Behold! The mighty EcoBoost Ford Focus has emerged with 600 horsepower, all-wheel drive, a full racing pedi — er, hold on a sec. This is the wrong Focus. This actually looks like the last thing Ford would want to put the infamous Gymkhana driver in if they wanted to win races, and joy of all joys, I get to drive one for a week. But there is some common DNA between the two.
Even though it looks like a snoozer on paper, when this little ruby red Focus sedan arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it was sporting a manual gearbox, a turbocharged EcoBoost engine, and a cold weather SE trim package, which meant it was loaded with wintry goodies. Sure, it was still an economy car with a very basic sense of self, but for one solid week straight it was my econobox. And do you know what? It actually is a pretty cool take on a budget buy. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this should be everyone’s first pick from Ford’s lot, but it certainly has a lot going for it that you wouldn’t expect to see.
This is the kind of car you buy because automotive frugality and creature comforts have finally aligned in the same sentence, and fortunately for us, Ford is on the ball. It may not be the most exciting thing to look at or the most sensational to experience from behind the wheel, but that’s not what this sedan has been designed to do. This is an efficient economy car, built for daily commutes and practicality, and when you look at it from that perspective alone you’ll see that the EcoBoost-equipped, 1.0-liter Focus SE does its job extremely well.
The Focus SE sedan may not have the sex appeal of, say, the new Civic, but it isn’t really an Ugly Betty either. Note the nicely proportioned active front shutter grille, the 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated mirror turn signals, sleek halogen headlamps, and how the black lower lip up front actually looks somewhat mean-spirited. The car seen here has also been equipped with a ruby red tinted clearcoat, which adds an additional layer of protection for $400, and gives some added depth to the paint.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Active grille shutters that open and close depending on vehicle speed helps keep things both streamlined-looking and efficient.
+ Alloy wheels, halogen headlamps, a sharp lower lip, mirror-mounted turn signals, and just enough black and chrome out front to break things up.
+ Carved lines along the front fascia eventually feed into rear arches, which taper downward into a flared trunk lid that sits alongside some nicely styled tail lights.
– That elongated antenna makes it look like an R/C car, and the unpainted plastic along the lower portion of the rear bumper is kind of distracting.
– Those lower sconces look really empty without fog lights in them. Fortunately, this is an inexpensive fix that will help both in the aesthetics and safety departments.
– They may look well proportioned in these photos, but those 16-inch alloy wheels look pretty puny on the SE, so I suggest coughing up the clams for the 17-inch upgrade.
You’re probably wondering how pathetic a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder motor feels under throttle. I hate to burst your bubble, but since this is an EcoBoost turbo engine, it actually has some zip to it. Sure, first gear is a bit of a drag, and speedy overtakes on the interstate can be risky business, but with direct injection and a six-speed manual at its disposal, this sedan does far better than you might think. Quiet, consistent, and oh-so fuel efficient, this oddball of an engine/transmission combo actually works damn well once you get accustomed to its preferred driving style.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Amazingly, this three-cylinder EcoBoost 1.0-liter motor offers 123 horsepower and 148 pound feet of torque, all of which can be had as an upgrade that only costs $795 more.
+ The Focus supposedly gets around 42 miles per gallon gains on the freeway, and with Ford’s standard start/stop feature engaged, the fuel gauge barely dipped after an entire week of driving.
+ While it may not be the most advanced six-speed on the planet, having a manual gearbox attached to this little turbo is very pleasant, thus making bumping around town more enjoyable.
– It may offer more grunt than one might expect, but it still requires keeping the revs up on the interstate to pass, thus damaging fuel gains every time a hill appears.
– The economy feel is all there and then some in this gearbox. The shifter box and hidden gates have plenty of play in them, and while the clutch isn’t totally temperamental, it’s a basic stick in a basic transmission.
– Traction proved to be an issue with this car in the rain, and although the Continental tires on it were all season and brand new, getting grip seemed to be a struggle.
We may be flying in economy class today, but much like modern airplanes, cars too have come a long way in recent years. While seat materials and certain trim pieces did indeed feel inexpensive, nothing seemed poorly slapped together and the rattle-free cabin was far quieter than expected.
Having a two-tone dash and door panels, heated seats and steering wheel, and a sharply displayed center stack and gauges made for a pleasant drive. The trunk was also well-sized for its segment, the backseat offered ample room for larger characters like myself, and even though it wasn’t overflowing with features, there was more standard stuff in this cabin than its modest price tag would suggest.
Interior pros and cons
+ Having space for days, a deep trunk, two-tones touches, and a relatively quiet cabin all help remove the “con” from the word economy.
+ From a driver’s perspective, the way in which the gauge pods, knobs and buttons, center stack, and gear shifter are laid out makes it feel much more homey.
+ Heated seats and a steering wheel that warms also, sturdy, all-season floor mats, and defrosting power mirror switches are all a part of Ford’s affordable Cold Weather Package.
– It may be heated and appointed with all kinds of buttons, but the feeling you get when you grip this steering wheel is quite spongy.
– While the shift knob is a good size, height, and shape, it feels light, making shift throws more indecisive than they need to be and less satisfying than they could be.
– Rough seat materials, cheap looking speaker covers, and small storage compartments distract from what is otherwise an interior that punches above its weight.
Tech and safety
There are quite a few nice tech surprises for potential buyers to discover. While tire pressure monitoring, a full color multi information display (MID), remote keyless entry, and a standard back-up camera are all notable winners, the five star government crash rating and IIHS Top Safety Pick award are what have us impressed.
Tech pros and cons
+ That overhead MID graphic of the sedan changes depending on if your lights are on or not, and comes equipped with a surprising array of features, including our personal favorite: the numerical speed read-out.
+ Dual zone climate controls, latest gen hands-free SYNC technology, a small but sharp back-up camera, and easy to use settings all are nice surprises to find on such a moderately priced vehicle.
+ Two 12V power outlets, one USB port, keyless remote entry, a trunk release button, and display screens that are crisp and informative all add value.
– No push-button start, electronic e-brake, or power seats.
– Both the radio display and MID are a hair on the small side, and the center stack screen are limited in both the graphics and options department.
– Passengers in the backseat don’t get any charging options, and getting XM radio requires buying an upgrade package.
Once you get used to the softness of the shifter and realize there’s nothing you can do about the sponginess of the electronic steering or the wheel itself, getting around in the 1.0-liter Ford Focus becomes a pretty solid experience. Audio controls are all manually adjustable and easily accessible, as is virtually every other control, and the practical little MID is a constant companion that truly is nice to find on such an inexpensive automobile.
On the downside, there was the aforementioned issue with wheel traction, which was more than likely due to the smaller wheels and tire combination than anything else; Ford’s “Control Blade” independent rear suspension was pretty soft. In order to remain confident when accelerating, running in a lower gear is advisable, but once a flat straightaway presents itself, slapping it in sixth gear and mashing cruise control are the ideal option for hitting that 42-mile-per-gallon goal.
Wrap up and review
This was a one-week loan that completely took me by surprise, and not in a negative way. There are some small interior fixes that could be addressed, it rides and steers the way it looks, and the manual transmission’s shifter assembly is on the loose end, but for a car that only costs $21,500 out the door, this is all totally tolerable.
It brakes well when equipped with discs all around, the cabin is quiet and well-appointed, there’s space galore, a surprising amount of tech comes standard, and with amazing fuel gains it’s hard to argue against its small powerplant. Yes, it is a heavier chassis than the Fiesta, so the three-cylinder motor has more responsibility, but it isn’t flailing around either. So after seven days of windshield time I can safely say that this is an advisable daily driver option for anyone looking for an extremely affordable, fuel-efficient sedan.