Looks can be deceiving, but it's no lie that the 2015 Ford Focus makes a strong styling statement and backs that up with equally impressive comfort, roominess, safety and fuel efficiency.
Credit the Focus and its smaller Fiesta sibling for leading the way back for Ford in North America. These are cars that European buyers have enjoyed thrashing for years.
Meanwhile on this side of the pond, we were offered watered-down versions with blander styling and softer, less-precise freeway-tuned suspensions that were matched with less energetic powertrains. Fortunately, the Euro models are now sold here and the playing field is level.
The latest Focus, which arrives this summer in sedan and hatchback body styles, follows the 2014 Fiesta's lead by displaying Ford's corporate grille design that's also found on the mid-size Fusion, full-size Taurus, and even the soon-to-arrive 2015 Mustang. Some might express a preference for the previous open-mouth air intake, but the change certainly makes the car appear richer, more tailored and more aerodynamic.
Other physical adjustments include a new hood, front fenders and rear deck/liftgate. There are also new headlights and front and rear taillamps plus revised trim, seat covers, a new floor console and a standard screen for the rear-view camera.
Unseen changes incorporate retuned front and rear suspensions for improved handling and ride comfort and a less-intrusive stability control system that gives the driver greater latitude when operating the vehicle in slippery conditions.
But perhaps the most important Focus change agent is found under the hood. For 2015 you can now opt for a turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that makes 123 horsepower and, more importantly, a stout 132 pound-feet of torque.
Ford's littlest turbo is the same one available in the smaller Fiesta. However with an extra 350 pounds of Focus to haul around it might not seem quite as spirited, or as fuel-efficient. The automaker has yet to release official figures, but since the Fiesta is rated at 32 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway equipped with a mandatory six-speed manual transmission, you can expect the Focus to get about 30/43. That's right, no automatic transmission with the 1.0.
Standard issue (and unaltered for 2015) is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. Its fuel numbers are 27/37 (28/40 with the optional fuel-saver SFE package) when operated through a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard is a six-speed manual trans, which replaces the previous five-speed unit.
Also likely to make its encore is the Focus electric as well as the performance-minded ST hatchback with its turbocharged 252-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
As with many smaller cars, the Focus can be had with the kind of safety and security options that previously were only offered in larger, pricer models. Chief among them is a "Blind Spot Monitoring" system with "Cross Traffic Alert" that warns of rear approaching traffic from either side of the vehicle, or when vehicles are crossing from behind when you're backing up.
Also available is lane-departure warning, which vibrates the steering wheel if the vehicle begins drifting from its intended lane without you signaling to do so. The system will also try to "steer" the car back to its original lane should you not take appropriate corrective actions.
If you would prefer a frugal Focus, the price-leader S sedan is expected to start at about $18,000, including delivery fees. It arrives in pretty basic shape, but move up to the SE or Titanium trim levels and content levels rise dramatically. Some of the more popular options include MyFordTouch communications and infotainment system, power sunroof and upgraded audio package, to name a few.
The Focus's tweaks, upgrades and enhancements certainly improve the breed and hammers home the fact that small cars have a lot more to offer in shape and content than you might think.
What you should know: 2015 Ford Focus
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan and hatchback
Engines (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (160); 1.0-liter DOHC I3, turbocharged (123)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt. on I4)
Market position: With more space, plenty of comfort features and the ability to stretch fuel budgets, compact models such as the Focus are becoming viable alternatives to mid-size sedans.
Points: Redesigned front-end styling looks great, especially on hatchback versions; Optional three-cylinder engine gets good fuel economy, but lack of automatic-transmission choice will limit interest; Impressive active safety features is rapidly becoming common in this class; Suspension upgrades should also add appeal.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 27/37 (2.0. AT): Base price (incl. destination) $18,000 (est.)
Base price: $18,000
Restyled 2014 sedan looks good; coupe, hatch models also available.
Base price: $17,750
Third-generation sedan and hatchback look cool and are fun to drive.
Base price: $17,600
Roomy compact in sedan only format. Engine offers modest power.