Ford Foci run in large herds, but if it hadnít been for the mini-Aston Martin grille, and maybe the Ford blue, I might not have known what this was for a second. (I still mix up the Focus, Fiesta and Fusion, too. But Iíve only been doing this professionally for 30 years.) The Focus was mildly restyled for 2015, but to my eye the sedan body looks dated already. In compact economy cars, the five-door hatchback is king.
The disconnect continues inside: Not only did our car come with a manual transmission ó the kind with a clutch pedal and a stick shift ó but the transmission had five forward speeds. I donít know how often I went to upshift one last time before I remembered that where sixth would be was actually reverse. That could have been ugly.
Remember five-speed transmissions? They were modern once, and a big deal after four-on-the-floor in the 1970s, which followed three-on-the-tree, in the Ď60s. (You donít know what Iím talking about, do you.) In the Ď80s my wife once drove our Saab Turbo 250 miles in fourth gear because she didnít realize there was another one. Then we had to learn to navigate six-speed gearboxes. Now Porsche has one with seven, but thereís a little lighted number so we know where we are.
Speaking of where we are . . . right ó a four-door Ford Focus sedan with a trunk, a five-speed manual transmission, drum brakes at the back and a pot-metal ignition key that fits in a slot. (Every other day, when twisting the key in the lock, my thumb or knuckle hit the red panic button in the fob and set the horn to hooting.) But it doesnít necessarily drive like an old car. What this Ford is, in fact, is an object lesson in the difference between lust and, er, love, maybe. I lust after the Alfa Romeo 4C ó but would I settle down with one as a daily driver? Hardly. Fabulous as the $60,000 Alfa is, itís barely more practical than a motorcycle. When itís late and raining and I have to pop down to the Cedarcrest to pick up a 16-inch balsamic prosciutto pizza, Iíll take this $23,000 Focus every time.
The engine is a four-cylinder 2.0-liter ó not a turbocharged EcoBoost motor ó that pushes out 160 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque. Several times I overwhelmed it by coming off the clutch too fast. Passing other cars or merging onto the interstate takes planning, dropping down at least one and often two gears, and a willingness to provoke unpleasant noises from the motor. A Focus sedan weighs less than 3,000 pounds, so it can reach 60 mph in reasonable time, but beyond that itís geared purely for fuel mileage. (And towing anything is contra-indicated, even by Ford.) But the steering, brakes and suspension work together harmoniously and even crisply. So do the shifter and clutch, and starting off on inclines is easy, thanks to the three-second hill-hold feature.
As a 2015 SE model, our car had plenty of other up-to-date features too, such as a backup camera, audio and cruise-control switches in the steering wheel (which adjusts fully), tire-pressure monitors and Fordís capless fuel filler. Included in the sticker price were two option packages worth $4,140 that added a rear spoiler (why?), fog lamps, daytime running lights, upgraded 17-inch wheels, navigation, backup sensors, and a Sony radio with six speakers and satellite feed. Also SYNC with MyFordTouch, which works through a four-quadrant touchscreen to offer phone calls, navigation and entertainment via buttons or voice commands. New safety gear is now available too, including blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts and lane-keeping assistance. Altogether, itís possible to drive the sticker price of a Focus beyond $26,000 just in trim and features.
The five-door hatchback, particularly with the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, will surely outsell the four-door sedan. Other Foci include one with a three-cylinder, one-liter EcoBoost turbo motor, an all-electric variant, and a lively 252-horsepower ST model, all with front-wheel drive. Soon will arrive a fire-snorting Focus RS with AWD and 315 horsepower. Meanwhile, although Iím not falling in love with this Focus SE, I am beginning to respect it. And isnít that the first step?

Likes
- Reasonably refined
- Reasonably nimble
- Reasonably good 29 mpg overall
Dislikes
- Dour black-on-black interior
- Rear legroom is tight
- Sedan body (get the hatchback)

Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at calabi.silvio@gmail.com.