CINCINNATI -- When Kory Magee purchased a new 2013 Ford Focus, he expected the PowerShift dual- clutch transmission would handle just like any vehicle equipped with an automatic gearbox.
But after 1,000 miles of driving, Magee -- a graduate student at Northern Kentucky University and a part-time counselor in a women's crisis center -- took his car back to the dealership.
The car did fine on the highway, he says, but in stop-and-go traffic, the car would hesitate and surge at unexpected moments.
"Every time it changed gears it stuttered," Magee said. "At about 30 mph, it really acts up."
The dealership told him the vehicle needed a software upgrade, but the car continued to misbehave. In January 2014, he had the first of three accidents.
He was on his way to work when a car ahead of him stopped suddenly. He hit the brakes, but his car -- which was going about 20 mph -- surged and rear-ended the other car. Magee wasn't hurt, but the fender bender caused $2,000 worth of damage.
After two additional accidents, Magee has replaced a clutch and had four software upgrades. Now he's joining a class-action product liability lawsuit filed by Capstone Lawyers of Los Angeles.
Ford spokesman Paul Seredynski declined to comment on the class-action lawsuit. However, Ford engineering manager Chris Kwasniewicz did agree to describe the efforts Ford has made to improve the transmission's performance.
Shortly after the gearbox was introduced in fall 2010, Ford issued the first of several service bulletins and software upgrades.
In 2014, Ford engineers recalibrated the first gear for quicker acceleration. This year they tweaked gears two through six to create more uniform shifts. The upgrades paid off, Kwasniewicz said. Customer complaints fell sharply in 2014, followed by a 50 percent drop this year.
Aside from software and hardware upgrades, Ford also instructed dealership personnel to explain the PowerShift gearbox to prospective car buyers and let them experience it during the test drive.
European motorists have fewer complaints about the PowerShift because they're used to the shift patterns that mimic a manual transmission, Kwasniewicz said. "U.S. customers grew up on automatic transmissions, and they were accustomed to a smoother start. We really had to tweak the calibration to make it friendly."
Despite all those fixes, Magee says he's not impressed. When he bought his car, nobody at the dealership explained that the PowerShift was not a conventional automatic. And now he can't afford to buy another car because he's in debt from his student loans.
"I haven't had any accidents with other vehicles," Magee said. "I had a clean record. My car is not safe to drive."