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Ford Focus: Discs and drums

Yesterday, the Comment Crew raised some excellent points about the 2012 Ford Focus' rear brakes (discs on higher-end models, drums on cheaper ones). I figured I'd weigh in. WARNING: Major geek-out ahead.

For those who aren't familiar with the difference between discs and drums, check out my article on disc brakes vs. drum brakes. Basically, disc brakes are more effective while drum brakes are less expensive.

I don't have a huge problem with rear drum brakes on smaller, lighter, non-enthusiast-oriented cars. Keep in mind that front brakes do about 70% of the work of stopping a car. Drum brakes are more prone to locking up, but since most new cars (including the Focus) have antilock brakes, that's not much of an issue. Drum brakes are more prone to fade (loss of effectiveness with repeated hard use), but how many commuters make ten full-on high-speed brake applications in a row without sufficient cooling time between? Rear drums may not be up to lapping Laguna Seca, but they can handle your average traffic jam.

The biggest issue with rear drums is performance in the wet. Disc/drum cars lose a lot more braking effectiveness than disc/disc cars when it rains, and there's no getting around that.

Still, I think it's a reasonable trade off. Automakers like drum brakes because they cost less. Ford's goal is to make a profit on every car in every market, and if that's what it takes to make the Focus profitable, so be it.

Remember, the Fiesta is built in Mexico because it wouldn't be profitable if it was built in the States. The Focus is built here. I'm not trying to say that drum brakes create jobs for Americans, but it's not an unreasonable cost cutting measure. If they eliminated electronic stability control or side curtain airbags in the base model, I'd be up in arms. Rear drum brakes I can live with. -- Aaron Gold

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