Upcoming: 2012 Ford Focus

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Consider the new Chevrolet Cruze obsolete. You read that right. Think about it. The Cruze was released in Europe and a few other markets this past year to extraordinary success. Sure, it's a better car than the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but both of them are five years old. Chevrolet has simply taken too long to get the Cruze to the US market. It'll have a good first year, but once the new 2012 Ford Focus comes to market, Chevrolet will need to consider a refresh already.

Since Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford back in 2005, he quickly discovered a real problem. The Focus sold in the US was not the same car sold in Europe. The latter was dramatically better in every way. Based off the same new platform as the Mazda 3, the European Focus drove and looked great and displayed a much more upscale feel, both inside and out. America was stuck with a Focus based on a 10-year-old platform. Mulally recognized what a debacle this was and also wondered why Ford spent development money on two separate cars with the same name. So goes the business mentality Ford had at the time.

That's all different now as Ford has released the first pictures and specs of their new world Focus sedan and hatchback. Visually speaking, the new Focus is spot-on. It's sleek and modern yet displays familiar signs of being a competent daily driver and family hauler. In both sedan and hatchback, the Focus looks like a better car partly due to its lower and wider stance. At launch, American buyers will have a choice of two transmission options and a new engine. To the delight of many, buyers can choose a six-speed manual gearbox.

Whoever said the manual is completely dead? The other option will be a six-speed dual-clutch PowerShift with manual shift capability. Ford says there will be no conventional automatic. The standard engine will be a 2.0 liter direct-injected four-cylinder with an estimated 155 horsepower. Fortunately, this engine will also form the basis of the upcoming 2.0 EcoBoost, which should provide a sportier performance. Early rumors indicate this could be a 1.6 liter with more than 200 hp. No mileage figures have been released, but expect for it to compete head-on with the Cruze and achieve 40+ mpg highway.

Sometime in 2011, Ford will also launch the Focus Electric which has an expected driving range of 80-100 miles. Inside, the interior looks absolutely fantastic. It's straightforward, simple, yet sporty. Ford has promised that there will be an abundance of soft-touch materials throughout - another sign that Ford has caught up to Japanese quality standards. Options will include a backup camera, blind-spot warning system, keyless ignition, a navigation system with an eight-inch screen, and an updated version of the excellent Sync infotainment system. Only question is whether buyers are willing to pay for these on a small car.

Exact pricing hasn't been announced yet, but expect to pay more for this new Focus than the previous generation. Base models should start just below $17,000. Adding on the features will have its price, estimated to be in the low-$20,000 range. So will they come and pay? It all comes down to brand equity, as names such as the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf attract buyers who have no problem handing over checks near or above $20k. Ford needs to show their new Focus is the complete package if it expects to be in the high equity club with the 3 and Golf, and not with the dull Toyota Corolla.

Based on this early product preview, Ford may just have toasted the Cruze even before both go on sale.

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