Mountain Wheels: Civilian-issue Ford Focus shows the promise of the fearful RS version
2016 Ford Focus Hatchback Titanium
MSRP: $23,725; As tested, $28,045
Powertrain: 160-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 30 MPG combined (26 city, 38 highway)
This is not a review about the Ford Focus you really want to hear about, the upcoming RS rally car, one of the most-anticipated, European-derived automobiles in years, striking fear in the heart of every WRX STI and Evo driver in the land.
Nope. Not yet. Maybe this fall. We’re all waiting, believe me.
We’re not even going to discuss the ST version of the Focus, which gets much of the way toward race car status — and can be boosted, with available, Ford-approved parts, to 275 horsepower. There’s also an electric version out there somewhere, as well.
This is about the more pedestrian rendition of the Focus, the normal, non-threatening, non-all-wheel-drive, not-350-horsepower automobile that forms the basic delivery platform for all of that upgraded badness.
The regular Focus is still an attractive, updated and moderately sporty automobile. And in the case of the Titanium-grade model I drove a while back, equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder putting out a reasonably perky 160 horsepower, it’s a machine ideal for more insurance-rate-increase-averse hot-rodders. It’ll also get the 38 highway MPG it’s stickered for, if not more.
Not a lot has changed for the 2016 versions of the standard Focus models from the car’s most recent makeover, though the minor changes do help address some of the longest-standing gripes about the entire Ford family.
The big news was my first exposure to the third-generation version of the SYNC navigation and entertainment system, which changes Ford’s admirably detailed but frequently impossible-to-use system to a larger, simpler and awfully Apple/Android-styled interface.
That means a simple and straightforward layout with easy-to-read maps, bright colors, large music and phone interfaces and very simple apps. It also cycled quickly and reacted fast, a major change from the much-maligned SYNCs of the past.
Less controversial is the optional 1.0-liter, three-cylinder, Romanian-made turbocharged engine, which uses its blender-sized displacement to still put out 123 horsepower, and highway mileage as high as 42 MPG — with a new automatic transmission available as an option for that engine this year.
As for the Titanium itself, it was supplemented with a package that also included high-end open-spoke 18-inch aluminum wheels and high-performance summer tires (maybe not the best for our nearly endless winter, but great for the dry roads ahead) that helped beef up the car’s presence.
Those tires allowed me to wring out the basic goodness lurking in even the standard car’s bones, swirling and sweeping into canyon corners like you’re on a racetrack — with plenty of solid control and responsive handling. The six-speed automatic transmission responds athletically, even more so in sport mode, and a thumb-activated shifter on the shift lever can provide a little manual-inspired action.
True, even with the 2.0-liter engine, getting the most out of the power available requires a tad of extra coaxing, but the resulting mileage easily leans into the nearly 40 MPG range, on a vehicle that is not hybrid, electric or particularly tiny.
The seating leather is dull but part of a very supportive seating experience that’s low to the ground and close to the dash, much more European than you might expect.
This newest generation of the Focus has brought a generalized cabin refresh, including a dual-zone AC setup with better controls, heated seats, a small Sony-branded audio head unit. General dash and center stack layout is bright and clean and there’s a bit of shiny black to offset the otherwise very black and plastic design, plus some metallic highlights around the vents, instruments and shiftgate.
You can also get the full safety suite with more car-focused versions of company-wide systems such as the quite-active lane-keep assist, blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts.
Some austerity is a little too evident: fold both of the rear seats forward and a crack opens up between the cargo area, exposing the Styrofoam surrounding the spare tire and some wiring harnesses.
That RS rally car, still looming on the horizon. The more civilian version, not the worst car in the world.
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