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Review: 2016 Ford Focus S

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On: Tue, Mar 1, 2016 at 2:34PM | By: Jon Summers

Review: 2016 Ford Focus S

Excellent, state of-the-art transportation, but a poor driving experience perhaps best sums up this Focus. Maybe that is to be expected from an entry-level economy car, but since previous generations Focus drove well, even in poverty specification, your writer was hoping for more. Surprisingly the Focus remained likeable, but be clear:  This is transportation in the airport monorail sense of the word far more than it is a car in the Big Block Chevelle sense of the word.

Inside, first generation Focus’—I am thinking of a ’98 model—looked like a toddler’s toys, with large ill-fitting plastic knobs liberally scattered around. The 2016 model uses lower-cost materials than might be found on BMWs or Mercedes, but actually feels luxurious, because the touch points have a quality feel, and it is so well equipped. We particularly enjoyed the sunroof. After many years of death by cheap plastic, Ford really has succeeded in giving a low priced car a high quality feel, at least inside.

So there was lots to like, sitting still. But get rolling, and the thrashy motor is evident. Driving gently on city streets, the Focus remains quiet and composed, but stab the throttle to merge on a freeway and, while it goes where pointed with limited alacrity, it certainly lets you know just how hard it is working. It’s a struggle to get a bit more oomph without making the engine sound in pain. Perhaps the motor isn’t the real culprit here; the transmission often seemed to be caught napping, and was slow to find the right gear. It isn’t a bad gearbox—it is just like automatic gearboxes from the eighties—its frustrating, performance-blunting lethargy is why Europeans have never stopped buying manuals.

The test route was exclusively urban, and did not permit proper examination of handling. Certainly, the Focus turned in well, but even this was spoiled by the transmission; you scoot into the turn... and.... then…. the….. Focus…… hesitates.... before picking up, unless you second guess it by stomping on the throttle long before apex. Front-wheel drivers usually corner with a fast in/slow out style; this car is not so fast in, and…. very…. slow…. out.

During my time with the Focus I sat in a 1988 Ferrari Testarossa. Lord knows what had happened to it—the vendor told me flood damage—but not only was the motor seized solid, the clutch pedal was against the bulkhead and the shift lever jammed immovably in neutral. Despite this, Idesiredthe Ferrari; not so the Focus.

For enthusiasts, the Focus has gone backwards, developing a high quality interior while shedding driving dynamics. It would be a better car if it were electric—that would eliminate the sleepy transmission and overworked motor. Could there be a worse indictment of a car? Even so, in a vacuum where practical transport is the measure of quality, this is a good car. However, outside the vacuum in the real world, it has to compete against the Kia Soul; today, even cheap needs flair, and that is something this base model Focus lacks.

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