Sporty ride, Handy controls, Good fuel economy, Available Sync system
Too much road/engine noise, Awkward entry/exit on coupe, Poor rear visibility
The Focus was introduced in 2000 and replaced the Escort as Ford's entry into the subcompact market. It competes with vehicles like the Chevrolet Cobalt, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
For 2008 Ford has substantially re-engineered Focus, giving it fresh styling and new features. Two-door coupe and four-door sedan body styles return. Gone are the two-door hatchback and four-door wagon. Three trim levels are offered: S, SE, and SES. All come with standard seating for five on front buckets and a three-place rear bench seat.
Sole engine on all three models is a 2.0-liter four cylinder that makes 140 horsepower and 136 pounds-feet of torque. It mates to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission and drives the front wheels.
Standard safety features include front, front-side, and curtain-side airbags. Antilock brakes and traction control are optional. Stability control and park assist are not offered.
S models come standard with air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, split folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with digital-media player connection, rear defogger, intermittent wipers, theft-deterrent system, and 15-inch wheels. SE adds power mirrors, windows, and door locks, remote entry system, floormats, and alloy wheels. SES adds to SE leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, Sync voice-recognition system, Bluetooth cell-phone link, iPod adapter, automatic day/night rearview mirror, fog lights, sport-tuned suspension and 16-inch alloy wheels.
2008 Ford Focus SES
Base Price: $16,475
As-Tested Price: $20,300
Built in Wayne, Michigan.
Audiophile Sound System
Ambient Intrior Lighting
Leather Seating Surfaces
Engine: DOHC 2.0-liter I4
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: front-wheel drive
Key options include sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, satellite radio, and remote engine start. Sync, which is standard on SES and optional on SE, is a Microsoft-designed voice recognition system that can control cell phones, the audio system, personal music players, and, on vehicles so equipped, the navigation system.
Prices start at $14,300 for the two-door S and rise to $16,835 for the four-door SES. All models carry a $620 destination charge and are built at Ford's plant in Wayne, Michigan.
Get Up and Go
Ford dropped the 2.3-liter four that was available in the '07 Focus. For '08 all models get a carry-over 2.0-liter engine that gets a slight horsepower boost from 136 to 140. This engine gives Focus adequate power in most conditions and actually feels frisky when accelerating away from stoplights or in 30-40 mph bursts. However, with more than two adults aboard or at speeds above 60 mph, the engine really strains to keep up with traffic.
One problem may be the four-speed automatic transmission. It is slow to downshift for more power and doesn't upshift smoothly when cold.
The automatic-equipped Focus is EPA rated at 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Those numbers are on par with other subcompact cars, but fall short of class leaders like the Honda Civic at 25/36 mpg and Toyota Corolla at 26/35 mpg. Expect to average about 29 mpg in an equal mix of city and highway commuting. If you commute is strictly city driving, 24 mpg might be more realistic. Ford says that Focus will run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
On the Road
Since day one Focus has sported a Euro-flavored ride. That means a little more road feel than you might expect in a traditional American car. It's not a bad thing by any measure as the Focus rides with more composure over bumps than typical subcompacts. The suspension also virtually eliminates any secondary motions, or bobbing, on expressways.
Thanks in part to the firm suspension; Focus is one of the more agile economy cars. The steering is sharp and imparts good road feel. Body lean is kept in check in quick maneuvers and the tires have above average grip. Perhaps the only let down are less-than-impressive brakes.
Sadly, there's too much tire noise on rough roads and the engine buzzes in hard acceleration. Once cruising the engine quiets down some, but more sound insulation would be welcome.
Overall, Focus is one of the more composed subcompacts. It offers a ride comparable to some compact cars and is almost rewarding to drive on twisty roads. It's too bad Ford couldn't engineer out more of the road and wind noise.
Behind the Wheel
Ford significantly worked over the interior of the Focus, giving it a much more contemporary look and cleaning up the control interfaces. Materials are still subcompact fare, but the design is considerably more upscale than before.
Speedometer and tachometer are large and placed directly behind the steering wheel. Radio controls are in the middle of the center console, but split from the display screen and that's somewhat awkward at first. Over time, you grow accustomed to the split layout and will appreciate the shorter glance away from the road that the high-mounted display screen affords. Climate controls and buttons for the information display are set too low for easy operation. Window, lock, mirror, and light switches are in near-perfect location for easy operation day or night.
The optional Sync voice activation system works as advertised, but comes with a steep learning curve. A more comprehensive manual would be appreciated. In some cases, simple commands like changing from CD to radio take longer than a simple button press, but the point is to keep driver's eyes on the road. Sync accomplishes that.
Front-seat leg and head room are slightly better than the class norm. The optional sunroof eats into head space slightly, so taller drivers may want to opt out on that feature. The bucket seats are comfortable, but too flat for enthusiastic driving and long-trip comfort. Forward visibility is good, but view to the rear three-quarters is blocked by thick roof pillars on couple models. Coupes also have slightly longer doors that make getting in and out of the front seats easy, but can be cumbersome in tight parking spaces.
The rear seat in coupes is surprisingly roomy. That's not to say that standard-size adults won't be cramped, but at least it isn't a penalty box. Head room is limited by the sloping roofline and leg room grows tight if the front seats are pushed more than half-way back. Three children can sit three across, but the front-seat center console eats into rear-seat leg room for the middle passenger. Getting into the back seat is a difficult bend-and-twist motion as the front seats don't slide far enough forward. In addition, those seats don't have a memory setting, so you have to re-adjust the seats each time you let someone in or out.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2008 Ford Focus coupe
|Front Impact, Driver ||5 stars|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||5 stars|
|Side Impact, Driver ||3 stars|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||3 stars|
|Rollover Resistance ||4 stars|
Trunk space is just average for the class, but at least the lid uses space-saving hinges that don't intrude on cargo space. Audiophiles take note; the optional subwoofer eats into cargo room. Interior storage is meager with a few open bins and a small glovebox and center console.
Despite a heavy dose of updating, Focus still seems a bit behind the times when compared to Honda Civic or Nissan Sentra. It's on par with vehicles like the Chevrolet Cobalt, Hyundai Elantra, or Toyota Corolla. In fact, it offers a substantially sportier ride than just about any other vehicle in the price class. In addition, Focus is economical, maneuverable, and sedan models have room for four adults.
The optional Sync system is a nice safety feature. Since it is a software-powered system, it can be updated to accept the latest phones and music players and that's a nice plus. It takes some getting used to, but once mastered it helps keep driver's attention on the road.
The ace in the hole is Focus' pricing. Though the starting point of $15,000 may not seem like a bargain, it is considerably less expensive than most comparably sized subcompacts. Nicely equipped for Focus sells for less than $17,000. When you consider the hefty rebates being offered by Ford, Focus becomes quite attractive.