2008 Ford Focus SESPosted on December 19th, 2007
The Focus offers sporty performance at a super-value price
By Nina Russin
As its name suggests, the compact Ford Focus sets its sights set on young, first-time car buyers. The model first introduced at the 1998 Geneva Motor show has evolved in breadth and depth to include three trim levels, with appealing features such as Ford Sync, satellite radio, aluminum wheels, Pirelli tires, heated seats and leather trim.
Designers refreshed the car’s exterior for the 2008 model year, using cues from the Fusion. The restyle adds some European character, and should appeal to the car’s intended audience.
The test car is the upscale SES grade, equipped with a sport suspension, sixteen-inch wheels, chrome exhaust tips and a rear spoiler. The standard two-liter engine with optional four-speed automatic transmission averages just under 30 miles-per-gallon: a boon in these days of soaring gas prices. My week-long test drive consumed about half a tank of fuel.
The optional leather trim is stylish and comfortable: heated front seats made the cold morning drives to the trailhead more pleasant. Other options on the car include the MP3 compatible sound system upgrade, ambient interior lighting, satellite radio, a power moonroof, antilock brakes and traction control.
I find it odd that antilock brakes and traction control aren’t standard equipment, especially since Sync is. As much as I like the idea of voice-activated telephone and audio controls, I would think that such basic safety features would take precedence.
A fun ride
While the Focus is by no means a sports car, the 140-horsepower engine has plenty of power for average city and highway driving. The Focus is a relatively light car: the sedan weighs just over 2600 pounds. The light chassis gives the small engine the ability to accelerate well, especially in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range.
Driving enthusiasts should opt for the five-speed manual transmission to get more power out of the engine. Ford offered a SVT hatchback version of the first-generation Focus for the tuner world, but hasn’t announced any plans for a high-performance version of the current model.
Because of its small footprint, the Focus is easy to maneuver through traffic: something I appreciated driving along Phoenix highways during rush hour. The car is easy to park for the same reason. Visibility is good all the way around the vehicle with no obvious blind spots. The SES grade has redundant steering wheel audio and cruise controls which minimize driver distraction.
Four wheel independent suspension isolates passengers from bumps in the road, while front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners. The brakes are firm and linear, though I would have preferred rear disks to drums. Drum brakes tend to fill up with water in bad weather, so they don’t stop as well. They also tend to build up rust ridges, so its harder to replace brake shoes than the pads on the discs.
The upgraded wheels and tires enhance the exterior styling, and give the car a slightly larger footprint. Drivers who tend to push the envelope will appreciate that.
Quiet, comfortable interior
Ford has led the industry in reducing noise intrusion through the use of special sound deadening materials around the cabin as well as quiet steel. Engineers did their homework with the Focus in the wind tunnel, reducing noise intrusion in key areas such as the windshield and around the side view mirrors. The Focus is as quiet inside as many luxury cars, at a fraction of the price.
As a music enthusiast, I love any vehicle that comes with satellite radio: it provides hundreds of commercial-free stations with music styles ranging from jazz to hip hop, world, and alternative. Given access to Sirius, I’m an Alt Nation junkie.
The Sync system allows the driver to use voice prompts to play downloaded MP3 files. While voice activated command systems in cars are nothing new, Sync integrates a lot of electronic devices from phones and PDAs to iPods as well as the optional navigation system. The only downside is the thick manual that comes with the system. Car companies should know by now that buyers rarely read owner’s manuals. I liked the one page cheat sheet I got with the test car much better.
The optional ambient lighting adds low level lamps in the cupholders and around the footwells. The driver can choose among seven lighting colors using a switch on the dash. The additional lights make it easier to find small items such as garage door openers and cell phones while driving at night.
I found the front seats to be comfortable with plenty of lower back support, ample shoulder and head room. The center stack controls are well laid out and easy to access from either front seating position. An information screen at the top of the center stack is easy to read without obstructing the driver’s forward view.
Since the Focus is a small car, the rear seats don’t have a lot of legroom. Buyers who need seating for more than two people might want to look at the larger Fusion. The trunk is good sized and well laid out.
A pass-through allows drivers to fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat to extend the cargo floor, making it possible to shoe a bike inside with the front wheel removed. But sedans are far from ideal for people carrying lots of large equipment. Those who regularly carry bikes in their vehicles would want to add a rear hitch or roof rack.
Ford’s safety canopy, first introduced on its minivans, is standard on the Focus. Tethered side curtain airbags hold passengers in place during a rollover. If passengers aren’t belted in, the side curtain airbags slide between the windows and occupants as they inflate.
With trucks comprising over fifty percent of the vehicles on the road, small car drivers have to be careful. Not only do small cars weigh a lot less than trucks, but they tend to fall below the truck driver’s sight line. Passive safety features such as airbags, door beams and crumple zones can make the difference between walking away from an accident and landing in the hospital.
Other standard safety features on the Focus include front and side airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Overall, the Focus is a good package for buyers on a budget. With a base price of $16,995, it should compare favorably with offerings such as the Scion tC, Mazda3 and Kia Spectra. The sporty Focus is waiting for test drives at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: The upscale Focus offers a high level of comfort and convenience features at an affordable price. Features such as Sync, leather trim, satellite radio and heated seats give the Focus a luxury car feel. The two-liter engine with four-speed automatic transmission provides ample power, with fuel economy averaging just under thirty miles per gallon.
Dislikes: Antilock brakes and traction control should be standard equipment.
Model: Focus SES sedan
Base price: $16,995
As tested: $20,825
Horsepower: 140 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 136 lbs.-ft. @ 4250 rpm
Bicycle friendly: No
Antilock brakes: Optional
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 24/33 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price and price as tested include a $620 destination charge.
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