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"Focusing" on British Columbia - well, I'm exaggerating - rental Ford Focus review

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What makes you shudder?  The cold?  Seeing something gory?  Well, a Ford Focus can make me shudder.  Read on and find out how.

I happened onto an exceptional opportunity to rent a compact car for about $11 a day around Labor Day.  One rents a category and not a car.  When I arrived to the agency, I didn't see anything among the compacts that I liked.  Focuses were something I was curious about and they had been evading me in rental situations, despite seeing bar codes anywhere and everywhere as I went about my daily existence.

As luck would have it, a Focus was being returned as I walked out to survey the inventory one last time.  "Can I have it?"  "Yes, if you're willing to wait 10 or 20 minutes until we can clean it up for you?"  Affirmative.

I had been seeing the Ford Focus around quite a bit and thought of how much the styling has improved over the years. I'm referring to the basic sedan, which flows nicely because of the presence of a trunk lid.  I will admit that I prefer the last body style, with the canted back front fascia, instead of the current one with the wannabe Aston Martin grille.  Not only that, sitting in them in showrooms revealed a cabin that, for a smaller car, is pleasing.  I liked the dashboard, the console, and even the seats.  As some reviews mention, the materials are actually respectable for this price point.

I was happy to finally have a chance to drive one ... and for a paltry sum that made it senseless to drive my own sled instead.  The reviews, by both experts and consumers, were mostly on point.  The Focus is agile and somewhat fun to drive.  It's a car you get accustomed to right away.  The only exception might be the settings in the instrument panel.  Once you fuss with them, you can get them to cough up a digital speed readout in addition to the analog speedometer.  I prefer that setting.  It's easier to stay out of trouble.

With a seemingly unchanged 2.0 liter 4 banger, the Focus has been a constant.  As for its 6 speed automatic, it has not been.  If one reads the reviews on-line and on various car sites, possibly Edmunds, KBB, and Microsoft Autos, one can see many folks complaining about the automatic transmission between the years 2012 and 2014, more or less.  Those reviews were written by angry customers.  They talked about lurches and shudders, and visits to the dealership.  In the car that I had, there were no lurches, but there was a shudder and it seemed to be confined to shift point 1 to 2, at about 18 to 20 mph.  In city driving, that can be annoying.  Not only that, if this unit had about 20,000 miles on it, it might be indicative of a transmission that won't be long lived.  That's my guess.  The issue is that this is a different sort of automatic, called a "dual clutch" or something to that effect.  It's probably so the transmission could also be marketed to Europeans and others, and Focus is a known model in Europe.  I'm just surprised that, upon earlier complaints about this unit, Ford engineers didn't immediately jump on this issue to make sure it was debugged to the tune of 100%.  My rental car, presumably a 2016, did some chattering and shuddering at low speeds.  Not that I would buy a Ford Focus, but renting a car one might buy is a great idea.  The 2007 rental of a Buick LaCrosse (it was actually an Allure in Canada) in Montreal, and taking it around Quebec and upstate N.Y. for a week, told me I was good to go in terms of springing for that car.

It's probably a good idea to compare the Focus to the Cruze, the last-gen model in my situation.  The Focus may be tad more agile, but it's definitely not as isolated as the Cruze.  The Cruze was quieter and smoother, with not too much tire thum.  The Focus has some tire droning sounds which quiet down at about 60 mph and above. 

Fuel economy was surprisingly excellent.  Every single tank that consisted of at least 85% highway driving returned right around 40 mpg.

The Focus is a work in progress, in my opinion.  It has an attractive silhouette, comfortable enough seats, a sensible and pleasing dash, is fun to drive, and is an easy car to live with.  However, had the kink in the dual clutch 6 speed automatic been worked out (or had it been a CVT) and if the car isolated both the noise and bumps as well as the Cruze, it would be a more plausible head to head match for the GM car that is sort of its direct competitor.

 

 

 

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6 hours ago, Wings4Life said:

You drove the outgoing Focus and the all new Cruze.  I am confident that the next Focus will address it's shortcomings.  Thanks for sharing.

Wings I like the current Focus, it has stood the test of time... but he does specifically say in the OP that he is comparing the old Cruze to the Focus... not the doggone FANTASTIC new Cruze.  ;)

I was reading somewhere that Ford is going back to a conventional autotragic transmission in the next Fiesta... perhaps the next Focus will benefit from a similar trans.

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5 hours ago, loki said:

my g/f has a 13 focus. that transmission is a source of issues. very annoying issues, but not tragic ones.

Right, but there shouldn't be many, or any, when that new.  If pulling away from a light brings some jerking actions along with it, I won't be considering that car.  Six speed automatics have been with us for a while and they perform seamlessly in even the smallest of cars across so many brands.

I arbitrarily picked the 2014 MY.  I liked that grille much better for this car since it leans back.  The owners' reviews are harsh.

2014 Ford Focus owner reviews on Edmunds

If you then go to the lead review, you can see that Edmunds was much kinder to this vehicle in its review.  However, note the pros and cons that they state.

When I wrote this up, I couldn't upload photos that easily for some reason, so here are some:

 

1) Picking up the vehicle.  It was the hatchback.  I prefer the sedan.  Either way, I was happy to get to try a Focus.

WP_000008.jpg

 

2) Here is the car at Stanley Park, looking back at Vancouver, B.C., Canada, with a tree unfortunately casting a shadow on it

WP_000186.jpg

 

3) I don't like the hatchback because of the side profile and even the visibility to some extent. The trunk is decent.  It has tonneau cover to hide what one has in there.

WP_000341 (2).jpg

 

4) The whole layout here certainly has a fair amount of personality compared to some cars in this segment where many dashboards are plain and boring.

WP_000343.jpg

 

5) The seats were comfortable enough, ergonomically proportioned for an average sized adult male, and nicely finished.  They were probably a little harder than I like.

WP_000345.jpg

 

6) Even thought it's a little busy, I like this center stack.  The outside temperature readout and the clock are here and always on, and not interrupted when doing other tasks with the digital settings.  There's a small rear camera.  If it's damp outside, the image isn't as clear. My only complaint is that a phone, even a smaller phone, won't easily fit in the cubby hole at the bottom of it.  I have never understood what those thin, long slats to the left of the shift lever are for.  Maybe someone can tell me. 

WP_000351 (2).jpg

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your pics of the center stack, that's a nicer layout than the '13 i know. hers is not very intuitive, i think. while also being quite busy with a more phone like dialer/ button area. like below.HT1TeJwFJXaXXagOFbX4.jpg

  the '13 has a small, idk, divot for change and stuff hanging on the left side of the shifter area. as shown it the pic above.

Edited by loki
added picture

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I do agree on the dashboard of this car, MUCH nicer than much of the competition. Especially the god awful previous generation Civic.

On 10/23/2016 at 7:29 PM, loki said:

my g/f has a 13 focus. that transmission is a source of issues. very annoying issues, but not tragic ones.

I have a friend who bought a Fiesta, she hates the transmission to the point where she wants to trade the car in. She bought it new and is not a car geek. Similar results with another friend who just bought a Focus and has become progressively less happy with the transmission.

On 10/23/2016 at 9:55 AM, Wings4Life said:

You drove the outgoing Focus and the all new Cruze.  I am confident that the next Focus will address it's shortcomings.  Thanks for sharing.

I like the direction that Ford is going, I am interested to see what they bring to market.

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My other issue with this car is that the back seat is tight compared with other cars in the class, especially the Corolla and the Jetta.  I have two adult sons whoa re over 6 foot tall and  ride with me sometimes. Plus I like to go places with my sons friends, not all of whom are small people. That alone would push me into another Jetta or Corolla in this class.

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nice write up.  With all the recent interior fixes, a Focus was something i looked into.  But all the stories i read about the tranny issues steered me away.  They are CHEAP on the used market for probably that reason mostly.

tight back seat is another reason.

drove one once, it did drive pretty decent.

Ford desperately needs to get on the bandwagon with the new small torquey turbos and a real transmission.  They should either reshape the body more the insanely popular original Focus, or take steps to make the Focus 'the drivers car among compacts'.  They should Civic size it too.

My hunch is with cheap gas, they won't invest much in US versions (made in Mexico) of any future Focus.  Ford's primary market warriors will be Fusion and Escape.  The simple fact they have done nothing with the powertrain on this car tells you exactly how little they are investing in this model in the US.

Edited by regfootball
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On 10/28/2016 at 4:58 AM, A Horse With No Name said:

I do agree on the dashboard of this car, MUCH nicer than much of the competition. Especially the god awful previous generation Civic.

I have a friend who bought a Fiesta, she hates the transmission to the point where she wants to trade the car in. She bought it new and is not a car geek. Similar results with another friend who just bought a Focus and has become progressively less happy with the transmission.

It's really too bad because these transmission issues are not ones that develop years down the line but are readily apparent.  How they can ignore them is beyond me.

I recently noticed that, within Chevy, Sonic runs with a geared 6 speed automatic, which is now a familiar unit, but Spark runs with a CVT.  Both Focus and Fiesta run with this Ford dual clutch 6 speed automatic we are talking about.  If they can't fix them or don't want to, maybe they need to switch to CVT.  I am so used to a step-gear transmission, but was amazed at what a CVT can fetch in terms of mpg on a bigger Nissan Altima, for one.

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59 minutes ago, regfootball said:

The simple fact they have done nothing with the powertrain on this car tells you exactly how little they are investing in this model in the US.

I agree.  But this could turn around and bite them if they released a swath of years with some marginal automatic transmissions.  For one, those Focus and Fiesta buyers may not come back.  It's like those people who had Cadillac V8-6-4 engines in the early 80s who said sayonara to GM as a result of always having them in the shop. If I recall, bigger Cadillac-Olds-Buick products of that era had "credit" options of Buick's 4.1 liter (252 cu. in. 4 bbl.) V6 which worked fine and was probably a better choice.  It was funny to walk up to a standard sized Cadillac sedan with the entry level cloth seats, wheel covers, white walls, and a 4.1 Buick V6 under the hood!

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