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2016 Ford Focus: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2016

The 2016 Ford Focus is simply a great compact car, despite this generation now entering its sixth year. The range spans from zero emissions to high performance, and each model comes with decent equipment for the price, along with a driving experience that's rare in any class. There aren't many cars that you can tool around town in while being completely unflustered -- yet will also reward the driver who takes that country-road corner with gusto.

Some variants come as a hatchback only; others are also available as a sedan. In each cabin, however, is a pleasing design with good-quality materials. Some active safety features that were once exclusive to premium cars are finding their way into mainstream vehicles, and the Ford Focus is a prime example.

What's New for 2016?

The infotainment system has been upgraded to SYNC 3. It replaces the slow and finicky MyFord Touch setup. Updates can be loaded through Wi-Fi, and it recognizes smartphonelike swiping and pinch-to-zoom gestures. The 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine can now be paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The big news for enthusiasts, though (as if the ST wasn't enough fun), is the introduction of the Focus RS, an all-wheel-drive, 350-horsepower hatchback that's hotter than a jalapeno in a sauna.

What We Like

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

What We Don't

Automatic transmission should be smoother; less-than-spacious back seat

How Much?

$18,100-$36,605

Fuel Economy

The standard engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, making 160 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard; a 6-speed automatic transmission (technically, a dual-clutch automated manual) is optional. The latter operates like a regular automatic, and a manual mode is included on the high-end Titanium trim. Fuel economy is 27 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway -- good for 31 mpg combined with the automatic. The stick shift is a tad thirstier: 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined.

A 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine, rated at 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque, is an option solely for the SE trim. It connects to a 6-speed manual transmission or the aforementioned 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is 29 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/33 mpg combined for the manual, dipping slightly to 28 mpg city/40 mpg hwy/32 mpg combined with the automatic.

The Focus ST has a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder developing 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, and it only comes with a 6-speed manual. Considering the power output, fuel economy is impressive at 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined.

A turbocharger is also employed in the Focus RS, but here it's bolted to a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine to endow the car with a breathtaking 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. That muscle hits all four wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission. There are no Environmental Protection Agency consumption estimates as of February 2016, but the engine does have a start/stop function that should help a little.

The Focus Electric employs an electric motor that makes 143 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Estimated driving range is 76 miles (a little less than some rivals), and top speed is 84 miles per hour. Recharging time is a claimed 3.6 hours on a 240-volt current.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Ford Focus is offered in S, SE, Titanium, ST, RS and Electric trim levels.

The sedan-only Focus ($18,100) comes with basic features such as 15-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, power accessories, manual height adjustment for the driver's seat, air conditioning and Bluetooth with voice controls, as well as a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port. It also includes a rearview camera and a 4.2-in display.

The SE ($19,390) comes as a sedan or hatchback and adds 16-in alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a trip computer, a front-center armrest, a 6-speaker audio system and cruise control. The hatchback SE sports a rear spoiler.

The well-stocked Titanium ($24,100) model brings upgrades such as 17-in aluminum wheels, LED running lights, hill-start assist, keyless entry/start, rear disc brakes, rear parking sensors, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, SYNC 3 with an 8-in touchscreen, a configurable gauge cluster and a premium Sony audio system. This is also a sedan or hatchback deal.

The hatchback-only ST ($25,300) comes with 18-in wheels, LED signature lighting, an aerodynamic body kit, a performance-tuned suspension, various sporty styling cues, sport gauges, Sony audio, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and the option of figure-hugging Recaro sport seats.

Sporting equipment and styling cues are taken several steps further with the RS hatchback ($36,605). Those Recaro seats are standard, and 19-in alloy wheels wear summer tires (track-focused Michelin tires are an option), yet the RS still packs the high-end Sony audio system and dual-zone automatic climate control. It also has selectable drive modes that go from civilized to track-worthy.

The hatchback-only Focus Electric ($30,045) features smartphone connectivity with remote vehicle functions, EV-specific displays, eco-friendly cloth upholstery and many of the Titanium trim's standard items, along with xenon headlights and LED taillights. Remember that this model is eligible for federal and state tax credits.

Some of the higher trims' standard features are offered on the less-expensive trims as options. Other extras include a sunroof, navigation, a heated steering wheel, a self-parking system and carbon-fiber interior trim for the ST.

Unfortunately, rear passenger space is a lowlight, with knee room particularly tight. The better news is that the sedan has above-average trunk space -- 13.2 cu ft. -- and the seats fold down (at a 60/40 split) for extra flexibility. The hatchback is more generous at 23.3 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 43.9 cu ft. with the seats folded. The exception to this is the Electric model, which holds a battery pack that reduces cargo space to 14.5 cu ft. behind the rear seats and 33.9 cu ft. with the seats folded.

Safety

Anti-lock brakes are standard, but only the Titanium, ST, RS and Electric include 4-wheel discs; the S has rear drums (an older, simpler and cheaper setup), while the SE offers rear discs as a cost option. Traction control, stability control and six airbags -- dual-stage front, front-side and full-length side-curtain -- are standard in every version. Lane-keep assist and a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert are available on higher trims.

In government crash tests, the Focus scored five out of five stars, including four for frontal impacts and five for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Focus its top score of Good, except for the small-overlap front impact test, in which the car still gets the second-best rating of Acceptable.

Behind the Wheel

There's a sophisticated vibe that's far from common in this segment, with high-quality materials and a sleek, contemporary dashboard design.

The 2.0-liter engine is quite eager, delivering smooth and satisfying acceleration. The automatic transmission gets confused at times, however, hunting for the right gear and pausing before downshifting. We prefer the 5-speed manual, which adds a sporting character more in line with the car's essential nature.

Most people will appreciate the 3-cylinder's smooth torque off the line, but it runs out of oomph quickly -- the price of enjoying the best fuel economy in the Focus lineup.

The turbocharged ST is an absolute hoot. This is one of the best-handling front-drive cars around. The rush of acceleration is addictive, and the short-throw 6-speed manual adds to the whole experience. This manual-only approach makes sense here, since the ST is aimed at enthusiasts who are likely to prefer three pedals, but the ride is not so jarring that everyday driving feels like punishment.

With 350 hp in a compact car, the RS shows just how sporting and capable the Focus chassis can be. On top of that, it offers torque vectoring by brake: Individual wheels are subtly slowed to help the RS achieve high cornering speeds with massive levels of grip. Take this to a track, and you'll embarrass more expensive machines.

Although the ST and RS are undeniably athletic, even the entry-level model provides sophisticated dynamics similar to upscale 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

2016 Honda Civic -- The Civic has a fine reputation for quality and strong resale value, although the latest generation lacks the fun character of the Focus.

2016 Volkswagen Golf -- Sophisticated and well-balanced, the GTI model in particular is a drivers' favorite. If you prefer a sedan, try the spacious Jetta.

2016 Mazda3 -- The Mazda3's sleek styling and handling offers a good match to what the Focus does well. Fuel economy is also compelling.

2016 Kia Forte -- The Forte is stylish, well-equipped and keenly priced.

Used Ford Fusion -- The Fusion is Ford's next size up, and it's great to drive, offering poise and comfort in equal measure. Equipment levels are tempting, and this sedan offers plenty of rear passenger space.

Autotrader's Advice

A Focus SE with the standard 2.0-liter engine and the Luxury package is an affordable mix of useful features and decent road manners -- but let your inner enthusiast at least take the ST for a test drive.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Ford Focus: New Car Review - Autotrader