Review: 2013 Ford Focus SE

Open road, winding hills, and a hot hatch fully loaded with a family. Does the 2013 Ford Focus SE fit your family’s everyday needs? We put it to the test.

Under the Hood:
2013 Ford Focus SE

We didn’t expect blow-your-doors-off power from this compact hatchback, and we didn’t get it. That’s not to say we were disappointed by the 160HP four cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed PowerShift automatic transmission. We never worried when entering traffic from a stop or when accelerating down an on ramp. The Focus excelled even when we needed a bit more speed to get past that one driver who refuses to allow you to merge onto the highway easily.

The Focus proved to be tight and quick in a way that made us want to clip apexes and straighten curves. We had an issue with the transmission in stop-and-go traffic as the acceleration was sluggish up to the first gear change.

The engine features variable camshaft timing designed to improve power and torque while improving fuel economy. The transmission is a dual-clutch gearbox Ford (and design partner Getrag) predicts will improve fuel efficiency up to 10% compared to a single clutch automatic transmission. We got 34.1 mpg on the highway and 31.9 mpg in city driving situations.

Braking was excellent in all aspects, from a typical stop to emergency braking. When braking in city traffic the idle creep was practically non-existent on anything but a flat surface.

One of the most important features that families consider in a modern vehicle, and one that seems to vary from one manufacturer to the next, is cruise control. This Ford’s cruise control proved to be one of the most responsive and easiest to use.  It maintained steady speed on flat highway cruises and on a steep grade in the foothills of North Georgia. The simple bump up or down one mph was extremely easy to regulate.

2013 Ford Focus SE rear passenger view


Some manufacturers produce compacts that look like a starter kit or cheap alternative for the rest of the line-up. Ford avoids that and has produced a sharp looking car with looks you buy intentionally, not because it’s all you can afford.

Ford began manufacturing the Focus in 1998 as a replacement for the Escort and began US sales for the 2000 model year. The Focus has been through two redesigns since its inception seeing it go from quirky to boring to its current more playful version.

We really liked the look of the 2013, which was designed after Ford’s Kinetic Design concept which is intended to communicate a theme of “energy in motion.” The compact 5-door is reminiscent of the World Rally Car competitors Ford produces.  The lines are clean and give the car an eager appearance–ready and willing whenever you are, just like the Focus drives.

2013 Ford Focus SE drivers side interior


We’re still puzzling about the amount of “holders” the Focus has. Trays, pockets, cups, whatever you want to call them, the Focus is full of them and none of them seemed to serve any real purpose. One particular compartment in the center console on the driver’s side seemed perfectly placed for a cell phone. However, it was only big enough to hold a flip phone.

Between the center stack and the steering wheel in our SE model there were over forty buttons to control audio, two info screens, and other features.  In a world where an iPhone is so sophisticated yet so simple, it all just seemed a bit much. That being said, we always appreciate steering wheel controls and the Focus’s small but sturdy steering wheel featured easy-to-find, common sense locations and options for audio system volume and tuning.

2013 Ford Focus SE center consoleFord’s SYNC system is a factory installed communications and entertainment system that allows drivers to operate digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled phones using steering wheel controls and voice commands. While the system may have its merits—we admittedly weren’t in the vehicle long enough to fully explore it—we were a bit put off by the system as it took away most of our ability to control our MP3 player in the manner we are used to and made shuffling through songs a lengthy and tiresome process. We did not connect our phones to the system.

Without many expectations for the stereo in the Focus, we were both impressed and annoyed by the acoustics. No matter what the genre, the system played it clearly. Tuning, balance and fade were easily navigable even while driving. Volume, while easy to control both on the center console and steering wheel, had large jumps in volume levels in the crucial soft to medium range making it difficult to find that “perfect level” causing us to settle for either a little too loud or a little too soft.

Want to store your diaper bag on the floor of the front passenger seat while in the car? Need to grab a bottle or cloth from it while stopped at a light or driving? The shape of the center console makes this maneuver virtually impossible for anyone lacking Inspector Gadget-like arms.

2013 Ford Focus SE rear cupholderOur Junior Testers (JT1 and JT2) pointed out a troubling feature in the rear passenger area. The only available cup holders were molded into the plastic map pockets on the rear doors. Even JT1 knew it would be a bad idea for her to try to keep anything other than a sealed container in one of them. JT2 also had a problem with the depth of the rear seats. The front edge of the seat cushion caused her legs to rest at an odd angle making it nearly impossible for her to keep from repeatedly bumping the backside of the front seat passenger directly in front of her while she was in her booster seat.

Average sized adults can sit comfortably in the back seat but trying to squeeze the noted 5 person capacity into the vehicle with anyone big enough to not be in a car seat is a stretch. Rear seat sitting adults also had plenty of leg room even with the front seats moved fully back. A front passenger is not so lucky and will feel a bit squeezed in with very little room to add an average sized purse to the floor beside their feet with the narrow footwell while lengthwise the Focus offers plenty of room.

Important Numbers for Families:

  • 5– the number of people Ford claims the Focus can seat
  • 12.4– the Focus’s fuel capacity meaning that with the fuel mileage we got while driving it, you’ll get about 422 miles per tank on the highway and 395 in city driving
  • 3 or 36,000- the number of years or miles you’re covered with the Focus’s bumper to bumper warranty
  • 38.3– the front driver and passenger headroom which is right in line with similar vehicles in the Focus’s class giving it slightly more than the Mazda3 and slightly less than the Nissan Sentra

Family 5 Test2013 Ford Focus SE car seats

  1. Car Seats- Two car seats comfortably sit in the back seat with enough room for pre-tweens to move around once they’re out of their car seats.  The seats were easy to get in and out of the car and sat far back in the deep rear seats. As we noted earlier, when JT2 was in her booster seat, she couldn’t help but touch the seat in front of her with her feet.
  2. Coffee Cups- Your typical sized to-go cuppa joe fits comfortably in the front same-sized cup holders with room to spare on all sides. The cup doesn’t slide and the Focus is stable going around corners but you’ll still want to hold on to the cup so it doesn’t tip.
  3. Groceries- The hatchback is ideal for groceries and the trunk is bigger than you’d think with the overall size of the Focus.  Groceries fit very comfortably in the deep back seat and even with both the front seats back, you can still fit a gallon milk jug on the floor of the back seat without having to wedge it in.
  4. Suitcases- We were both disappointed and delighted by our suitcase results. While we weren’t able to lay a 30” and 22” suitcase laying down flat on their backs, side-by-side in the trunk. However, each of the suitcases fit well when turned on their side next to each other both horizonally and vertically arranged. When stacked flat one on top of the other, the suitcases also fit in the trunk.
  5. Golf Clubs- If you’re a golfer without a locker at the club, the Focus won’t be the best back-and-forth car for you to transport your clubs. On the first try, we couldn’t get the clubs to comfortably rest in the trunk and get it closed. After some elbow grease, they very snuggly fit at an angle. For best results, we had to put down one of the rear seats and put the clubs in diagonally.

The Bottom Line:

While we had some quibbles with some of the interior styling—all those buttons—and were a bit put off by a SYNC system we didn’t take the time to get to know, as a family we enjoyed driving the sharp looking little Focus. Gas mileage was good for an everyday grocery getter and kid hauler, but we would likely outgrow it soon as our Junior Testers approach the tweens and teens. It has a fair amount of luggage space in the hatchback, but we would prefer a slightly larger car with better back seat ergonomics and design for a road trip longer than our regular forty-five minute runs around Atlanta. We just can’t make do without more practically sized and located cup holders and pockets.

 His Final Word_Focus

Her Final Word_Focus

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