When it comes to reviewing new cars, most media outlets depend on whatever vehicle the manufacturer supplies them with. One would think that an automaker would be providing top models filled with all the available options, but that is not always true. Sometimes manufacturers provide the press with lower optioned cars to avoid a large deviation from the starting price. Sometimes they provide most commonly sold models, other times a special edition or a newly introduced trim. And sometimes they simply provide whatever they have available.
Recently I had the rare opportunity to drive two versions of the same car, a Ford Focus. First was a white Titanium model that was loaded with just about every option. The second was a mid-range SE model equipped with a new for 2016 three-cylinder EcoBoost engine (previously only available on the Fiesta), automatic transmission, and a cold weather package.
The question is, how different could two same model cars really be?
2016 Ford Focus Titanium
The Titanium name is reserved for the top-of-the line Focus model. It’s the loaded one, it’s the one you’ll see on the showroom floor with a bow on it, teasing you, right up to the point when the salesman gives you a killer deal on the common SE. It’s got so many gadgets that part of me is applauding the fact that Ford restrained itself from slapping a Lincoln badge on it.
Selecting the Titanium trim basically adds everything to the Focus. Inside there is automatic climate control, heated leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, every window had one-touch up and down, folding rear seat with an armrest, and full SYNC system. Outside there is a silver grill, chrome trim, upgraded lighting, heated mirrors, and a remote start.
The engine is the same 160 horsepower two-liter four-cylinder engine as in the other models, connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. While it is completely adequate for the vast majority of population, it feels rather generic and makes uninspiring noises. This Focus did handle surprisingly nicely, grippy in corners, which I suspect was mostly due to the optional Pirelli P-Zero Nero all-season tires, as differences in suspension are likely minimal between this and the SE model.
The interior seems on par with competition and all materials seem of good quality. With the exception of the headlight switch, which low on the dash, all controls are logically placed and generally easy to use. The leather is somewhat hard but the seats are comfortable and adjustable in all the right ways. Visibility is good too, and if there is something to complain, it’s the rear seat legroom. Areas out of plain sight is where Ford is cutting corners, such as doors, trunk trim, and finishes. In my opinion Ford’s SYNC infotainment system is one of the best on the market, along with BMW’s iDrive, despite the two being very different.
The Focus Platinum starts at $23,225. The White Platinum paint, which looks better in life than in pictures, is $595. 18-inch wheels with Pirellis are $625, technology package is $795, nav system is $795, and the parking assistance is $395. The automatic transmission is the only choice on the Titanium model. With destination added, but still a sunroof short of being “fully loaded”, the pictured Focus Titanium has a manufacturer suggested retail price of $27,200. For comparison, a loaded Hyundai Elantra Limited has the same price but includes the latest in accident avoidance features and a sunroof.
The Focus Titanium should meet the expectations of its buyers, which that of being a basic vehicle with all the gadgets. While it does not seem to excel in any particular area, it does not seem to have any obvious shortcomings, either. What frustrated me personally about the Focus is that after driving the new F-150, I know that Ford can produce a better vehicle, one that would excel and not just strive for being avarage. As it is, this is an average vehicle with an average price in a very competitive segment.
2016 Focus SE EcoBoost
On the other end of the spectrum is the SE model. It is a step-up from the base S model, not so much in terms of features but in option packages that are not available on the S. The SE gets an additional 12v socket, cruise control, arm rest, seat pockets, trip computer, automatic headlights, body-colored trim, and rear disc brakes. But the SE allows the buyer to select several option packages that are not available on the S. One of those is the “SE EcoBoost® Appearance Package” which comes 16-inch aluminum wheels, rear disc brakes, black gloss upper grille and headlamps bezels, LED lighting, and fog lights. And the appearance package also comes the new, for the 2016 Focus, 1.0 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine.
When I started driving this Focus I thought that it was just the two-liter as I had no idea that the one-liter engine was even available on the Focus, or with an automatic transmission. But the red car felt different from the white Titanium; it was not as jumpy off the line, the engine spun more freely all the way up to its redline. I then actually opened the hood, removed the engine cover, and counted the spark-plug wires because I didn’t want to believe what I was suspecting.
I have previously reviewed a Fiesta with the three-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. It was the package of a fuel-efficient base car and an enthusiast demanding manual transmission that left me confused. The engine itself was pretty good but could have benefited from a lighter flywheel. But this is not a stick Fiesta but a bigger, 400-pound heavier, Focus equipped with an automatic transmission.
Unlike in the manual EcoBoost Fiesta, this 123hp and 148 lb-ft of torque engine was more eager to rev and felt perfectly fine with the automatic transmission bolted up to it. Other than feeling a bit different than the four-cylinder, there were no side effects of the three-cylinder engine that I noticed. None of it made sense but it worked. It’s not that this car was necessarily faster than either the naturally aspired Focus or the stick Fiesta, but that its odd power-plant was transparent in feel for what it really was.
The biggest advantage of the boosted triple should be fuel economy. The two-liter Focus is EPA rated for 26mpg city and 38mpg on the highway, for a combined 30mpg economy. The triple EcoBoost is rated for 28mpg in the city and 40mpg on the highway, for a combined 32mpg economy. On paper that is not a huge difference, but in real-life driving, the same mix of city and highway, I was getting about 27-28mpg in the four-cylinder and about 31-32mpg in the triple. For comparison, the new Honda Civic EX is EPA-rated at 31mpg in the city and 41mpg on the highway, for combined rating of 35mpg. The new Hyundai Elantra SE gets a rating of 29mpg in the city and 38mpg on the highway, for a combined economy of 33mpg.
Between the smaller wheels and drabber interior, the Focus SE makes no secrets about being Titanium’s less expensive sibling. The dark-colored seat fabric gives the whole interior a rental feel. The lack of the big-screen SYNC system in the big cubicle further screams base model. The screen is a not a touch-screen, which means that all controls have be accessed by the numerous buttons below it, and that is far from ideal. The base infotainment system does not have a satellite radio but Bluetooth is present and it easily syncs with one’s phone. There are an auxiliary and USB inputs, too. Those smaller wheels actually provide a smoother ride and are probably more resistant to bending in places where roads are poor.
The Focus SE starts at $18,515. The Ruby Red paint is $395, the cold weather package is $645, reverse sensing system is $255, exterior protection package is $245, and the cargo area protector is $75. Meat and potatoes are the “SE EcoBoost Appearance Package” which is $895 and includes the engine, and the automatic transmission which is $1095. Total manufacturer’s suggested retail price for this red Focus SE is $22,995 with destination charges. Unfortunately at the time of this writing Ford’s website was not updated to reflect what other options are available on the Focus EcoBoost.
The features of the Titanium model certainly make daily driving better, but are they needed in an entry-level car and are they worth five grand more? Probably not. Chose your SE option packages carefully and you can end up with 90% of the Titanium for 50% of the price gap. Is the EcoBoost engine worth its $895 price? I am tempted to say yes, but the differences in power and fuel economy are rather insignificant in daily use. Counting pennies and minutes to see how long it would take for the triple to pay for itself makes no sense. Perhaps Ford should consider retiring the four-cylinder and just sell the Focus with the triple? I don’t think anyone would mind.
Disclaimer: Ford Motor Corporation provided the vehicles for this review. Images: ©2016 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski, All Rights Reserved.