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2008 Ford Focus, U.S. Style: Updated Around the World, Part II

Only days after our return from Frankfurt auto show, where Ford of Europe introduced their latest Focus, we went to Seattle, Washington, for our first drive of the 2008 North American Focus as well as spend a little more time with Sync, Ford’s take on integrating phone, MP3 player, and voice control. (For more on Sync, check out our January story or the Ford-sponsored; we’ll comment on this week’s Seattle experience with it soon; you can also find our first report on the Focus here.) Other than their names and the Blue Oval, these two cars are distant relations, separated by more than the ocean. Here’s our first take on the U.S. car.




Goodbye Hatchbacks and Wagon, Hello Coupe
This fall, there are fewer Focus bodystyles to choose from. Complementing the sedan is a coupe, new to the nameplate and expected to help improve Focus’s image among younger buyers. Gone are three- and five-door hatchbacks and wagon. The Focus continues with a 2.0L DOHC I4 engine, in two states of tune (one 130HP PZEV for those really picky states), putting the power to the front wheels through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0L delivers 140HP instead of last year’s 136HP thanks to an all-new air intake and cooling systems; more power is especially nice for this segment, but this newfound 4HP doesn’t make a remarkable difference here. Better fuel economy is promised through revised gear ratios, and, at least for 2008MY, we go without the sportier ST model and its 2.3L I4.


So, why a coupe now? Limited cash prevented offering as many bodystyle options, and Ford sees more sales potential for a stylish and sexy coupe than the practical-but-fun hatchbacks or conservative wagon. Mainstream Compact Car entries largely offer tried-and-true sedans and coupes, and Ford is betting they will make a bigger impact with the coupe than the hatchbacks. Honda and Chevrolet sell twice as many Civic and Cobalt coupes annually than Ford sold of three- and five-door hatchbacks. Though there does not seem to be an SVT in the works, and perhaps no replacement for the ST, there should be.

The new face brings Focus closer to the Fusion and Taurus, though with less chrome and more plastic. Unlike the Fusion’s angled, vertical squirqle headlights, the Focus’ headlights carry horizontal lines that finish the straight look of the chrome. But this relatively thin chrome above so much plastic below looks forced. One change you might notice between the car shown in Detroit last January and the photos here are round instead of square foglamps. According to Kim Pattel, Vehicle Line Director, Small and Medium Cars, consumer response in clinics after the Detroit reveal drove the change (click for January photo). Among the ways to distinguish the base S model from uplevel SE or SES is a quick look at the mirror caps; on SES, these and the door handles are body color instead of black. Along the side, the appliqué drawing attention to the gill gets a chrome finish for SE and SES models. Focus’s taillamps are patterned after the 2008 Escape, and Ford’s entry car sports LEDs for the CHMSL. With cues from Ford’s sedans and SUVs, plus Jaguar-esque side gills thrown in for good measure, the Focus doesn’t look all of one piece.


Behind the Wheel
Taking the Focus out for short drives this week reveals a much improved, more confident and competent car. Steering is more responsive, throttle input more direct thanks to a new electronic system, and brake pedal feel improved with new aluminum calipers (these also contribute to reduced weight). The stiffer body provides for a more solid on-the-road overall feel. The new Focus is also much quieter inside, with an interior design that is much improved. The 140HP 2.0L is sufficient for most needs, though more satisfying when mated to the five-speed manual than the four-speed automatic. Both transmissions get revised final-drive ratios for lower rpms on the highway and better fuel economy. Ford also credits aerodynamic improvements (including wind-tunnel-tuned side-view mirrors and air deflectors under the car) and weight reduction for fuel economy improvements.

Ford’s 2008 Focus is an improvement over the 2007, particularly in interior look and feel. Having said that, the standard cloth in the SES coupe we had seemed a better fit for the Focus than the not-so-nice optional leather in the SES sedan we drove, even with the good-looking contrast stitching of the leather. The updated design looks contemporary and fresh, with new features like an LED ambient lighting system that allows drivers to choose the color that illuminates the footwell and cupholders (click for photo) and the voice-control Sync system for operating phones and music players with ease and minimal driver distraction. Safety is improved with more standard airbags.

Efforts to quiet the interior included a new acoustic windshield, thicker side glass in the front doors and new sound-deadening materials in several areas. Even the new stiffer front air dam improves matters. The Focus’ new climate control system is quieter than before, but also lighter and more efficient.

S, SE, and SES Models: $14,695 to $16,995
The Focus coupe and sedan are offered in three trim levels, S, SE, and SES. The S models get a base suspension setup with fifteen-inch wheels and a front stabilizer bar. Uplevel SE and SES models get sixteen-inch wheels and both front and rear stabilizer bars. We drove only SES models, but the chassis provided a reasonable compromise between stiff, sportish handling and ride comfort. The S model gets very basic equipment, with rear drum brakes, air conditioning, six airbags, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Ford is launching Sync with the Focus, which is standard on SES models but a $395 option on SE models. The S coupe starts at $14,075 (plus $620 destination on any Focus) and the sedan at $14,375. Add $1000 and you can move up to the SE; another $1000 gets you the SES models for each bodystyle.


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