When the Ford Focus first appeared in 2000, it was Ford’s modern attempt at a real “world car” (the mid-90s Contour/Mystique wasn’t built for the world, it was an attempt at getting the U.S. to buy the second generation Mondeo.) The Focus was a vast improvement over the Escort, but the problem was that since it was built for multiple continents, it had multiple compromises.
The original Focus needed to be both a full hatchback for Europe and a full sedan for North America. While the resulting car was successful, the look was somewhat odd. Now that Ford makes two separate Focus lines (one for U.S. and Canada as well as a separate one for the rest of the world,) Ford can now focus on a traditional shape for the sedan and for the first time offer a true coupe.
The 2008 redesign is a big improvement over the previous generation. The last car was a compromise: the European wanted a hatchback and the U.S. usually demands a conventional trunk. So to appease both sides was a design that could be molded into either shape. Unfortunately, like most compromises, it didn’t excel at either shape. So, the benefit of this redesign is that since this Focus is exclusive to the U.S. and Canada, it gets to have its own shape for a proper sedan. In fact, our sedan’s bodylines seem to take some of its cues from the new coupe .
Our Focus is less rounded that the precious generations. Sharp angles on the hood an trunk seem to let it stand out in the crowd. One staff member even called the Focus’ new face "bat-like".
Our Focus seemed to focus on a black interior. Black dashboard, black seats, black headliner, black inserts, etc. This helped the silver streak that runs through the gauges and above the glovebox stand out, but we could have used a little more color.
Ford must have thought of this too, because one option on our car was the “Ambient Lighting Package”. It’s a cool little feature that uses multi-colored LED lights to changes the interior color in the footwells and cupholders on demand. We had fun playing with it, but we’ll let you decide if it was worth the extra $295.
As with most of the cars in our test fleet, our Focus had a lot of extra options. We had the top of the line SES model, and our included the Sync voce command system, leather seats, upgraded sound system and other premium features. With more than enough options our car topped out at $20,200, not bad considering that we had plenty of unnecessary options and possible dealer discounts.
The only engine available in the entire Focus lineup is the 2.0-liter Duratec four-cylinder (a close relative of Mazda3’s 2.0-liter engine.) It makes 140 hp in the Focus, which is more than enough to move this little car around. We weren’t going to win any drag races behind the wheel of our Focus, but we also didn’t have trouble overtaking cars on the highway. The only real surprise from the drivetrain was the transmission. It shifted much smoother than we would expect from an economy car.
The steering is tight and the suspension transmits the road well. We had no trouble running the car through an afternoon downtown slalom. Turning is easy at all speeds and the turning radius is small. This resulted in a car where we always knew where all four wheels were heading, and that maker the Focus a competent city car.
Braking feels good and firm. We we’re surprised to see that our car only had disk brakes in the front (drum rear). We didn’t feel any problems with the braking, but this was one place the car was really showing its economy roots.
The latest Focus is truly an American car. It’s got a shape built for a sedan/coupe and extra chrome bits that make it more unique than the previous generation. We should see the European version of the Focus on our shores soon. The two distinct cars will really complete the Focus line because the Euro model car was built specifically to be a hatchback.
Until then, Ford doesn’t need to change its compact car. We enjoyed our Focus because it provides basic transportation that’s inexpensive enough, that if it were our own money, that we’d have enough left over to add a few fun options.