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2015 Ford Focus: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader March 2015

We've always said that it's not so much that Americans don't like hatchbacks, but it's that they don't like tacky, slow and ugly hatchbacks. The 2015 Ford Focus, then, gives us a sense of vindication, with Americans taking 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 should the impressive interior appointments.

What's New for 2015?

The 2015 Focus gets an exterior makeover, minor interior tweaks, an available fuel-efficient 3-cylinder engine, a standard rearview camera, upgraded safety and infotainment technologies, and revised driving dynamics.

What We Like

Great styling; solid handling; extensive features; impressive fuel economy

What We Don't

Automatic transmission should be smoother; cramped back seat

How Much?

$17,995-$29,995

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 like a regular automatic, and it includes a manual mode on the high-end Titanium trim. Fuel economy is 26 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway with the automated manual and 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the stick shift.

Optional exclusively on the SE trim is a 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine rated at 123 hp and 148 lb-ft. A 6-speed manual is the only transmission offered. Fuel economy is a lofty 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy.

The Focus ST gains a 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with 270 lb-ft, and it too 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 184 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 2015 Ford 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 ($17,995) comes with basic features such as 15-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, power accessories, manual driver's-seat height adjustment, air conditioning, Bluetooth with voice controls and a 4-speaker CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack. Unusually for a base model, it also includes a rearview camera and a 4.2-in display.

The SE ($19,285) adds 16-in aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, a 6-speaker audio system and cruise control. The hatchback version of the SE boasts a rear spoiler.

The Titanium ($23,995) throws in such upgrades as 17-in aluminum wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes, keyless entry/start, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, the MyFord Touch infotainment system with an 8-in touchscreen and a configurable gauge cluster, and a premium Sony audio system.

The hatchback-only ST ($25,195) treats you to 18-in wheels, LED signature lighting, a high-performance turbocharged engine, a uniquely racy exterior, a performance-tuned suspension, various sporty styling cues, sport gauges, Sony audio, a flat-bottom steering wheel and available RECARO sport seats.

The hatchback-only Focus Electric ($29,995) features a battery-powered electric motor, smartphone connectivity with remote vehicle functions, hybrid-specific displays, eco-friendly cloth upholstery and many of the Titanium model's standard items.

Some of the higher trims' standard features are offered on lesser trims as options. Other extras include a sunroof and a self-parking system.

Rear-passenger space is a lowlight in the Focus, unfortunately, with knee-room at a particular premium. In brighter news, the Focus sedan has average-plus trunk space, checking in at 13.2 cu ft., while the hatchback is much more generous at 23.8 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 44.8 cu ft. with the seatbacks folded forward.

Safety

The Focus comes standard with anti-lock brakes, but only the Titanium, ST and Electric include 4-wheel discs; the S has mandatory rear drums (an older, simpler design), while the SE offers the rear discs as an extra-cost option. Traction control, stability control and six airbags (front, front-side and full-length side-curtain) are standard on every Focus. A lane-keeping assist system and a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert are available on fancier models.

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

Behind the Wheel

In our interior evaluation, we were impressed by the Focus's high-quality materials and sleek, contemporary dashboard design. The optional MyFord Touch interface drew mixed reviews for its sometimes slow and counterintuitive operation, but its formidable computing power and sharp graphics can't be denied. Overall, there's a sophisticated vibe inside the Focus that we're not used to feeling in this segment. This is a world car designed in Europe, and that's apparent from the driver's seat.

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

For that reason, we're also drawn to the turbocharged 1.0-liter 3-cylinder, since it's only offered with a 6-speed manual. Most shoppers prefer an automatic, though, so the transmission might limit this tiny engine's appeal. If you do drive a stick, you'll likely appreciate the 3-cylinder's smooth, peppy torque off the line, but it runs out of breath quickly, which is the price of enjoying the best fuel economy in the Focus lineup.

As for the turbocharged ST, it's a hoot. The rush of acceleration is addictive, and the short-throw 6-speed manual is a willing partner. The manual-only approach makes some sense here, incidentally, since the ST is aimed at true automotive enthusiasts who are more likely to prefer three pedals.

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. In any trim and specification, the Focus is composed, refined and satisfyingly responsive. Automatic-transmission hiccups aside, it's never less than a pleasure to drive.

Other Cars to Consider

2015 Honda Civic -- The Civic has a well-earned reputation for quality and strong resale value, though the latest generation lacks the Focus's high-tech, fun-to-drive character.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta -- The Jetta is less sporty than the Focus, but it has a bigger interior and offers a powerful, fuel-efficient diesel option. If you need a hatchback, try the excellent Golf.

2015 Mazda3 -- The sleek Mazda's handling is a match for the Ford's, and its fuel economy is compelling, as well.

Used Ford Escape -- The Escape may be a crossover SUV, but it's a compact one that's actually based on the Focus. The driving experience is quite similar, so if you'd prefer a crossover, a pre-owned Escape is a no-brainer upgrade.

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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2015 Ford Focus: New Car Review - Autotrader