We've always said it's not that Americans don't like hatchbacks, it's that they don't like cheap, slow and ugly hatchbacks. For the 2014 Ford Focus, we feel a sense of vindication, because Americans have taken to this small car in droves. Endowed with European styling, the Focus looks as sleek and modern as a high-end touring sedan. Strong scores in fuel economy, safety and handling should help win over skeptical consumers, as will the impressive interior appointments.

What's New for 2014?

The new SE Sport Package adds sport cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and an available rear spoiler to the popular SE model.

What We Like

Great styling; great handling; great features; great mileage

What We Don't

Automatic transmission should be smoother

How Much?

$17,105-$33,995

Fuel Economy

The standard Focus engine is a 2.0-liter gasoline 4-cylinder with direct-injection technology. It makes 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, while a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission is available. The latter operates just like a regular automatic, and it includes a manual mode on the high-end Titanium trim. Fuel economy is 27 miles per gallon city/37 mpg hwy with the automated manual and 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the stick shift.

The Focus ST gains a 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and comes only with a slick 6-speed manual. Fuel economy is impressive at 23 mpg city/32 mpg hwy despite all that power.

The Focus Electric switches to an electric motor that makes 143 hp and 181 lb-ft. Recharging time is claimed to be 3.6 hours on a 240-volt current. Estimated driving range is 76 miles, and the top speed is a healthy 84 miles per hour.

Standard Features & Options

The Focus is offered in S, SE, Titanium, ST and Electric trim levels as either a sedan or a 4-door hatchback.

The sedan-only Focus S ($17,105) comes with basic features such as 15-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, power accessories, air conditioning and a 4-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack.

The SE ($19,310) adds 16-in aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, a 6-speaker audio system, cruise control and Sync voice-command functionality with Bluetooth. The hatchback version of the SE boasts a rear spoiler.

The Titanium ($24,310) throws in 17-in aluminum wheels (optional), keyless entry/ignition, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver seat, the MyFord Touch infotainment system with a touchscreen and a configurable gauge cluster, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera and a 12-speaker Sony audio system.

The hatchback-only ST ($24,910) treats you to a high-performance turbocharged engine, a uniquely racy exterior, a performance-tuned suspension, 10-speaker Sony audio and various sporty styling cues.

The hatchback-only Focus Electric ($35,995) features a battery-powered electric motor, smartphone interactivity with vehicle functions, a 9-speaker version of the Sony audio system and eco-friendly cloth upholstery with heated manual front seats.

Safety

The Focus comes standard with anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control and six airbags -- front, front side-impact and front and rear side curtain.

In government crash-testing, the Focus scored a perfect five out of five stars, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts.

Behind the Wheel

In addition to being fuel efficient, the base 2.0-liter engine in the Focus is quite eager, delivering smooth, satisfying acceleration. The automated manual transmission, however, gets confused at times, hunting for the right gear and pausing for too long before downshifting. We much prefer the 5-speed manual transmission, which we think adds a sporting feel to the Focus that's in line with the car's European roots.

As for the turbocharged ST, it's a hoot. The rush of acceleration is addictive, and the exclusive 6-speed shifter is a willing partner. Although the ST is undeniably the most athletic Focus, even the entry-level model provides sophisticated driving dynamics that remind us of more expensive sport-luxury cars. The Focus is never less than a pleasure to drive.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda Civic -- The Civic has a well-earned reputation for quality and strong resale value, though the latest generation lacks the Focus's fun-to-drive character, and doesn't offer as many high-tech features.

Volkswagen Jetta -- The Jetta is less sporty than the Focus, but it has a bigger inside and offers a powerful, fuel-efficient diesel option.

Mazda3 -- The redesigned Mazda's handling is a match for the Ford's, and its sense of style is compelling, as well.

AutoTrader's Advice

The best bang for the buck comes from the Focus SE. For about $19,000 to start, this model gives you everything you need, plus enough electronic toys to make long road trips fly by.

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