2008 Ford Focus Review
Since you read this site, you probably know that Ford has chosen to withhold the new Focus from North American shores for years while Ford customers in Europe enjoy the wonderful new Focus. The new Focus shares a common platform with the Mazda3 and the Volvo S40, both very nice small cars. The Focus we get in North America is on the same aged platform that it had in 2000, and we won’t get a actual new Focus until 2011.
When the Ford Focus first showed up here, it was so much better than any other domestic small car that it was really an empty gesture to do comparisons against those cars – cars like the Dodge Neon and the Chevrolet Cavalier. The Focus played in the other league, the one that had the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla in it.
But events conspired to keep the Focus down in those early years. One, since the United States was consumed by SUV-mania and gasoline was ridiculously cheap, there weren’t a lot of people showing up at the local Ford dealer looking for a small, fuel-sipping hatchback. Second, the Focus had some minor teething problems and the subsequent recalls got the model off to a rocky start with the public. It didn’t take long for Ford to decide that the Focus line here in North America would not get the subsequent (and decidedly more expensive) models that Europe would embrace with open arms.
So now its 2008, oil is $100 a barrel, the market for small cars in the U.S. has improved dramatically, and there is no doubt that Ford wishes they had a better car to sell in this segment than the 2008 Focus, but they don’t, and so here we are.
Let’s talk about what we have, not what we want.
I drove a top-drawer 2008 Focus SES (over $20,000) around for a week and here’s what I have to report.
First, the 2008 Focus has been redesigned to better match the other Ford sedans and the hatchback model has gone away, leaving the sedan and coupe to soldier on. Its not a handsome car, inside or out, but it isn’t ugly, either. Its just sort of non-descript.
Along with the cosmetic changes, the Focus has been improved considerably in terms of ride. The suspension platform is stronger, the handling firmer and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) has been improved. The Focus has nothing to be embarrassed about in terms of ride and handling; it is competitive with other cars in its segment, despite the age of its platform.
The interior is nicer than it was, but it still looks kind of cheap compared to the competition. As an example, a $20,000 VW Rabbit has an interior that looks much more expensive and better put together. Lots of options inside a $20,000 Focus, like heated seats, nice stereo, etc., but still, it just doesn’t look upscale.
One area where the Focus far outshines its competition is the Sync multimedia system available with the car. There is nothing in any competitor that comes close to matching it. It is a wonderful system that every car should have because it works so wonderfully. Yes, you bet I like it a whole lot. It uses Bluetooth to make your cellphone, USB storage devices, MP3 player, etc. work wirelessly through the in-dash Sync system. It did that with the devices I have, and it did it quickly and effortlessly. What a great system!
The Focus has a 140 HP, 2-liter four-cylinder engine that is merely adequate, but at least it won’t shame you as you’re driving around. The Focus is rated at 33 MPG on the highway with the automatic (4-speed) but I did a lot better than that on a long trip I took in the Focus, getting somewhere around 38 MPG, and believe me, I was going over 65 MPH the whole way. I had the opposite result regarding the city rating of 24 MPG; I didn’t do any better than 20 MPG, but then again, I was not feathering the gas pedal in my urban travels.
The 2008 Ford Focus is not a car that anyone is going to lust after, but then neither is it something hateful to be avoided. Its one of those cars that just doesn’t give you a good reason to buy it after the test drive. The VW Rabbit is better-looking inside, better-looking outside, and a better performer, the Toyota Corolla has better fit and finish and a smoother powertrain, both the Honda Civic and the Honda Fit are better all-around cars, and the Mazda3, the distant corporate cousin to the Focus, is a lot more fun to drive. The other competitors in the segment are similarly advantaged. As one more example, look at the four-cylinder Chevrolet Malibu. It’s a great-looking car with a great interior design, handles pretty well, and will soon be available with a six-speed automatic for around $20,000. Enough said.
The summing up is that the 2008 Ford Focus is worth an honest look by a prospective buyer in this segment, but my opinion is that most people will buy one of its competitors.
This car is a placeholder for Ford and will simply have to fight the good fight for Ford in this segment until the really good Focus shows up. Of course, once the very-attractive new Fiesta hits North America, will the Focus get parked in the back corners of Ford lots across the United States?
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