I have 6 words for you to ruminate on before reading the 2nd sentence and the rest of this article: Best-selling car in the world. Now, what comes to mind when you hear that phrase? Toyota Corolla or Camry? Ford F-150? VW Golf? Honda Accord or Civic, perhaps? Hyundai Elantra? Maybe something a little more luxurious like the BMW 3 series? Audi A4? Mercedes C-class? All great guesses, but you’d be incorrect with any one of them. In 2013, the Ford Focus took home that crown and is well on its way to a repeat win. Within the last 5 years, especially since the collapse in Detroit during the economic downturn in 2008-2009, Ford has been reborn worldwide with its “One Ford” global strategy. Each country gets a nearly identical car giving Ford the flexibility to reach many different economies at a fraction of the cost. Volkswagen didn’t pioneer the strategy, but they made it famous with cars from VW and Audi sharing many of the same components worldwide. The Focus was Ford’s first shot at this and was introduced with its 3rd generation design in 2010 at the North American International Auto Show in the aforementioned bailout capital, Detroit. Looking vastly superior to its predecessor, which was flat out ugly as sin, it blew everyone away when it was restyled and re-launched drawing critical acclaim and, clearly, public notoriety. In the summer of 2012, Ford introduced its hot-hatch version of the Focus called the ST and that too drew critical acclaim from nearly everyone in the automotive world, despite having the dreaded front wheel drive (FWD) drivetrain. This all culminated in 2013 with the global sales win.
So with the opportunity to drive one over the course of 2 days, there I stood in front of a 2014 base Focus sedan thinking, “how good can this car really be?” Yes it has the accolades and was the already mentioned best seller in the world the year prior, but I couldn’t think of a time when I honestly thought the Focus was the best in its class. The Carolla is traditionally more reliable, the Civic is better looking and more reliable, the Chevy Cruze is cheaper and American cars have come along in the last 5 years (Cruze is a great example of this), and the Elantra is WAY better looking. So how on earth did this car get to be the world’s most purchased? It even sold more in 2012 in the US than it did in 2013! Surely I knew something everyone else didn’t and everyone who had purchased this is an idiot. I knew it all, and they were stupid.
For me, I generally go out on the road each day thinking that the common commuter is a complete and utter moron, weaving in and out of traffic in cars they don’t know anything about, talking on their cell-phones, not paying attention to their driving, and just concerned with getting from point-A to point-B. Logically, the Focus is the perfect car for this kind of motorist: inexpensive, safe, and relatively reliable. The quintessential commuter car. This was setup perfectly to prove me right that no one except the common commuter-drone would purchase this car. So naturally, I was wrong.
While this car does the daily driving routine without missing a beat, there are a few finer points that I noticed. Since this was the base model, it didn’t have all the bells and whistles you would get in the more adequately equipped SEL and Titanium trims. However, it did still have many digital readouts on the dash showing fuel economy, miles to empty, and trip distance along with a small screen on the center console showing audio information in a friendly and appeasing way; not like the digital, alarm clock-esque units that come with most base offerings from other brands. The interior had cloth, manually adjustable, tan seating which was quite comfortable and had a position for nearly everyone. You may have a bit of trouble fitting If you’re over 6’3”, but on the whole most commuters will feel right at home and comfortable. Back seats had enough room for mid-sized adults or children of any size and the trunk could easily fit several suitcases. So the interior was solid, but not spectacular. Worthy of best seller? Ehhh, not really, but I couldn’t find many negatives.For the price, it is nice looking. Yes, even the front end. I mean I’d much rather be driving this around as opposed to a Nissan Versa. Yuck city. Nothing really poor about it, but again nothing spectacular. You can see that for yourselves.
So if those two points weren’t the real story, what about cost? Well currently, at the time of this posting, without incentives, you can get a base model Focus with a 5-speed manual (auto box is extra) for $17,635 (this includes destination charge and no optional extras). That’s pretty damn good considering the car you get is not a sub-compact and some of those go for around the same price. Even fully loaded in Titanium trim (the highest you can go) pack to the HILT with every extra to max out the price (came to $5,176 of extras) is under 30-grand ($29,076. Again, without incentives). So based on price alone, this thing is a bargain. Starting to get a feel for the popularity. Ok so still, average motorist, cheap-ish car. Whatever. Still not convinced.
Then came the gearbox which put me into a mild state of manic-depression. I’ve owned a 1998 Ford Taurus. It had a late 90s automatic transmission. I feel this puts me in good standing to know what a terrible automatic feels like. This 2015 Ford Focus has the absolute worst automatic transmission I’ve ever had the great displeasure of driving. It is supremely bad. The throttle response is virtually non-existent (as evidenced by me mashing my foot to the floor and the greater than 2 seconds before the engine downshifted and power kicked in), shifts are rough and seem labored, the gear it selects for you is more than likely the wrong one for the task at hand, and to top it all off you have the option of a manual. TRUST ME: get the manual. This put me back to square one.There is however, one more thing I haven’t gone over. Handling. You see, handling can be a car’s saving grace. Look at the Mazda Miata or the Subaru BRZ/Scion FRS. Those cars are considered to be underpowered, too small, and in some cases not something men should be driving. Yet, their handling has made them two of the best enthusiast cars of the last quarter century. Now by no means am I trying to compare those two to this Focus. They’re not even in the same solar system. But the high-point for those translates exactly to the Focus. The handling on this car, knowing what it is (a base compact), and what is was truly designed for (daily driving), is nothing short of extraordinary. What Ford has done is taken a good little car and made it great in one place: the corners. Weight transfer is excellent. Sweeping corners were taken with reckless abandon and, surprisingly, confidence. Quick switchbacks were fun! In a FWD base compact! I really could not believe what was happening. And all this on 205/60/16 wheels and tires. Seriously, if you have a choice at the rental counter. get this car. Or if you’re looking for a new, cheap, daily driver, get this car. I cannot recommend it highly enough for daily driving duties. Just please get the manual.
But what of the average motorist that I’ve been so keen to criticize? Is it possible that they all have a secret network where they all talk to each other and tell each other to buy something worthwhile? When they all bought that 2013 model, did they know something more than what I and other auto enthusiasts did? Well, no. However, if more base cars are set up in the way the 2015 Focus is, there might yet be hope for the average motorist. Hell, some might even become enthusiasts and that’s really the best thing that could happen right?
Image credits Motortrend and Ford