In the 1960s and 70s, hard rock dominated popular culture - it was largely a reflection of the smoky, industrial towns where bands like Black Sabbath and Motorhead made their mark. Places like Birmingham and Sheffield in England and Pittsburgh and Detroit here in the US were home to steel mills and car factories. In a way, the rumbling American muscle cars that came along in the late '60s and early '70s reflected that hard-nosed, gritty reality.

Similarly, cars like the 2012 Ford Focus are a reflection of our current surroundings. Listen to emerging bands like M83, Little Boots and Chateau Marmont and you can almost taste the networked, automated and tech-heavy world most of us live in. In place of thundering exhaust, high compression ratios and Cragar mags, we now have hard drives, touchscreens and streaming Bluetooth audio. Like the rest of our lives, cars have never been more connected - the interior impressions of the Focus mimic the world around us. Like the powerful engines and bulging hood scoops on those old muscle cars, today's tech isn't hidden - it's on display, front and center.

This works in the little Ford's favor because the interior that houses all that high-tech stuff looks and feels like it's of a higher quality than what you would typically experience in other small cars. The previous Focus was the exact opposite; even though it had the groundbreaking SYNC on board, it didn't look like anything special.

The 2012 Ford Focus looks a lot like something special. The slick exterior lines make it look as if it's darting, even on crowded city streets. The overall impression is that of a substantial car that's neither economical nor affordable, and yet the 2012 Focus is both.

The car's attitude translates into a lively driving experience. It doesn't feel overly powerful, but the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 160 horsepower, which is plenty. Opt for the top-of-the-line Titanium model or one of the base models and you can get a five-speed manual transmission, otherwise the Focus gets a six-speed automatic transmission.

Thankfully, the new Focus isn't a poorly built economy car with an upscale veneer. Every surface has a nice, solid feel. Even the seats are comfortable, and there's plenty of legroom front and back. The Focus has your practical side covered, too; the hatchback has 44.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.

Since the Focus can be so tech heavy, it's only natural to wonder if all that technology is distracting. The answer is a qualified no. Features like MyFord Touch can incorporate media players and Bluetooth audio, and it can even turn the car into a WiFi hotspot. Given the robust SYNC system, there's a lot of tech to keep track of. We'll admit there's a learning curve, but hopefully you're learning how it all works as you drive. You might have to spend a little quality time with the Focus up front. The end result is a car that can do more with less driver distraction thanks to steering-wheel-mounted controls and voice recognition software. Besides, if you're under 35 years old, you're going to expect many of these features on whatever car you buy. It's just that the Focus incorporates it all in one easy-to-use package.

The fact that the 2012 Ford Focus is a refection of popular culture in general might be a reason to avoid the car for some. But considering the car's sub-$20,000 price, we think Ford knows the Focus audience very well, and the techy bits only make this hatchback's aim that much truer.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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