LOS ANGELES -- The redesigned 2012 Ford Focus compact car joins a segment crowded with fun-to-drive, redesigned cars this year.
Ford Motor Co. is counting on technology typically reserved for luxury vehicles to give the Focus an edge.
Those amenities include rain-sensor wipers, parallel-parking assist, a rear view camera, Wi-Fi access, Sync and MyFord Touch technology -- plus a new four-cylinder, direct-injection engine that Ford estimates will be rated at up to 40 mpg highway.
"With all the technology on it, we think it'll attract a younger buyer," Robert Parker, Ford's group marketing manager for small and medium cars, said at a media event here last month.
The Focus, built at Ford's Michigan Assembly in Wayne, Mich., is due in dealerships in March. It will come in two body styles: A four-door sedan that starts at $16,995 and a five-door hatchback that starts at $18,790. Both prices include shipping.
The redesigned Focus is longer, wider and a bit lower than the outgoing model. That gives it a more athletic stance than its predecessor.
Next year, Ford will offer the Focus ST. It will have a 2.0-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged EcoBoost engine. The five-door ST will have a sportier grille and rear end than the 2012 Focus five-door.
Standard features: The 2012 Focus comes standard with torque vectoring control.
Typically found in high-performance cars, the torque vectoring control system uses the car's brakes to imitate the effect of a limited slip differential, constantly balancing the distribution of engine torque between the front wheels during cornering. The result is improved road grip and sharp steering.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base Focus. While it's easy to shift, it is a bit rubbery. The manual transmission could use a sixth gear at highway speeds.
The market: Ford started the Focus Rally, its social media marketing campaign, on Feb. 4.
The rally is a six-team, five-week road race across the United States, with special challenges en route. Viewers can follow the race online and offer suggestions to help a team.
Ford wants to attract an equal mix of males and females in their 20s by featuring real people talking about the car on social media.
It also expects to see some baby boomers move down from mid-sized cars and SUVs into the Focus because it offers much of the same technology, such as rear-view cameras, but with better fuel economy and a lower price tag.
Ford expects the hatchback to make up about 60 percent of the Focus 2012 mix, Parker says.
"The hatchback model will draw in a new set of customers altogether," he says.
What Ford says: Ford expects the small-car segment to grow this year. It accounted for about 13 percent of new-vehicle sales last year, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Ford says rising gasoline prices will help spur demand.
"It's not that $3 a gallon is going to cause this huge sea change and create a panic for everybody to run and buy small cars, but it gets their antennas up," said George Pipas, Ford's chief sales analyst.
The skinny: Ford is counting on the Focus' technology, sleek new body style and high fuel economy to trump sales of such rivals as the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra compacts.