The 2013 Ford Focus is now the longest-lived domestic compact nameplate, having been around for more than a decade. That's not long compared to the stalwarts that have been with us since the 1970s--the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic--but it indicates that Ford is serious about competing head-to-head with the best.
The latest Focus, available as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback, is a far better car than its aged predecessor. Launched early in 2011 as a 2012 model, the U.S. Focus is substantially the same as the version sold in Europe. That means it handles well, and its high-quality interior gives no inkling that by U.S. standards, the Ford Focus is a small and inexpensive car.
Conventional Focus models come with a 160-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, or you can order a six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic. The manual drives well, though you have to rev the engine and use the gears in the smooth-shifting transmission. As for the PowerShift--essentially a pair of automatic-shifting three-speed manual gearboxes--it's fuel-efficient and quick-shifting at speed, but it can judder when it tries to simulate idle creep by what amounts to slipping its clutch. It does offer the option of a Sport mode that lets drivers upshift and downshift using +/- buttons on the side of the shift knob.
The automatic Focus is rated at 31 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 38 highway), with the manual 1 mpg lower at 30 mpg combined (26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway). There's also an optional SFE package with longer gearing and a handful of other tweaks that boosts the combined rating to 33 mpg, comprised of 28 mpg city and the magic 40-mpg level for the highway rating.
Handling and roadholding is at the top of the class, better than not only the Corolla (with its traditionally numb electric power steering) but also the formerly sporty Civic range. Ford deserves praise for tuning and weighting its own electric power steering for precise control with just enough feedback. The handling just adds to the overall European sport-sedan feel, especially if you're in a higher-end Titanium model with its superb sport seats. Front and rear, you can fit four six-foot adults into the Focus--and they'll enjoy the ride a bit more if it's a model that includes the optional leather upholstery as well.
It's now a completely viable competitor to the Civic and Corolla, not to mention more recent and highly-rated competitors like the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruze. But higher trim levels (especially the top Titanium model) are far from bargain-priced, with sticker prices that can reach close to $30,000. They come with a very high level of equipment for the compact class, though.
Standard and optional features on various trim levels include MyFord Touch (with text-to-voice and WiFi capability), HD Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio, an upgraded ten-speaker Sony sound system, alloy wheels, sport suspension and sportier seats. Ford's highly-rated Active Park Assist feature is also optional on higher-level models like the SEL. That said, it's possible to get the most basic 2013 Focus S model at a price that starts just under $17,000. But plan on at least $20,000 to get one a Focus that doesn't seem like a rental car.
There's also a high-performance Focus ST hot-rod model. While it's powered by a 240-hp, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four, mated to a six-speed manual—no automatic—it's the least "Eco" of all the Focuses, with a combined EPA rating of just 26 mpg. While you're wasting gasoline, though, you can get to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds, and the Focus ST claims a top speed of 155 mph. We'll take the standard car.
The most advanced Focus is the low-volume battery-electric version, known simply as the Focus Electric. The gasoline running gear is replaced by a 23-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack (using the same cells as in the Chevy Volt, though Ford won't tell you that), and a 107-kilowatt (143-hp) electric motor driving the front wheels. It retains most of the virtues of the conventional Focus, including the nice interior, solid build quality, and good roadholding, though it's several hundred pounds heavier. The EPA rates its electric range at 76 miles, and it comes standard with a 6.6-kW charger, twice as fast as most electric cars in its class. For now, the Ford Focus Electric is sold only in certain regions, though Ford says it will roll the car out nationally by the end of 2013 to all dealers trained to sell and service its plug-in cars. It's priced at $39,995.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Ford Focus on our sister site, TheCarConnection.