Going & Stopping

The only engine offered in the Focus is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder: To the good, it moves the Focus quite well if you're willing to rev it, and this isn't a chore because it revs easily. Rated at 143 hp in the coupe (140 hp in the sedan), the engine gives you enough power to confidently merge onto the highway and pull out in front of traffic. It's peppy enough to survive the increasingly aggressive driving public.

Gas mileage is competitive. Manual-transmission models are rated at 24/35 mpg city/highway while the optional four-speed automatic gets 24/33 mpg. There are a handful of models that get better automatic-transmission mileage — like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Kia Forte — but the Focus lags by only a few miles per gallon from the Civic's class-leading mileage.

What's less appealing about the four-cylinder is that even though it revs smoothly, at higher rpm you can feel some vibration through the pedals, which is something I haven't experienced in all of the cars I've tested. It's not something you want to feel when driving a new car and it was a little annoying, though I did get used to it after driving the Focus for a while. Fortunately, you don't feel any vibrations through the steering wheel.

The manual transmission is also something of a mixed bag, though the good outweighs the bad. The shifter is tall, which puts it within reach of your right hand, and it slips easily from gear to gear. What I didn't really like is the bit of play in the shifter. The clutch pedal is light enough that it won't turn your left leg to Jell-O in stop-and-go traffic, and it's easy to work the clutch and gas pedals to accelerate smoothly from a stop.

I initially thought the Focus' brake pedal was a little soft, but I came to appreciate the amount of control I found beyond that initial softness. Once the pedal firms up, it lets you finely tune braking response with foot pressure.

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