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TUESDAY, FEB. 15, 2011, 2:07 P.M.

Welcome to the Penthouse: 2012 Ford Focus Launch (2)

I have a duty, a joyous obligation to take full advantage of any test drive conducted for this blog. Ford made it clear on the interactive bus ride to pick up our press cars that one of the key attributes of their 2012 Focus was a thing called “Torque Vectoring.” I felt very included by its nutshell description:

“Torque vectoring control provides handling characteristics that will flatter novice drivers and reward expert ones.” 

The plan was to partner with another member of the automotive press and complete a 120 mile course through the famous driver’s roads of southern California. A local freelance writer introduced himself to me as several dozen strangers did the same, hurriedly pacing the long row of Focuses to find the right combination of transmission and trim package before the next guy swiped their dream car out from under them.

Mike (we’ll call him) and I made pals and nabbed a manual transmission hatchback; it didn’t have all the options but the stick shift was critical if we were to push the car hard enough to discover if we’d be flattered or rewarded by its advanced handling system. 

Before long we were lost. Mike had lived in the area for 17 years and assumed he could direct us through a much more enjoyable course than Ford had given us instructions for while still managing to arrive at our designated checkpoint. It didn’t work. Compounding our troubles, our Focus had a manual transmission, which meant it wasn’t equipped with the integrated GPS navigation system that could be found on the upper-end trim packages.


-Active park assist
-SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information (Damn!)
-HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging
-Ambient lighting
-Torque vectoring control
-Rear view camera
-Intelligent Access with push-button start
-Wi-Fi access (Double damn! Mike had an I-Phone!)


Mike was embarrassed and apologized profusely for the inconvenience. I reassured him I was just happy to be out of the house. The directional blunder revealed itself as a blessing in disguise when we found ourselves traveling a tight winding portion of road that was littered sporadically with menacing rocks. They had fallen from the crumbling stone ridges that lined the non-cliff side of the pavement. The cliff side of the road was crumbling away to more cliff. 

Every fifteen minutes or so we encountered a road crew working to clear the rocky debris or patching up portions of the road that were threatening to give way into the sheer drop of the valley. This was just the sort of challenging environment we needed to see how the Focus would respond under critical face-paced maneuvering. From the press release:

“Ford engineers have enhanced Focus cornering stability and agility with an advanced torque vectoring control system, behaving like a limited-slip differential to constantly balance the distribution of torque between the front wheels. This results in reduced understeer, improved traction and better turn-in.

The system is particularly effective as the car accelerates through corners, applying an imperceptible amount of braking to the inside front wheel so that more of the engine torque goes to the outside wheel with greater traction. This makes the car feel smaller, more agile and responsive.”

The Focus felt particularly small as I powered through a 25mph blind turn to emerge on the other side hurtling towards the massive bucket of a front-loader scraping along the pavement to collect rocks. Luckily the 2012 Ford Focus’ body structure enjoys 30% greater rigidity than the previous model, which complimented the torque vectoring as we darted hard right, skirting the shoulder of the road to avoid an early death via Tonka toy. 

Mike and I enjoyed a nervous chuckle and hung a right at the next crossroad to drop back down to Mulholland Drive. David Lynch just happened to be out for his afternoon walk. His description of the plot behind his film, Mulholland Drive made absolutely no sense, but he gave excellent directions on how to get back to Ford’s checkpoint. 

Thanks, Dave. Lay off the LSD.

At the car exchange, we enjoyed complimentary ice cream, tacos, and swapped our manual transmission Focus for a dashing purple model outfitted with an automatic dry-clutch six-speed Ford PowerShift tranny. The new setup reduced our fuel consumption “by up to 9% compared to a traditional four-speed automatic.” Under the hood, an all-new 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection DOHC four-cylinder engine with high-pressure direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing was said to make more power than the outgoing model while adding 10% to the fuel economy (40mpg highway).

Perhaps more exciting, this Focus bore the shiny “Titanium” emblem on its rear, which announced to the locals that Mike and I were being swaddled in the opulence of all the aforementioned options. Behind the wheel again, with a lowered confidence in Mike’s sense of direction, I was pleased to find our route back to the hotel was preloaded on the SYNC/MyFord Touch LCD screen. The relief was beset by the heaviness of my conscience. 

Unbeknownst to Mike, there was an invisible baby on board: MotorSpaceNW. Unlike a human child, the biggest danger to MotorSpace on the final leg of our trip would be to complete it without pushing the Focus to its limits, especially if we neglected to film such action for publication on the internets. 

Mike agreed to hold my camera. Watch the fun on YouTube at:

Flattered or complimented, I was impressed with the new Focus, and I’m not one to be bought, swindled or lied to. 


Also included in new videos is a brief video of a luxurious hotel room on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. 

Follow team Seattle as they compete in Focus Rally America here: 

And on Hulu.


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