panther today. Scary.

  • avatar
    NN

    I rented one of these last year (4door hatch) for a 4 hour road trip on interstate and state/rural highway routes. I averaged over 40mpg on the digital readout that I reset at the start of the trip and I thought it drove wonderfully on the rural two lanes. I was very impressed and if I was in the market for a small car, it’d be one of these or a new Mazda 3.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I rented an SE two years ago in Phoenix to drive to Tucson and environs. Your description pretty much matches mine, although I’m a few inches taller than you. I do not recall any vibration in the steering (maybe your car had an alignment or wheel balance problem) and was quite happy with the suspension’s balance between firmness and handling competence. The DCT was the show-stopper. Accelerating from a stop it was either lazy and slow, or if you gave it the boot, it was pretty fast. Finding an in-between point (and matching the rest of the traffic) seemed difficult. I later test-drove a manual version and found that it resolved all of my complaints, although the manual box could have used one more gear.

    Ultimately, I was unwilling to pull the trigger on buying the new car. I would have liked some — not as much as the ST — more power from the engine and I felt that the “cockpit” was excessively narrow and confining for both driver and passenger. I also thought that the back seat was pretty poor and that the hatchback offered surprisingly little room for “stuff” even with the seats folded.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The hatchback is extremely attractive to my eyes. I would hope the manual trans would improve the experience.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      It does. Love the 6 speed on the hatch. Best option is to find an SE with Sport package and moonroof and have the dealer install the leather/heating seating. I nearly bought a gorgeous black five door in this configuration for just under $20K, but had to pay for my daughter’s braces instead. C’est la gare.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        One of the things that stood out to me when the new Focus was introduced was that it was possible to order the “winter package” – heated seats and puddle illumination – at lower trim levels and without a lot of bundling of crap you didn’t want. I wonder if that is still possible?

        The problem I’ve always had searching dealer inventories on sites like AutoTrader is that idiot dealers mark the automatic models as “manual” because of the manu-matic features of the auto trans. That makes my blood boil and makes it nearly impossible to figure out which dealers might actually have a well optioned manual on the lot.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          You can still get the SE with the winter package. Delorean is right though, SE with the Sport package, winter package, and manual is the way to go. It’s probably tough to find that unicorn if you aren’t in an area with a bunch of Ford dealerships. Here in Detroit, you could find one that a dealer would gladly trade.

        • 0 avatar
          BigDuke6

          “The problem I’ve always had searching dealer inventories on sites like AutoTrader is that idiot dealers mark the automatic models as “manual” because of the manu-matic features of the auto trans. That makes my blood boil and makes it nearly impossible to figure out which dealers might actually have a well optioned manual on the lot.”

          I discovered exactly the same problem up here in the Great white North. Made me give up looking several times.

          • 0 avatar
            droman1972

            I had the same problem, when I was ready to pull the trigger I had to wait and watch my local Ford dealer’s websites cause AutoTrader and Cars.com weren’t accurate enough to find me a Manual with the 201A with a winter package and no MyFordTouch. I got lucky and caught one days before it arrived at the dealer and put my money down an hour after they got it in off the truck. Only thing I would have liked was a moonroof, but it wasn’t worth holding out knowing how rare it would be to find everything I wanted.

  • avatar
    Prado

    ” Let’s talk about how it idles. This thing shimmies like a big-block Corvette with cams from a powerboat. I couldn’t think why”. The previous generation Focus has this issue as well. Motor mounts that stop doing their job alot sooner than one would expect.

    • 0 avatar
      CompWizrd

      Hi! I’m about to make you my newest best friend. What can you tell me about the engine mounts? My wife’s ’11 Focus has about 75k miles on it, and as far as we can remember it always shook.

      If the OEM’s are no good, which aftermarket ones are known to be ok?

      Hers does about a v8 level of rumble, vaguely similar to my Trans Am. Doesn’t bother her, just seems odd for a 2L. My Fit is perfectly smooth, so it’s quite a difference.

      • 0 avatar
        Prado

        I can’t tell you that much, since I still need to have them replaced on the 2011 I recently bought. But I have researched the issue. I’m on a CPO warrently so I am hoping Ford takes care of it. I think it will resolve the issue. There is a thread on this on the FocusFanatic forum. 3 mounts. parts can be had for about $150 total. OEM is still best even if they may not last.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Rental Focus.

    How redundant.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    “Instead, I’ll just complain about the two LCDs it does have. Both are miniature and cut-rate, with the contrast ratio of my decade-old Garmin”

    I’m assuming that the cut-rate electronics show is for those who don’t really care about such things because if they did, they’d jump to the SEL or add the dealer option. Most people buying the SE model would be thrilled to have a USB port, stereo controls on the steering wheel, and the boring man-u-matic tranny.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      The thing is, this is the trim people judge, and it’s such a cheap thing to upgrade. They might add $50 to the price of a car that otherwise looks premium. I’d also point out that the Focus is no longer an econobox. It, and the Cruze, are the domestic small-car frontrunners. Higher expectations are warranted.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I love the Focus rentals when I go on a road trip. I drive 360 miles round trip to see the boyfriend, and with much of that spent on the fun side of 75-80 mph on the highway. The Focus’s I’ve normally still average around 35 mpg at that speed. There is no instant fuel gauge, but 3 different trip computers that can be reset are fun. I’ve never had an issue navigating that menu. The stereo sound quality does suck though. I’ve always found the ride comfy, even if it wasn’t plus (but then again I think my performance package BMW is also comfortable), and I’d describe the handling as good, but not eager. The car doesn’t mind being pushed, doesn’t feel bad when you do, and actually is fun, especially on higher speed sweepers, but it lacks the puppy dog eagerness of the Mazda 3 (previous gen, haven’t driven a 2014), which I found unique among compacts in the way it practically begs you go grab it by the scruff of the neck and toss it around in the corners. Still, I’d put the Focus an easy 2nd. I find the gearbox to be worse in the city, especially in stop and go traffic. Once you get going, it’s quite smooth, and I love the direct connection between engine and wheels on the highway if I need to accelerate, even in top gear. Great engine too. Agree that it’s best in class. Smooth, rev happy, good top end, and a nice snarl throughout the rev range.

  • avatar
    cdnsfan27

    I just traded in my 05 ST with 138,000 and no maintenance issues other than an alternator. Bought it new and used only synthetic oil. I loved that car, it handled great, was plenty fast and relatively frugal for the way I drove it. It went through a lot of tires and brake pads but that was me, not the car. My wife is now happily driving an Escape and I inherited her car.

  • avatar
    honfatboy

    I rented one last year and liked it. My Focus could really handle the curves and had enough power. I started taking corners as fast as I could and the lack of body roll was impressive considering the smooth ride. The backseat and trunk was the killer. I couldn’t even fit my briefcase behind my seat (and I’m also 6′); the trunk was tiny.

    Agree about the screens though. They look terrible.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Does the Focus have adaptive shifting or in any way learn the style of its driver? If so, that could be a key reason for really bad shifting on the rentals. The computer is probably confused over the many different drivers it has had. Also, if it’s an older car, could there be updates to the transmission software that haven’t been installed? I don’t see a rental car company taking a car out of service for that. I’ve noticed that 2013 Focuses seem to drive shift than 2012s, but that’s an unverifiable observation. I’ll be curious to see how the 2013s are when they get to 25-30k miles like some of the 2012’s I’ve had.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      It didn’t seem terribly clever to me. It wasn’t confused, just lethargic and unwilling to downshift. My Max has 700-odd shift programs and you can tell when it’s indecisive. I didn’t detect that with the Focus.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      It does have to learn driving style. Even when it does learn a driving style, the DCT typically does better under hard acceleration than powering up slowly.

      The best Powershift DCT that you drive will be in your own car.

  • avatar
    Wscott97

    My friend has a 2011 Focus SE, fully optioned out. red with leather. It’s a nice car but man, that car sputters. He didn’t notice it until I mentioned it to him. That’s a fords transmission problem, not a rental car problem. He took it to back to ford twice and they keep telling him, The car just has to adjust to your driving, It’s too advanced.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The 2011 doesn’t have the Powershift DCT. It has ye olde 4 speed.

      If its a 2012, he should take it to another dealership, because there is a good chance there are plenty of TSBs out there. A simple reflash of the transmission could fix it.

  • avatar
    make_light

    I thought this generation Focus was renowned for it’s Germanic quietness and composure?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I found both my ST and Titanium to be more quiet than my MKV GTI and MKV Jetta Wolfsburg. My daily driver C-Max is more quiet than any of them though.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @ make_light –
      I think it has those qualities. I would say that all 3 Ford cars, the Fiesta, Focus, and Fusion have a distinctly German feel in the way they go down the road, in the way the door slam, etc. I’ve rented a ton of cars in the last year, and those 3 are the ones that did the best approximation of my BMW of any I’ve had (unfortunately, no 2014 Mazda’s have shown up yet so I can’t compare there).

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      Composure, yes, definitely. Quietness, no.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Say what you want, but serene highway cruising is where my new Dart excels, and in spite of it not being an R/T model, I’m constantly amazed at how high the limits of this car are. The suspension and damping strike a really good balance of ride and handling with no real compromise either way for a sporty daily driver.

    In the “limited” trim level, the interior is downright luxurious and thankfully lacks all the weird angular styling of the Focus interior. I’m convinced the Focus will look dated inside long before my Dart will.

    That said, I acknowledge the Focus is a good car with the right options and powertrain combination.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I rented one this summer during a trip to Albuquerque. I thought the car did remarkably well for a normally aspirated engine in the high altitude, and it handled quite well. Interior plastics were as expected. The slanted buttons on the center console were a little too edgy and would probably grow old after a few months. I’m 6’3″ and felt I had plenty of room. I agree that the info screen menus are not very logically laid out. I came away impressed with the car after driving it for a week and wouldn’t hesitate renting one again.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “When I’m blasting Kenny G on a commute and striving not to become road gristle between semi-trailers, a car that can emulate the tranquility of a koi pond is worth a premium. This one doesn’t quite qualify. ”

    Neither does your late model Max, either!

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    If you want a Focus minus all the major downsides you cited — the the jerky dual-clutch autotrans, the stiff-legged ride, the laggardly low-end torque, the rough idle, and the noise level — then the solution is simple: buy a C-Max Hybrid instead. It’s basically a Focus upgraded with a buttery-smooth eCVT, comfy ride, buckets of instant low-end electric torque, engine shutoff at a stop, and active noise cancellation. You also get a lot more room and much better city MPG. It’s in a higher price class, of course, but by less than you might think, and the MPG repays some of that over time. If you chose a Maxima over an Altima, then the idea of paying more to get a more refined execution of the same idea obviously works for you.

    Oh, and the C-Max does offer the winter package (heated seats and mirrors) for just a few hundred bucks on the base SE (it’s standard on the pricey SEL.)

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I got this exact car at Newark Liberty yesterday. With 40K miles on it. In New Jersey – poor little thing! Oddly enough, first Focus I managed to score. Hertz had “upgraded” me to a Crown Victoria – uh, no thanks, I’ll take that Focus on the Choice Line. MUCH more my speed. In poverty spec it is no luxury car, but it is a decently fun drive even with the automatic. A little cramped, and I definitely see what all the fuss is about with the back seat. I think my Abarth has more room in the back! The transmission does a couple little odd shimmies here and there, but it doesn’t bother me, and seems more with it than most automatics. Biggest complaint is the useless D and L only selector. I’m in the hills of western NJ, a bit more control would be nice. GREAT twisty roads here in Basking Ridge, NJ. Getting 32mpg despite driving it like a rented car in NJ. The Crown Brick would have been like an ocean liner in a bathtub.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I had to rent a car twice for my job, once during a transmission rebuild on my car, the second because my wife wrecked hers. Got a Focus both times. First had the leather seats, and I wasn’t happy with them. Preferred the grippy cloth seats instead.

    The DSG could be a deal breaker. Ford has come out with better software for them, so whether the cars we’ve driven have that is a mystery. Suffice it to say, I didn’t like the DSG, even though I am a gadget guy, and like the concept. It was in normal driving a good automatic, but there is too much jerkiness to it in my opinion.

    I found the ride competent, and the handling pretty good for an eco box, too. Got 32mpg in my 1200+ miles of driving, with a high of 34 when I was driving it like granny for the mileage. The trip computer had me at 39mpg, like most computers do it totally overshoots.

    Sound system was alright. The “phone controls” in my two cars went to voice commands on the right, cruise nullify on the left. Other cruise buttons were on the left between the spokes, the right was volume/phone controls. Since it was a rental, I didn’t sync my phone. It was a complicated system, and it took me a while to get used to the nuances of it.

    All in all a competent car. I’d love to own one, if the DSG issues can be settled.

  • avatar
    dwight

    I rented a Focus SE hatch of which I drove from LA to Sonoma and back to LA over a week. The car was comfortable but that transmission needed to be tossed — especially when I was driving up the coast around Big Sur. The SE doesn’t have manual mode or sport mode. It should at least have an override lock-out like on the VW DSG. Then it would be a worthy car in the city or in hilly terrain.

    The car also exhibited some rattles but overall it was a great car and I never tired of it over 1000 miles of driving. And the trip computer never fell below an average of 31 miles per gallon – I never reset it when I picked up the car so I was averaging with probably every other driver before me.

    On another note, the car had Massachusetts plates so it had come a long way before I got into it. Which kind of pissed me off because I was trying to blend in with the California crowd.

  • avatar
    calvinp

    I just began a 3 year lease on a 2014 Focus SE hatchback automatic (non-DSG)… $1000 total at signing, $259/mo. The only extras are a moonroof and the keypad entry. It has the cloth seats. But here’s the kicker: it’s an 18K mile/yr lease! It was only $25 more than the standard 12K/yr lease, which is pretty amazing. My husband drives about 70 miles a day for work, so it’ll work out great. We didn’t want to buy a car (new or used) and rapidly depreciate it with that sort of mileage.

    Anyway, I think your review of the Focus and most of the comments here are generally spot-on. It’s not a luxury car, but it has a very peppy engine, a firm and solid ride, and a nice interior. It doesn’t feel cheap at all, and the hatchback model is quite sporty. I disagree about the LCD screens being low-end, but maybe they’ve been improved for 2014? I find their resolution similar to the dual LCDs in my C-Max Energi’s instrument cluster, albeit with much less data. I’m not a huge fan of the trip LCD’s placement above the speedometer, but it’s not a dealbreaker.

    The hard plastic below the dash does indeed irritate our knees, so it’ll take some time to get used to that. Ironically, I had the same problem with the C-Max’s shiny silver plastic next to my knee, but I must’ve adapted my position to it, because it doesn’t bother me now.

    As a passenger, I’ve definitely noticed some stutter from the Focus’ engine in city traffic, and it’s a bit annoying. Feeling the pavement under my feet is also mildly troublesome, but again, I’m used to the softer and higher ride of the C-Max.

    In my assessment, the Focus’ greatest strengths are its build quality, styling, and fuel economy. The SE in dark gray looks fantastic, especially contrasted with the large tail lights. (We call it the Squashed C-Max, since our C-Max is the same color). The interior is modern, comfortable, and non-gimmicky. My husband is getting over 37 MPG on his mostly freeway commute, which involves a couple of very big hills. For a sub-$20K, non-hybrid vehicle with a spirited drivetrain, that’s simply awesome. Oh, and like all current Ford models, when you close the doors, you feel like you’re closing something solid, not a hollow tin can. Compared to, say, a Subaru Forester (my previous vehicle), it’s like night and day.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States