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2012 Ford Focus (Ford Ford)
2012 Ford Focus (Ford Ford)

2012 Ford Focus

Ford puts its Focus up-market Add to ...

If you are serious about comparison shopping for your next compact car, let me share a number: the 2012 Ford Focus Titanium four-door hatchback has an $7,996 pricing advantage over a 2012 Audi A3 2.0T, the front-drive version ($37,795 including freight), loaded up with about the same level of equipment.

In this scenario, the Focus comes in at $29,799 with $3,200 of optional equipment over the base sticker of $26,599 (freight included). We can all agree that eight Gs is a big chunk of change and obviously good news for Ford, which wants you to see this all-new Focus as the ultimate high-tech compact car for sale today.

But not so fast.

A comparably equipped 2012 Mazda3 GS-Sky ($23,765 with freight), with its new SkyActiv power train, has a $6,034 price advantage when both are uniformly equipped. Meanwhile, Canada’s best-selling car, the Honda Civic Si sedan, has a pretty healthy $2,414 pricing advantage when loaded up to match that baseline Focus Titanium (the Civic comes in at $27,385 with freight).

Sorry for throwing around so many numbers. But they matter; the pricing story should not be ignored. Ford’s version of the Focus story is simple enough: this stylish, fun-to-drive hatchback – also sold in sedan form – has gone up-market.

The Focus, in Ford’s world, is no longer a rental car or some cheapo runabout moving off dealer lots thanks to a discounted price. No, this Focus in Ford’s world is a higher-end luxury compact priced to challenge the A3s of the world, yet be competitive with the Mazda3, Civic and its ilk. Ford feels its car is strong enough to best rivals from Mazda and Honda, and also sophisticated enough to go head-to-head with an entry-level car from an established premium brand such as Audi.

Ford has a case to make, too. The Titanium Focus comes with a good, but not great, six-speed auto-shift automatic transmission, mated to a fuel-thrifty, 160-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. That’s a solid powertrain.

As equipped here, the Focus also has a navigation system, parking aid, power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, fog lights, cruise control, a great sound system, power everything, keyless remote, push-button start, MyFord Touch with Sync and on and on. Technology, technology and more technology.

Ford is trying to position itself as a technology leader, if not the technology leader among auto makers. All the do-dads are intended to make the driver’s experience safer and more enjoyable. That’s why you use voice controls here to operate the stereo, heat and air conditioning and phone. Hands-free stuff. And that is also why Ford will argue that the remade Focus is quick and responsive on all types of roads, yet is easy to park at the mall.

MyFord Touch is the key to it all. Ford’s latest telematics system is as good as it gets in voice-activation systems, though it’s not perfect – as Consumer Reports has said. My advice: if you buy a Ford with MyFord Touch, don’t leave the dealership on delivery until you have been fully taught how to use this technology. Leave uninitiated and you’ll end up irritated.

There is no chance you’ll be irritated by the car’s performance. That engine is strong and responsive and key in the fun-to-drive quotient. Just as important, the fuel economy numbers (7.3 litres/100 city, 5.2 highway) put the Focus near the top of the class of compact fuel-sippers. Ford still has some work to do on the six-speed automatic transmission, though. Mazda’s SkyActiv automatic delivers smoother shifts, and they are better-timed, too.

The Focus is more fun to toss around, though, compared to the Mazda, though not by a huge margin. Ford’s electric power steering is properly weighted and the suspension is tight and solid enough for pretty flat and controlled handling through tight corners. This independent suspension is light years ahead of the tired, old setup in the last Focus.

When you’re driving with urgency, you will not be buried with noise seeping into the cabin. The seats are also properly bolstered, at least for an affordable car. Only Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has better buckets.

Ford has among the most intelligent and attractive dashboard designs, too. Good thing, given the many high-tech features. There is plenty of room inside, too.

And yes, the Focus Titanium is eye-candy on the road, too – edgy, daring and modern. This is the best-looking compact car on sale in Canada. Ford’s designers thought this through, right down to the gas-filler door tucked in next to the taillight. This maintains the car’s overall lines.

The hatch in back, meanwhile, raises the convenience quotient. If you need to load your mountain bike or a playpen, having a rear hatch is exactly what you need. The second-row seats fold down, as well.

Ford has work left to do, however. While strong, the engine could feel more refined when pushed hard, for instance. But overall, this Focus is the class leader.

The question for you: is this a much more affordable rival to the A3 or a pricier competitor to the Mazda3 and others?

Tech specs

2012 Ford Focus Titanium

Type: Compact four-door hatchback

Base price: $25,099 ($1,500 freight)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 160 hp/146 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: front-wheel drive.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.3 city/5.2 highway; regular gas .

Alternatives: Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sentra

jcato@globeandmail.com

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