The Ford Focus is mainly a solid, economical budget model, although the SES coupe provides more-than-average driving fun.
The front-wheel-drive Focus was introduced as a 2000 model and has been continually improved. But higher-performance versions of it such as the SVT and ZX4 ST were dropped after 2005 and horsepower has been lowered since then.
The 2008 model got bolder styling, a nicer interior, new features and a new youth-oriented coupe. But, alas, the hatchback and station wagon were dropped.
The 2009 Focus comes as a two-door coupe and four-door sedan. The base S coupe is gone. The latest version has mildly revised styling and a new SEL trim level with items such as leather upholstery. An optional anti-skid system is newly available for $745 with anti-lock brakes and traction control.
There are the base $14,995 sedan and higher-line SE coupe and sedan, which both list at $16,180. The sporty SES coupe and sedan each cost $17,570, while the SEL stickers at $17,970.
The only engine is a docile dual-overhead-camshaft 2-liter four-cylinder, which provides 140 horsepower in sedans and 143 horsepower in coupes. Standard is a five-speed manual gearbox that shifts crisply but works with a long-throw clutch. Optional is a responsive four-speed $815 automatic transmission, which really should be a more modern five-speed unit.
The manual calls for a downshift from overdrive fifth gear to fourth or--if you're really in a hurry--third gear for the best 65-75 mph passing time on highways.
Economy is a high point. It's an estimated 24 mpg in the city and 35 on highways with the manual and 24 and 33 with the automatic.
The base model is fairly well-equipped with items including air conditioning, tilt wheel, tachometer, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, console, rear defogger, split-folding rear seat and 60-series tires on 15-inch wheels.
The SE adds satellite radio, power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry and a rear spoiler--besides larger 50-series tires on 16-inch wheels for the coupe.
I tested the SES coupe with the manual transmission. A Focus SES adds a leather-wrapped wheel with radio controls, cruise control, rear spoiler for both body styles and a sport suspension.
The coupe has 45-series tires on 17-inch wheels. The sedan has less aggressive 50-series tires on 16-inch wheels, although you can get the SES coupe's wheels and tires for an extra $580.
The SEL adds the leather upholstery and heated front seats. Those items would have seemed out-of-place in an economy cars several years ago, but the push now is for smaller, economical cars with upscale features for more buyer appeal
Safety Focus items include front side- and curtain-side air bags.
My test Focus SES extras included the $745 stability control/anti-lock brake package $810 leather upholstery/heated front seat option and a $795 "Moon and Tune Value Package." It contained a power sunroof (with shade) and Audiophile AM/FM radio with an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer.
The car had Ford's popular Sync system, which is standard in the SES and SEL and a $395 extra for the SE. It provides voice control of certain cell phone and MP3 player functions.
The SES was fairly fast, helped by the manual transmission. It had rather heavy but communicative steering, secure handling, a supple ride and a brake pedal with a linear action that allowed smooth stops.
In all, the SES coupe was fun to drive, but lower-line Focus models have a softer suspension and thinner tires, which allow just average handling.
The coupe's long, heavy doors can make it difficult to get in and out in tight spots, or when parked on hills. But they have large outside handles and easily gripped inside ones, along with small front pockets and beverage holders. The attractive front seats are generally supportive.
There's lots of room up front for long-legged occupants, but rear seat area legroom behind the driver is tight for a 6-footer unless he moves his seat up a lot. At least belts don't get in the way of entry or exit to the back seat, which has a center area soft enough for a third (thin) middle occupant.
Gauges can be quickly read, but audio readouts in a small screen atop the dashboard are difficult to see in bright sunlight. There's a mixture of easily reached large climate and small audio system controls.
Front dual cupholders are nicely placed to avoid spills. Front seats have rear storage pockets, but the glove compartment is small and the deep front console bin has a small opening.
The large trunk uses space-saving strut-type hinges, but has a moderately sized opening. Its lid has an interior lining for a finished look and uses space-saving strut-type hinges. The split rear seatbacks flip forward and sit mostly flat for more cargo space, but the pass-through area to the rear seat is only fairly large.
The heavy hood has no interior cover and a prop rod is needed to hold it up, instead of more convenient hydraulic struts. Fluid filler areas are easily reached.
The Focus is less refined than rivals such as the Honda Civic and Nissan Versa, but it has a proven design and costs less than some competitors.
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