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2008 Ford Focus SES Road Test
Focus fuels the fun quotient
By Bill Roebuck
So often, each time models are refreshed or updated, the next generation becomes larger and larger. Not so with the redesigned 2008 Ford Focus.
The new Focus retains the same wheelbase length and track width of the previous model, and basically the same exterior and interior dimensions. But the skin is different -- much improved in my view -- as is the interior design.
However, this year, there's only one engine available now, instead of two as before. And there are no head restraints for back-seat passengers, in my view a major oversight on a model aimed at young drivers who often fill up all the seats of their cars taking their friends around. Another safety oversight: stability control isn't even offered. Even ABS brakes and traction control are not standard items unless you order the top-of-the-line trim.
Thus it's good that front- and side-impact air bags are standard gear for front passengers, and that those are bolstered by head-curtain air bags for front and rear passengers.
In the rear, the space isn't bad for two adults or three small kids, as long as the front passengers move their seats forward to give a bit more kneeroom. Headroom likely will be tight for those 5 ft 11 in. or taller.
Up front, I quite like the cool blue lighting scheme on the instruments and buttons -- in the dark, those lights seem to be everywhere. Ambient lights of varying colours that highlight the footwells and the interior of the cupholders are novel.
The driving position is fine, although it's a tight squeeze to get your hand between the seat and the driver's door to adjust the seatback angle. A handy ratchet lever near the front of the seat is easy to access for raising or lowering the seat height.
The first impression when you see the new Focus is that it's got some style. I like the look of the (fake) vents on the sides of the front fenders on our tester, and nicely styled wheels enhance the overall image.
For 2008, only four-door sedan and two-door coupe models are available. Gone are the hatchback and wagon from previous years.
When you open the doors, you're greeted with a surprisingly elegant interior -- at least that's the case with our fully-loaded tester, an SES model equipped with leather seating, a power moonroof and the colour-select ambient lighting option. (The driver or front-seat passenger can choose from seven different colours, including red, orange, blue, indigo, violet, green and yellow, by cycling through a dash-mounted switch).
I found the gauges to be clear and easy to read, and the buttons and dials for both the ventilation and stereo easy to use. Everything was screwed together tightly, with no squeaks or rattles to be heard anywhere inside.
The SES model we tested came with lots of technology, including Sirius satellite radio and Ford's new Sync multimedia system that controls digital music players and more. It includes Bluetooth set-up for cell phones, and a USB port. The Microsoft-developed technology allows you to use your voice to control your iPod or the radio, and can even read your text messages to you with its synthesized voice.
A top-of-dashboard display unit looks like a design afterthought. While competitive vehicles have these moulded in, Ford's idea is to insert the display unit into a space that's been cut out. On one of two models I drove, I actually pulled the module out of its nest when I checked to see how loose it was. On the other model, it was secured more tightly. They could have done a much better job with the execution of this feature.
When you drive away, you get the sensation of a much bigger, more luxurious vehicle. The steering at low speeds is stiff, making the vehicle feel heavy, although, it's 45 kg lighter than the previous generation model. Overall, the handling is firm, aided by the fact that the frame is 12% stiffer than before. And it's luxury-level quite.
The suspension set-up features MacPherson struts up front and an independent multilink design in the rear. The spring rates, dampers, stabilizer bars and bushings are all new for 2008. Generally speaking, the spring rates were dropped and improvements to steering and handling were accomplished by careful tuning and increasing the size of the front stabilizer bar.
Models with 15-in. wheels and low-rolling resistance Hankook tires use a front stabilizer bar only. Models with 16-in. wheels and Pirelli tires (as on our tester) use front and rear stabilizer bars.
There's good power from the 2.0-litre, 140-hp dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) engine; it's not overtly quick, but has good enough get-up-and-go when you need it. For a four-cylinder, it's smooth and fairly quiet. Acceleration is more than adequate for on-ramps and passing slower vehicles on the highway. AJAC's TestFest speed tests saw an average of 10.0 seconds from stop to 100 km/h, and 7.9 seconds to go from 80 to 120 km/h.
More importantly, let's talk about the brakes.
The Focus got an all-new brake system for 2008. New aluminum calipers save weight and improve brake pedal feel. The brakes are 10.9-in. vented discs in front and 11.0-inch drums in back. As mentioned, ABS is optional, but standard on the top of the line SES model. While it's true that the brakes on the ABS-equipped Focus feel firm and strong, testing tells a different story. It actually takes quite a bit of pavement -- an average of 47.9 metres -- to bring the new Focus to a stop from 100 km/h; that's 4-6 metres more than many competitive models. And that's more than some big SUVs take to come to a stop. What's going on with these new brakes, Ford?
The four-speed automatic transmission in our tester shifted seamlessly in normal driving. Pushed hard, you can feel the shifts, but that's not abnormal. A five-speed manual also is available.
The Focus is surprisingly quiet for a compact. Ford reports an 8% reduction in wind noise due to improved airflow. In Ford's testing, 'boom, rumble and roar,' decibel levels dropped from 70 dBA to 67.3 with the help of new noise-deadening technologies.
Storage space is reasonable for this size of car . The glove box is roomy. The rear seats split and fold to extend cargo capacity, but the trunk has intrusions jutting into the floor space. The trunk lid also feels like it weighs a ton (there was a spoiler bolted to it on our tester, though). The lid is supported by side struts that, fortunately, don't intrude into the cargo space.
The 2008 Focus comes in three trim levels -- S, SE and SES. The base price for the entry level S model is $15,999. This model includes, as standard equipment, air conditioning, iPod jack, tire pressure monitoring, six airbags and Sirius satellite radio with a six-month prepaid subscription.
Next up, the $17,399 SE adds power windows, locks and mirrors -- the latter heated -- as well as chrome accents. ABS and traction control are optional on both the S and SE models.
ABS and traction control finally become standard on the SES model, which starts at a price of $19,999. This model includes the Sync system. Heated leather seats, a power moonroof and the colour-select ambient lighting are options. Also available is an upgraded Audiophile sound system. The SES also includes a rear stabilizer bar, 16-in. alloy wheels and Pirelli P205/ 50R16 tires, a chrome vent design element on the front fenders, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, heated cloth front seats, cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
In all, I enjoyed driving the Focus, and liked its appearance. But one of the main reasons to buy a small car is to save on fuel, and the Focus went though gas more quickly than I expected. The 2008 Focus is rated at 8.5 L/100 km in the city (8.4 with the automatic I drove) and 5.7 L/100 km on the highway (5.9 for the automatic). Despite this, according to the car's trip computer, I achieved an average of 9.0 L/100 km during my week of testing, when I drove about 650 km with a fairly equal mix of city roads and highways.
That fact aside, the 2008 Focus is a nice improvement over the previous generation, and well worth investigating for those in the small-car market.
Bill Roebuck is the Editor and Senior Reviewer of CarTest! © 2007
Posted Dec. 12, 2007