The 2012 Ford Focus SE
Patrick Rall's picture

The 2012 Ford Focus SE review: affordability, economy and no sacrifices

I recently had a chance to spend some time with a 2012 Ford Focus SE, a sporty C-segment sedan that illustrates how far the American compact sedan has come with incredible fuel economy, a low price and loads of amenities – meaning that owning an affordable American compact no longer means driving a bare bones vehicle with no soul.
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The compact sedan market in the US, currently referred to the C-segment, has come a long way from the early day of these low priced models and the 2013 Ford Focus SE is a beautiful example of the advances in this vehicle class. The Focus SE sedan starts at just $17,500 and my test vehicle was fully loaded with the exception of the manual transmission – including the Rapid Spec 203A and the SE Sport Package with 17” black alloy wheels – for a total sticker price of $20,580. This is only slightly more than the SEL but due to the fact that the automatic transmission becomes standard with the SEL model – I would pick the SE with the clutch pedal all day. After all, my test car was equipped with the majority of the goodies from the SEL but I still got to enjoy rowing my own gears…and having driven both automatic and manually shifted 2012 Focus vehicles, I would recommend the stick shift for those who have the means to deal with a manual transmission.

The Exterior
The 2012 Ford Focus SE carries the same sharp, sporty exterior styling of the rest of the Focus lineup – a look that has resonated well with the American consumer since hitting dealerships. In the past, the compact sedan market was dominated by boring, ultra-bland vehicles; seemingly in an effort to melt into the crowd as best as possible but that has changed a great deal and the aggressive design of the 2012 Focus does a great job of standing out in the booming segment. The headlights run back along the sides of the car, offering great illumination and an angry scowl – with the massive lower grille area giving the Focus a race ready look with the foglights pushed well to the outside of the front fascia.

Along the sides of the 2012 Focus, there are sublte flares over the front and rear wheels with a high body line that fades through the middle but connects the front and rear lines of the sedan. Helping to bolster the sportiness, the B and C pillars are both black rather than body color, matching nicely with the lower black trim and giving the car a smoother design through the greenhouse. Out back, the Focus features large, bright taillights that stretch along the sides in a similar fashion to the headlights.

The SE Sport package takes the already sporty look of the 2012 Focus and adds a low profile rear spoiler, a gloss black grille treatment, and the optional 17” black painted alloy wheels with raised silver sections to enhance the aggressive look of the car. These larger wheels fill the wells perfectly, helping to complete the sporty look of this affordable trimline and for those looking at the Focus SE sedan, I would call the SE Sport Package a must have and those optional black wheels would be on my checklist as well.

The Interior
Inside, the SE Sport Package continues to enhance the 2012 Ford Focus SE sedan, beginning with two tone sport front seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel and metallic interior trim pieces around the door handles that work with the other bright accents that stand out inside of the Focus from the mostly-black interior. The interior of the new Focus itself is packed full of hard angles, from the air ducts to the door panels to the top of the dashboard. The Sync system of the Focus SE doesn’t offer the large Sony-designed touch system and navigation screen but unlike some modern stereo systems that overcomplicate everything, the Focus’ sound system is straightforward and easy to work with the help of the steering wheel controls for the driver. Also, the HVAC system has good ol’ control knobs for simplified interior temperature control, working with the stereo system to make for easy control of the interior features –although for those of you who are into gadgetry, the Sony Sync system offers everything at the touch of your fingers for the higher priced trimlines.

The SE Sport seats in my 2012 Ford Focus SE test car were comfortable and did a nice job of keeping me firm in my seat during stints of spirited driving. There was plenty of leg room for the driver and front passenger without crushing the rear passengers – although with a very tall driver a similarly tall rear passenger may be more comfortable sitting on the passenger’s side of the car. However, for a family with two young children; the kids will fit comfortably in the rear seating positions with plenty of room even when the front seats are pushed all of the way back. The trunk of the Focus sedan is very roomy – enough for two large hockey equipment bags – and when there isn’t enough room in the trunk the rear seats fold down to offer a ton more cargo space.

The Drive
The 2012 Ford Focus SE is roomy, comfortable, sporty looking, and affordable but the real measure of quality takes place on the open road and the new Focus is a great car to drive. There was a point in time where driving a affordable compact car meant that you drove a sluggish, boring vehicle that struggled to get out of its own way but that is not true of the 2012 Focus SE that will easily tickle the triple digits on the open road while also ripping away from a stop in a hurry. The 2.0L 4-cylinder engine in the Focus packs 160 horsepower and 146lb-ft of torque, which is plenty of power to get the Focus off of the line pretty quickly; especially with the help of the 5-speed manual transmission. The manual transmission is very user friendly with a very forgiving clutch and a shifter that makes missing a gear difficult – even when banging through gears while driving the Focus hard. The drivetrain is quiet and smooth when cruising under normal conditions but the peppy 160hp engine comes to life in the high rpms, breaking the tires loose when shifting hard as the Focus smoothly accelerates quickly enough to merge into the fastest moving of local Detroit traffic.

In addition to offering poor acceleration, compact models back in the day often handled as poorly as they came off of the starting line but the suspension design of the 2012 Focus SE allows for a smooth, quiet ride and firm handling through the turns. In tight turns, the Focus feels very nimble with only minor understeer at higher speeds and on longer, higher speed turns (such as sharper turns on back country roads) the Focus felt firm on the road and very confident. This was a car that I looked forward to driving and with a price of just over $20,000 – I consider the near-loaded Ford Focus SE to be a great bargain.

Finally, while I drove the Focus like a sports car for the time that I had it, it still got great fuel mileage. The Focus that I tested advertises city fuel economy of 26mpg and a highway measure of 36mpg for an advertised combined number of 30 miles per gallon. When driving the car in a spirited manner, my average fuel economy per tank never dropped below this 30mpg mark and on a trip where the majority of the driving was done on the highway – we hit 34.8 miles per gallon over the course of that tank.

The Final Word
In short, the 2012 Ford Focus is great fun to drive and that begins with the lower trimlines so for those who like the look of the new Ford Focus and do not want to foot the bill of the high end Focus Titanium, the Ford Focus SE with the SE Sport Package offers a great drive, a sharp sporty exterior look and a roomy comfortable interior that allows you to enjoy your car without breaking the bank. There is no question why - in the C-segment that has grown so much in quality over the past few years - the Ford Focus continues to be a leader in the hugely popular segment. The Focus has a great look, an impressive level of interior quality, a powerful engine and great fuel economy, all of which work together to make for a car that is a leader in the segment for a variety of very clear reasons.

The Ford Focus lineup will continue to improve later this year with the introduction of the high performance Focus ST and the super-efficient Focus Electric.

Click any of the thumbnails on the right for a closer look at the 2012 Ford Focus SE with the SE Sport Package.


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Comments

I own a Focus SE with the Powershift Dual Clutch transmission. Mine was built in early 2011 and exhibited the low-speed clunkiness that all the auto press complained about. I am pleased to report, though, that Ford issued two patches to the transmission software in late 2011 that have resolved all issues with the transmission. I had mine reprogrammed and now it is very refined and willing and has none of the low speed jerkiness or slow response. It cured the car's only flaw. In short, I would recommend a Focus now with either the manual gearbox or the automatic, and you will get great fuel economy and smooth performance with either choice.
I own a Focus SE with the Powershift Dual Clutch transmission. Mine was built in early 2011 and exhibited the low-speed clunkiness that all the auto press complained about. I am pleased to report, though, that Ford issued two patches to the transmission software in late 2011 that have resolved all issues with the transmission. I had mine reprogrammed and now it is very refined and willing and has none of the low speed jerkiness or slow response. It cured the car's only flaw. In short, I would recommend a Focus now with either the manual gearbox or the automatic, and you will get great fuel economy and smooth performance with either choice.