DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co. is betting performance, design and technology will differentiate the ’12 Focus from the rest of the C-car segment.

Performance will come via a new 2.0L direct-injected inline 4-cyl., marking the first time Ford has offered a normally aspirated DI engine in North America.

The engine, producing 160 hp and 146 lb.-ft. (198 Nm) of torque, is mated to either a standard 5-speed manual or 6-speed dual-clutch automatic.

It is the first Ford engine in this class to feature twin-independent variable-camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) technology for better fuel economy and performance.

In Europe, the Focus will be offered with a 1.6L direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost gasoline engine, as well as updated 1.6L and 2.0L diesel engines.

Ford has yet to disclose fuel-economy figures, but promises the new model’s rating will be some 18% better than the current U.S.-spec Focus, which achieves 25/34 mpg (9.4-6.9 L/100 km) city/highway when equipped with a 4-speed automatic.

A special-edition Super-Fuel Economy package, available exclusively on the Focus SE, will get roughly 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) on the highway.

The SE trim level is “where there is the most interest” in a fuel-saving package, Mark Kaufman, Ford's small vehicle marketing manager, says at a recent media event here.

Included are an active grille that closes at highway speeds to reduce drag, a front-lip spoiler, tire wind deflectors, underbody aero shields and aerodynamic mirrors.

The aero modifications improve the ’12 Focus’ drag coefficient by 7% over the outgoing model, making it Ford’s “most aerodynamic C-car ever,” Kaufman says.

He describes the design of the ’12 Focus as “upscale and aspirational,” noting that aspect is important as more customers migrate to the C-segment from more upscale vehicles.

The new Focus, which debuted in sedan and hatchback form at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is being rolled out again this week at the Paris auto show, this time including a wagon version.

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The wagon is not destined for the U.S., as consumer research indicates little demand, Kaufman says.

Instead, Ford product planners are counting on the upcoming Grand C-Max cross/utility vehicle to serve customers in the market for a small wagon.

Conversely, the demand for wagons in European markets is exceptionally strong, particularly in countries such as Spain and Germany, where some 50% of Focus buyers opt for the wagon.

Surprisingly, U.S. market studies have shown a sea change in the way consumers view hatchbacks.

Kaufman says most growth in the C-segment was fueled by customers coming from other segments, including SUVs, which are “essentially a form of a hatchback.”

The increased acceptance of hatchbacks in the C-segment follows a trend in the B-segment, occupied by the just-launched ’11 Fiesta.

Sales figures show more than 60% of early Fiesta sales have been 5-door hatchback models -- a take rate that is bucking the national hatchback trend of just 8.3% in the ’09 model year, according to Ward’s data.

Kaufman declines comment on what the hatch/sedan split will be for the new Focus, but notes “the increasing interest in hatches will be relevant to the market.”

The ’12 Focus will be available in four trim levels – S, SE, SEL and Titanium. The S will be available only as a sedan, while all other trim levels will offer a hatch version, as well.

Technologies offered will vary by trim level, with SE models and above available with Ford’s Sync multimedia system and the Titanium getting MyFord Touch infotainment system with an 8-in. (20-cm) touch screen, Sony sound system and rear-view camera.

Pricing won’t be available until next month, but Kaufman vows consumers won’t suffer sticker shock.

“We paid a lot of attention to our price point and level of equipment,” he says. “We had to make sure that all the equipment is super-relevant and at a competitive price.”

The ’11 Focus begins at $16,640, not including a $725 destination charge.

The lead Ford Focus assembly plants in Saarlouis, Germany, and Wayne, MI, are preparing for a simultaneous launch toward the end of the year.

The Saarlouis facility will produce all three body styles, while production in Michigan will concentrate on the 4- and 5-door derivatives, Ford says.

European output will be expanded in mid-2011, when the St. Petersburg, Russia, plant begins building the new 4- and 5-door models. Manufacturing extends into Asia in early 2012, when the Chongqing, China, plant comes online.

The current Focus will continue to be built in Valencia, Spain, until mid-2011, while the Saarlouis plant ramps up production of the new model, the auto maker says.