AUSTIN, Tex. -- Driving through the nightlife district of Austin -- a collection of roadhouse rib joints, melodic Blues bars and raucous Texas honkytonks -- we're only inching along Sixth Street due to too much vehicular traffic and too many jaywalking pedestrians.
The snail's pace might frustrate us if time was the motivation for this twirl around the Texas capital, but we're content to focus instead on the ride quality, cabin comforts and high-tech gizmos heaped aboard Ford's pint-size Focus, which scores a total remake for 2012 models fashioned in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback formats.
That nameplate traces back the fall of 1998 when the flashy new design at the Paris International Auto Show was an eensy-weensy economy car which carried the blue oval badge of Ford.
Focus became a production reality for European markets in 1999 conformed as a three-door hatchback coupe, four-door sedan and five-door wagon, and the three variations reached North America in the summer of 1999 as model-year 2000 cars.
Flash forward to Ford's 2012 lineup and Focus emerges in edgy new designs constructed on a front-wheel-drive platform with the wheelbase stretched some six inches longer than previous iterations.
Styling of the body appears aerodynamic and different in a rounded form but with sharply creased planes and a steeply raked windshield.
The expansive cabin with seats for five riders features high-quality materials and heaps of electronic technology.
And a new four-cylinder engine grows in size and output yet achieves higher fuel efficiency figures -- up to an EPA-rated 40 mpg for highway cruising.
With a roof rising less than five feet high and the body stretching 14+ feet long, Focus resembles a streamlined egg that conforms to a family-friendly four-door notchback sedan or a cargo-hauling five-door hatchback.
It looks downright slick in a monochromatic treatment with the smoothly rounded prow projecting a flat bar grille as the global Ford face above a gaping inverted-trapezoid air duct.
Front corners house elongated headlamp clusters that sweep back to muscular bulges of the forward fenders, as the sculpted hood and raked windshield lead up to an arching canopy covering the passenger compartment.
The four-door sedan comes in four trim grades -- a price-leading S, volume-seller SE and well-equipped SEL plus top-tier Titanium.
The five-door hatch skews to three grades -- volume-model SE, packed SES and maxed Titanium.
Consider the pair -- Focus for 2012 as sedan or hatch -- essentially an economical set of wheels which can cover up to 40 miles on one gallon of unleaded 87-octane gasoline.
How low can Ford's economical compacts go?
Out of the box with no extra equipment aboard, the new Focus S sedan fitted with a five-speed manual transmission or Ford's PowerShift six-speed automatic transaxle lists for around $16,500.
Ford sets the MSRP for Focus SE sedan at $17,400, with the Focus SE hatchback bumping to $18,200. Focus SEL sedan and Focus SES hatchback go for $20,300 and $22,100, respectively, while top trim Focus Titanium tallies to $22,200 (sedan) and $22,700 (hatch).
The strong unibody structure for Focus is made with ultra-high-strength and boron steels.
The suspension design produces responsive handling and a refined ride quality. Ford installs independent MacPherson struts in front with tuned front shock absorbers and a 23.5-mm front stabilizer bar. Then there's a multilink arrangement in back with tuned rear shocks and a 19-mm stabilizer bar.
Depending on trim tier, Focus rolls on 15-inch (S), 16-inch (SE and SEL), 17-inch (Titanium) or 18-inch (Titanium optional) wheels capped by all-season tires. Top option 18-inch painted aluminum wheels house 235/40R18 BSW rubber.
The rack and pinion steering system gets electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of a modest engine.
Brakes for Focus utilize front ventilated discs and rear drums on the base trim, or power-assisted four-wheel discs for upper trims. For predictable straight-line stopping, Ford installs a standard anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus an electronic stability control (ESC) device.
Ford also loads lots of passive safety systems aboard. Front riders get dual two-stage frontal air bags, side air bags and seatbelts with pretensioners. Then there are curtain-style air bags stretching the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear.
Focus's front-wheel-drive powertrain consists of a four-cylinder engine linked manual or automatic shifter.
The dual-cam 2.0-liter in-line-four is made from aluminum and outfitted with high-pressure gasoline direct injection and Ford's Ti-VCT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) valvetrain technology to precisely manage engine breathing and combustion in order to maximize throttle response and performance. It produces 160 hp at 6500 rpm plus torque of 146 lb-ft at 4450 rpm.
The five-speed manual is a lightweight unit with a firm shifter stick. The optional PowerShift six-speed automatic delivers the responsive performance and fuel economy of a manual transmission but the convenience of an automatic.