2008 Ford Focus Expert Review:Autoblog
A car's design is simply a composite of curves, creases and kinks. A good design will elicit an emotion that urges people to buy the car. The affected just have to have it, often blind to any faults the car may exhibit by the way it makes them feel. The design of the 2008 Ford Focus makes us feel an emotion, too. Unfortunately, it's pity.
We honestly feel bad for the latest iteration of Ford's small car. We fear that its strengths will go largely unnoticed on account of a few bad design choices. Of course, we're speaking of the redesigned front end and those fauxest of faux fender vents. It isn't fair to judge a book by its cover alone, or in this case a car by its design, but a bad first impression is difficult to overcome. Ford has made a lot of improvements to the Focus for 2008, but will anyone notice? Follow the jump to find out.
Live photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
Let's start with the exterior design, since it's the first thing most people notice when seeing the 2008 Ford Focus for the first time. Initial reaction to it last January when the car was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show was not good, so much so in fact that Ford actually tweaked the design before it went into production by removing some chrome trim and replacing the car's rectangular fog lights with round ones. It was an odd move, like trying to fix a broken foot by putting a Band-Aid on your ear. Clearly the most egregious elements of this car's design are an ugly mug and the most superfluous fender events in the history of autodom, but for some reason those weren't among the pre-production tweaks.
The front end of the 2008 Focus features a pair of oddly shaped headlights that creep up the car's face on the outside of the hood. Other cars like the BMW 5-Series feature similarly shaped headlights, and while we don't consider the shape particularly attractive, at least the Bimmer's uses every bit of its housing for the purpose of lighting the road ahead. Look closely at the Focus beams, and you'll see that the part extending up alongside the hood is entirely non-functional, contains no lighting element and appears to be purely a design element. They give the car's face a scowl, "angry eyes" if you will, that's completely at odds with its nature.
The rest of the front end is marked by a wide air intake slotted below the two-bar grille and above the front bumper, as well as a large lower intake that's flanked by those new round fog lamps. The hood features four creases that create a kind of power dome in the center, which again is a bit misleading considering that Ford has dropped the larger 2.3L four-cylinder as an option, leaving the more anemic 140-horsepower 2.0L four-cylinder as the only available engine. More on that powerplant later, though.
We found the new six-spoke aluminum wheels handsome enough in an industrial kind of way, but their proximity to those "fender vents" guarantees that not many will notice. These "vents" are an eyesore that tend to draw stares. Perhaps from 50 yards away someone might be fooled into thinking that they're functional, but close inspection quickly reveals them to be imitation double-decker vents with the 'Focus' name emblazoned on a crossbar of the mirror-finished plastic. In fact, we were tempted to pry one off with a fingernail. All things being equal, we suspect the new Focus would simply look better without them.
As for the rest of the car, we're split on the design of the rear, with some Autobloggers lumping it in with other aesthetic offenses, and others viewing the caboose as simply anonymous. It does appear that the trunk was designed by a separate committee as the rest of the car, as it features only a single crease that crosses its flat surface to connect the taillights. The trunk does earn points, however, for using gas struts rather than space-robbing hinges. Those brake lights on the back are also surrounded by a frame of brightwork that again is not functional in any way. The body-colored side view mirrors, meanwhile, feature strakes similar to those on the 2008 Taurus' mirrors. Like on Ford's big sedan, these actually are functional, having been designed and tested to reduce wind noise.
Leaving the exterior of the Focus behind, we venture inside to find a completely redesigned interior that's dominated by the dull sheen of a silver plastic. Stretching from door-to-door and extending down the center console, this hard plastic makes a T shape across the dash and does what it can to brighten up the interior. If more color is required, one can order up the ambient lightning option, although be warned: it basically consists of four red lights divided among the cup holders and foot wells.
The top of the dash and other areas are covered in hard black plastic; sorry, no soft-touch material here. The HVAC and radio controls find themselves swimming in a sea of the silver stuff, though we appreciate that they don't appear to be borrowed from the Ford parts bin. Other touch points, like the floor-mounted gear shift for the four-speed automatic and redundant controls on the steering wheel feel expensive and offer good feedback for the fingers. The chairs in this coupe were covered in the optional leather for $695, which also felt more expensive than what belongs in car at this price. The front seats are fashioned more for comfort than holding you close in the turns, but as a daily driver that's just fine. The rear seats in this coupe, meanwhile, have decent leg room thanks to the scooped-out backs of the front seats, but headroom is compromised a bit by two curious bulges on the ceiling.
The big selling point inside the 2008 Ford Focus is the optional SYNC system developed in conjunction with Microsoft, which basically coordinates hooking up your car to a number of devices including cell phones via Bluetooth and music players through an auxiliary or USB input. We plan on doing a video review of the SYNC system's full capabilities in the very near future, but we took a dip in the shallow end of this experience and have a few things to report. First, the SYNC system is a $395 option that should be checked for every Focus ordered. It offers this inexpensive economy car functions that some significantly more expensive luxury cars can't replicate, and it's fairly easy to use. We say "fairly" because the interface in the Focus is not ideally suited for operating the SYNC system's many talents. The lack of a large LCD in the dash that's optional on other Blue Oval-mobiles means that navigating menus is done atop the dash in a small blue-on-black text screen. One navigates between the phone and music functions using the tuning knob and MENU button, as well as the MEDIA button on the steering wheel.
The first thing we managed to do was connect our iPhone to the SYNC system via Bluetooth. The pairing of the devices was straightforward, and after the setup is done, anytime you receive a call in the car it automatically gets routed through SYNC and the car's stereo speakers. We were impressed with the sound quality, particularly how clear our voices were to those we were talking to. Calls made and received in the Focus are crystal clear for all parties. The SYNC system can also upload your phone's address book, which can then be sifted through on the dash-top screen. Because of the aforementioned ergonomic troubles, however, we found it easier to use the address book in the iPhone itself rather than messing with the SYNC system's cramped menus. We were also disappointed to learn that the provided cable for the auxiliary input didn't work with our iPhone. It's not Ford's fault since Apple designed the headphone jack/audio output of the iPhone in a weird way, but nevertheless, we imagine that a decent number of SYNC users will own an iPhone. (NOTE: After reading our review, Ford informed us that the iPhone will easily hook up to SYNC using its own USB cable provided by Apple. The same thing holds true for Microsoft's Zune and most other DAPs.) We decided to load some songs from iTunes onto a USB thumb drive instead, and that worked just fine. In fact, assuming your songs contain the proper metadata, you can have a lot of fun pushing the 'MEDIA' button on the steering wheel and calling up a song, artist or album by saying "Play - Artist - The All-American Rejects". Unfortunately, however, the female voice with which you're conversing has a tendency to reply at volume level 11.
Along with the SYNC system, we believe the 2008 Focus' other biggest selling feature is its new demeanor on the road. Whereas driving the previous generation Focus was like lacing up a pair of high-tops, the new car feels like slipping on a pair of well-worn sneakers. It's comfortable, as evident by the softer suspension that soaks up bumps like a Buick. The downside is some extra body roll and vulnerability to cross winds on the highway, but the nicely weighted steering that never feels overly assisted communicates exactly what the wheels are experiencing. A bit of the old Focus and that car's fast reflexes remain, but the edge has been taken off to create a car that's very comfortable for a daily commute.
Some of that dulled edge is due to the car's only engine, the aforementioned 140-hp 2.0L four-cylinder. The four-speed automatic with which it's paired is perfectly adequate, but those looking to rekindle a relationship with the Focus they once knew should opt for the five-speed manual, as this motor doesn't have a lot to offer the lead foot. The latter will be needed to wring out whatever performance the 2.0L has to offer. The engine itself, however, has either gotten smoother or been isolated from the passenger compartment better than before. While it may not press you into the seat like a GT500, it does return 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. Get the manual tranny and your highway mileage will rise by 2 mpg, as well.
While we may lambast the 2008 Focus for its questionable styling and continue to hassle Ford to bring over the Euro Focus, the fact remains that the average buyer may not share our wavelength. While running our Focus SES Coupe through a car wash, our ears were shocked to overhear the staff comment positively on the car's looks during the towel drying process. The fact is, Ford has succeeded in making the 2008 Focus look like an altogether different car than the one it replaces, so the average consumer doesn't see a redesigned Focus, they see a new Focus. Enthusiasts and those in the know may see an awkward front end and faux fender vents that bring a tear to their eyes, but beauty is in the eye of the key holder. That is, those who do plunk down anywhere from $14,000 to $20,000 for a 2008 Ford Focus (our loaded tester came in at $20,105 with dest. and delivery charges) will find plenty to like about their new car, and that may include how it looks.
Live photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned for 2008.
Ford has reworked the Focus for 2008, giving it new styling inside and out but maintaining the same platform and basic size.
The new design shares a family look with Ford's other cars, distinguished by a two-bar version of the company's characteristic razor blade-like grille.
The new, 2008 Ford Focus comes in four-door sedan and two-door coupe body styles. (Wagon and hatchback body styles are not offered.)
The big news for 2008 is the introduction of Ford's new Sync entertainment and communications system. Developed with Microsoft, Sync provides a hands-free link to cell phones and MP3 players through a series of voice commands. It recognizes your cell phone's address book. It can even read text messages to occupants through the stereo system. It's an amazing system and Ford appears to be ahead of everyone else in this area.
The redesigned interior is aesthetically pleasing. It looks better than that of the outgoing model, with nicer graining on the plastics that continue to dominate the cockpit. The ambience is not luxurious but appropriate for the price. While interior noise is also down from the last model, there is still plenty of road and engine noise, which are typical of economy cars.
As in the past, the Focus handles well. We experienced lots of road feel with little body lean in corners while driving the top-line SES with its a sportier suspension. That road feel can make the ride a bit harder than some might prefer, but it isn't harsh and we appreciated the handling response.
With 140 horsepower, the Focus has decent power for most needs, but passing on a busy two-lane road will require a lot of space. Fuel economy is quite good, with up to 24 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway.
The 2008 Ford Focus is offered in two-door coupe and four-door sedan body styles, each with the choice of three trim levels: S, SE, and SES. The lone engine is a 140-hp four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard; a four-speed automatic is optional ($815).
The S coupe ($14,075) and sedan ($14,375) come with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM /CD/MP3 player with four speakers and auxiliary input jack, 60/40 split folding rear seat, tilt steering wheel, a tire inflation kit, antitheft system and P195/60R15 all-season tires on steel wheels with hubcaps. Options for S include cruise control ($215), Sirius satellite radio ($195), and a temporary spare tire ($60).
The SE coupe ($15,075) and sedan ($15,375) add power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; vehicle message center; and aluminum alloy wheels. SE options consist of an Audiophile sound system with six-disc CD changer and subwoofer ($645); sunroof with overhead maplights ($625); the Driver's Group ($415) with cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls; Ford Sync in-car communications and entertainment system ($395); a Deluxe Package ($395) with chromed, heated mirrors, chrome door handles, P215/50R16 all-season tires on aluminum alloy wheels, fog lamps, a rear stabilizer bar and sportier suspension settings, metallic interior trim, four-way adjustable driver's seat and a chrome exhaust tip; heated front seats ($115); Ford's Ambient Interior Lighting ($295) that uses LED lights to illuminate the front cupholders and front and rear footwells with the driver's choice of seven different colors; and an alarm ($125).
The SES coupe ($16,075) and sedan ($16,375) add fog lamps, rear spoiler, four-way adjustable driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, cruise control, Ford Sync, rear stabilizer bar and P215/50R16 all-season tires on aluminum alloy wheels. Leather upholstery ($695) is optional, and the SES is available with the SE options.
Safety features that come standard consist of dual-stage front airbags; torso-protecting, seat-mounted front side airbags; head-protecting side curtain airbags; tire pressure monitor; and LATCH-style child seat anchors. Four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control are optional for all models ($385).
Ford Focus has been reskinned for 2008, giving it a Ford family look while not greatly changing many of the dimensions. The result is at best conservative and at worst awkward and dull.
The front end is dominated by a two-bar version of the three-bar, razor-like chrome grille that first appeared on the Fusion. The grille is flanked by headlights that wrap around to the sides and follow the curve of the hood toward the windshield. A too-large expanse of bumper is located under the grille and below that is a large air intake that houses fog lights at the corners on the topline SES model.
The sides feature a chromed triangular applique at the back of each front fender that simply seems like tacked on ornamentation. This piece, which looks like an F on the driver's side, is the starting point for a pair of character lines that flow back. The bottom line leads to the rear wheelwheel, while the top line rises from front to rear and teams with a high tail to give the Focus the appearance of at least some dynamic motion. The rear of the coupe's roofline stays almost as high as the sedan's, which makes it look a bit clunky. The car looks best from the rear, where the simple angular shapes seem to work.
The overall result is a look that seems like a poor attempt at a family design statement.
Inside the Ford Focus is an aesthetically pleasing cockpit. The dashboard is dominated by a shiny plastic silver inset that covers the middle of the dash and leads into the center console. This is surrounded by black plastic top and bottom. There are no soft-touch materials here, but the graining looks nicer than it did in last year's model. The center console is deep, though not especially wide.
On top of the dash is a hooded cutout that displays trip computer, radio, and, when ordered, Sync information. The instrument panel has two large gauges, the speedometer and tachometer, and two small gauges, the fuel gauge and water temperature gauge. With markings every 20 mph that light up with a turquoise hue, it can be hard to judge your speed at a glance.
Thanks to Sync, the center stack has more controls that you'd expect to find in an economy car. Along the top are buttons for 10 radio station presets. When Sync and Sirius satellite radio are ordered, drivers can store up to 60 stations: 20 FM, 10 AM and 30 Sirius. That's impressive.
Below the stereo presets are a group of controls that include the volume and tuning knobs, as well as six buttons around a four-way central pad, all of which control the Sync system. Of course, none of these controls are necessary if you simply hit the steering wheel's voice control button and learn to use the voice commands. An easy-to-use set of climate controls is located below the stereo and Sync controls. None of these buttons are hard to identify or reach.
At the base of the center stack is a nice rubberized tray. This area is fairly important because it is where drivers will keep their phones and iPods when they use the Sync system. We found Sync to be genuinely useful and fairly easy to use. When an MP3 player is plugged in, Sync charges it and has access to the complete playlist. The driver can tell Sync to play a specific song, artist, or genre of music from his MP3 player. Sync will also stream MP3s wirelessly from a source like a phone/MP3 player enabled with Bluetooth technology. When a Bluetooth-enabled phone is in the car and paired to the system, Sync can access its phonebook. It can even play back incoming text messages through the speakers and allow the driver to respond with one of 15 predetermined messages, all while the driver keeps his hands on the wheel. There are a couple glitches, though. I couldn't get the system to recognize 'Kirk.' Instead it heard my name as 'Curt,' which is another number in my cell phone. And in general, the system is a bit tricky to learn at first.
The front seats are comfortable, with plenty of head and leg room. Thanks to large mirrors and small rear pillars, the driver's seat affords a good view to all corners. The rear seat has decent room with shorter people up front, but leg room disappears as the seats are moved back for taller front seat occupants. Head room is decent in the sedan, but a bit lacking in the coupe.
The trunk is fairly large at 13.8 cubic feet. That's as big as or bigger than some midsize cars. The second row seats fold mostly flat to allow loading long, flat packages. And in a touch expected of larger cars, the trunk has struts, not large sickle-shaped hinges that can crush packages.
The Ford Focus has been known as a car that offers good handling since its introduction for the 2000 model year. This Focus, though different in appearance, is basically that same car, which means it still handles well.
We drove the 2008 Focus SES and found a lot of road feel is communicated through the steering wheel. There is little lean in turns; after an initial shift, it takes a nice set. The SES model benefits from the addition of a rear stabilizer bar for sharper handling. We have not driven the base model.
Good road feel means the ride quality is a bit harder than some might prefer. But the Focus isn't a penalty box. It's not harsh over bumps.
Antilock brakes do not come standard, and we strongly recommend opting for them; ABS is optional with traction control.
Ford has outfitted the Focus with its 140-hp, 2.0-liter Duratec four-cylinder for better fuel economy. With the manual transmission the Focus gets an EPA-rated 24/35 mpg City/Highway. With the automatic, it gets a healthy 24/33mpg.
The 2.0-liter is competitive with most engines in this class. It has decent power for most needs, but passing maneuvers will require plenty of space. The automatic transmission downshifts quickly to give you what power the engine has.
Cars in this class tend to be buzzy and allow a lot of ambient sound to enter the cockpit. While the engine does whine under heavy throttle, it is no louder than most competitors. Likewise, road noise and wind noise are noticeable, but not out of line for an economy car.
The redesigned 2008 Ford Focus offers decent handling and miserly fuel economy. The Ford Sync system offers the latest in entertainment and hands-free communications and technology.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago.
Ford Focus S coupe ($14,075); S sedan ($14,375); SE coupe ($15,075); SE sedan ($15,375); SES coupe ($16,075); SES sedan ($16,375).
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($815), heated front seats ($115), antilock brakes with traction control ($385), Sirius satellite radio ($195), leather upholstery ($695); Audiophile sound system ($645).
Ford Focus SES four-door sedan ($19,225).
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