I don't have data on the Focus yet. CR says the Focus has average reliability, which suggests it's not bad. The difference between "average" and "better than average" is smaller than many people think. I'd like clearer information, though, hence my research.
With any model, some cars have problems. I'm currently seeing a repair rate for the 2006 Civic that is about the same as that for the typical domestic car, and over twice what I'm seeing for the 2006 Fusion. Most of the reported problems probably would not be reported on CR's survey because they are relatively small, but they required the inconvenience of a trip to the shop nonetheless.
My approach has a couple of advantages over existing approaches:
1. Continuous participation
2. Only report problems that happen after the decision to participate (except for the very first month)
3. Clear definition of what counts as a reportable problem
While it's not possible to entirely remove subjectivity and bias, I'm doing much more to remove them than others have been. For example, CR asks people to report problems they "considered serious." It's up to every respondent to decide what counts and what doesn't count.
In response to the "statistics can be manipulated," I hope to make the process as transparent as possible. If someone has a question about the work behind the numbers, I'll answer as best I can. I've asked questions on the CR forum; they rarely if ever provide thorough responses to questions about their methods.
As for different driving styles and driving conditions, these should only affect a small portion of the things that go wrong on a car. For example, many problems these days are electrical, which shouldn't be affected by driving style or conditions.
To get more specific, here are the last ten problems reported:
--TSB for transmission hesitation; large improvement from reflash
--paint peeling on panel above back tire, common issue with this model
--rear window would go down but not back up
--squeaky driver's seat
--screws that hold high-mounted brake light missing, never installed
--mass airflow sensor replaced
--A/C switch malfunctioning
--HVAC air distribution servo motors hunting for position with car turned off
--blocked vent line in gas tank
Of these, only the one for the transmission failure might be due to how the car was driven.
For those areas that can be affected by driving style and conditions, a large sample is important. I'm going to have to start with smaller sample sizes than I expect to eventually have.
Vehicle reliability, price comparisons, fuel economy