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2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE review: 2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE

The SE trim level is the meat and potatoes of Ford's 2012 Focus lineup, with an efficient engine and just enough cabin tech to not be distracting.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
6 min read

Ford Focus, you've come a long way, baby. What was once just a middling compact sedan that got by on its low price and angular, chunky looks has grown into a leader in its class. The Focus Titanium is available with automatic parallel parking and an impressive MyFord Touch with Sync infotainment system. The whisper-quiet Focus Electric features a cutting-edge, 100 percent electric power train. Regardless of what model you choose, the Focus has benefited tremendously from increased cabin quality, fit and finish, and eye-catching design.

2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE

2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE

The Good

The <b>2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE</b> delivered good fuel economy during our highway-heavy testing. Ford Sync and MyFord steering-wheel controls are easy to understand and help you keep your hands on the wheel while driving. Voice command for audio source selection and hands-free calling are available.

The Bad

Audio quality from the six-speaker system leaves a bit to be desired. The version of Ford Sync that supports AppLink isn't available in this car.

The Bottom Line

The 2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE is a good value, delivering simple yet effective cabin tech and efficient performance without lots of distracting frills.

However, at the core of all that, the Focus still has to be an inexpensive runabout that a prospective compact-car owner with $20 grand to spend won't regret signing for. The 2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE is those things, offering a good blend of available tech options, fit and finish, and fuel efficiency without breaking the bank.

Freeway cruising and fuel economy
The bulk of my experience with the 2012 Focus Sedan took place during a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego for the 2012 Comic-Con International. My chosen route, California's bone-straight I-5, didn't offer much opportunity to test the sedan's cornering ability or slalom agility. We'll save those sorts of feats for the 2013 Focus ST when it eventually parks itself in the Car Tech garage.

The Focus' 2.0-liter GDI engine is good for up to 40 highway mpg with the automatic gearbox and SFE package.

Josh Miller/CNET

What I did get to test was the highway fuel economy of the sedan's four-cylinder engine. Over the course of the first tank, the sedan averaged 35.2 mpg. That, however, was the high-water mark for the week's fuel economy, but the Focus still proved to be admirably efficient. Four days of scooting around San Diego and two trips through Los Angeles' rush-hour traffic only caused the weeklong average fuel economy to drop down to 33.6 mpg -- not a bad number at all, but with more than 80 percent of the driven miles being taken at a comfortable 65-70 mph cruise, it's no surprise that the Focus ended up closer to its EPA-estimated 36 mpg highway rating than its 26 mpg city estimate.

The 2.0-liter engine uses gasoline direct-injection technology and variable valve timing to generate 146 pound-feet of torque at 4,450rpm and a maximum of 160 horsepower at 6,500rpm. This engine is tuned for efficiency, but it's no slouch in the power department. There was plenty of grunt available at the low end of the powerband for squirts of acceleration away from traffic lights and midrange torque was so good that there really was no need to approach the top end of the tachometer during daily driving.

The Focus cruised effortlessly up and down the hundreds of miles on I-5 with nary a complaint and not much engine noise. Road and wind noise were also reasonably low thanks to excellent seals on the doors and windows and well-placed sound deadening. It's a good thing the Focus' cabin was reasonably quiet because the stock stereo needed all the help it could get, but we'll get back to that shortly.

The standard gearbox is a 5-speed manual job, but a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic is available.

Josh Miller/CNET

In the case of our Focus SE, that engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission that is not bad at all. The shifter's throw is econobox long, but the shifting effort is light and the engagement positive -- both great traits to have in a runabout that will likely see more traffic jams than autocross courses. Likewise, the clutch pedal is low-effort with a predictable takeup that's easy to modulate during a city traffic creep. The technophile in me wants to see a six-speed manual, but after a week with the five-speed I'm glad to report that the five forward ratios that you do get here are well-spaced and, as I stated earlier, deliver pretty good efficiency without much sacrifice in performance.

Prospective Focus owners who want even more efficiency can step up to an optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox for up to an estimated 28 mpg in the city and 38 on the highway. The six-speed SE model is also available with an optional Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package that bumps the highway miles-per-gallon estimate up to 40 -- our manual model obviously wasn't equipped with this. And if you're just sick of tailpipe emissions and fossil fuels altogether, there's always the 2012 Focus Electric to consider.

Be sure to check out the full review of the Ford Focus Electric (right).

Josh Miller/CNET

MyFord and Sync package
The SE trim level comes standard with a passable amount of cabin tech. You get power windows and mirrors, power locks with remote unlock, and a rudimentary, four-speaker audio system that reads standard and MP3 CDs and features an auxiliary input for your portable media player. The most advanced feature on this rig is speed-sensitive volume control. Like I said: passable.

However, it gets so much better with the addition of our vehicle's $1,385 Rapid Spec 203A package. (Ford really needs to get more clever with its package naming system.) This option rolls the Convenience package and the MyFord and Sync package into one big line item on the pricing sheet. The Convenience package adds cruise control and a perimeter alarm system to the feature list.

The basic Sync system's small screen is unassuming, but its true power lies in voice command.

Josh Miller/CNET

The MyFord and Sync package is where things start getting interesting. This package adds the oft-praised Ford Sync system to the mix, bringing with it Bluetooth hands-free calling with voice recognition and address book sync, wireless Bluetooth audio streaming with support for displaying metadata form-supported devices, and USB/iPod connectivity for digital media playback with voice control for artist, album, and genre selection.

I was looking forward to spending more time with Ford Sync AppLink. Unfortunately, this system is not the version of Sync that supports such a function. With at least four different versions of Sync floating around all called Ford Sync something or other, even we here at Car Tech get a bit confused from time to time.

Just about all of Sync's functions can be voice-commanded, but the small color screen on which the infotainment information is displayed can also be commanded with the small MyFord directional pad on the right spoke of the steering wheel. There's also a corresponding MyFord D-pad on the left spoke that gives the driver control over the LCD located in the information cluster where vehicle options can be adjusted and fuel economy and trip computer function can be monitored. There's even a simple green-driving gauge that scores your driving based on factors like shifting efficiency, prediction of upcoming stops, and throttle application.

Steering-wheel controls are available for both of the LCDs, allowing drivers to focus on keeping their hands on the wheel.

Josh Miller/CNET

This package also bumps the audio system up to six speakers total. The result is only "pretty good" audio quality that doesn't stand out as particularly offensive in any way, but doesn't exactly excite the ears either.

Our Focus Sedan SE was equipped with an optional SE Sport Package that adds a trunk lid spoiler to the exterior and leather trim to the steering wheel and shift knob for $895. Finally, the stock 16-inch steel wheels and hubcaps were replaced with optional two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels with black paint and machined spoke surfaces, adding $495 to the bottom line.

The top-of-the-line tech packages add a Sony-branded premium audio system, a larger 8-inch touch-sensitive LCD with built-in navigation, and a number of other creature comforts such as automatic climate controls, but our vehicle was not thusly equipped.

In sum
Our 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan starts at $17,995 when you include the $725 destination fee. That money gets you a good car for efficient transportation from point A to B, but no frills and not very much in the way of tech (unless you consider an auxiliary input to be the apogee of cabin technology). However, with the addition of just a few options and a bump of the bottom line up to $20,580, you get a good amount of tech including an excellent Sync voice command system and the MyFord steering-wheel controls -- both of which are focused (pun intended) on helping you keep your hands firmly on the wheel while driving.

Tech specs
Model2012 Ford Focus Sedan
Power train2.0-liter GDI 4-cylinder
EPA fuel economy 26 city, 36 highway, 30 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy33.6 mpg
NavigationOptional (not equipped)
Bluetooth phone supportSync voice-activated, hands-free calling
Disc playerSingle-slot CD/MP3 support
MP3 player supportAnalog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audioSiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system6-speaker
Driver aidsn/a
Base price$17,270
Price as tested$20,580 (with discount)
2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE

2012 Ford Focus Sedan SE

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 5Performance tech 7Design 7


See full specs Trim levels SEAvailable Engine GasBody style Sedan