Monday, December 08, 2008

Test drive review: 2008 Ford Focus

Photos by
Alan P. Goldstein/
© 2008 and forward


By Stephen H. Goldstein
Golden Quill Editorial Services
© 2008 and forward All Rights Reserved

WASHINGTON — Drivers have been keeping their cars for more years and more miles — 100,000 miles, 200,000 miles, even 300,000 miles — mostly to save the money to buy a new or low-miles “certified” used car. However, car makers, trying to boost sales in a hard-bitten economy, have added many features to new cars to attract electronically connected buyers.

Since radios were first installed in dashboards in the early 1930s, cars have added electronics previously left at home: Stereo radios with cassette, 8-track tape and CD players, cell phones, satellite radio and now: a synchronized voice-activated communications and entertainment system — developed by Microsoft and Ford — that connects the passenger to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, an MP3 player, an iPod, Zune, Sirius satellite radio and more.

The Ford Focus upscale and “sporty” SES, for example, has many of the comforts of a luxury automobile at a fraction of the price, especially to compare the features on a $16,000 car more than a decade ago and what options that money adds today.

The 2008 Focus introduced the 2-door coupe, replacing the ZX hatchback and station wagon. For 2009, Ford has added the SEL model to the SES, the midlevel SE and the basic S model. Each upgrade in trim level adds features as standard equipment that are options below. In 2008, the spread between the S and SES trim levels was about $2,000, from about $14,000 to $16,000.

Ford updated the Focus, introduced in the 1999 model year, with larger but still compact vehicles through the years. The freshening apparently didn’t excite some auto enthusiasts, however, but Ford’s announced plans to bring the European version of the Focus to the United States in 2010 did rev them up.

From the outside, the Ford Focus still looks like a subcompact car, although larger than its ancestors from earlier in the decade. In the driver’s seat, it looks and feels more like a crossover trying to blend car with SUV. The shape of the car — low in front and higher in back — reduces wind drag but not enough of the wind noise. The high back end hides tailgaters behind. At least, the tailgater seems to be closer than it may be. Other cars have the same problem.

Standard equipment includes P215/50 tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, which improve the ride but don’t muffle the road noise yet enough, and front and rear independent suspension. The car includes six air bags: the two in the front, side air bags deployed from the leather seats and head curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers.

It has dual power-adjustable — and heated — outside rearview mirrors; a color-matching rear spoiler; fog lamps; air conditioning and heater; an inside rear-view mirror that darkens electronically when headlights hit it from behind; AM/FM stereo radio with single CD and MP3 player; an auxiliary audio input jack an electronic message center that shows the odometer, two trip meters, a bar-graph display of gas mileage in motion; average mpg and estimated miles to Empty (more than 400 miles at fill-up).

Optional equipment includes a power moonroof, heated leather bucket seats, anti-lock brakes (drums in back, disc in front), traction control, a 6-CD/MP3 “audiophile” system and Sirius satellite radio with 30 station presets added to 20 for FM and 10 for AM. The SYNC system also works with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, even downloading its phone directory, and it will read cell phone text messages through the stereo system.

Dashboard controls and buttons take a little time to become familiar, but as usual, the manual explains their functions and features. Redundant controls on the steering wheel for the sound systems and cruise control improve safety while driving. The headlights and fog lights have only manual controls and do not turn on or off automatically.

The center rearview mirror darkens with headlights behind. The dashboard below it features a hooded readout in the center for the radio frequencies and volume and the SYNC display. The instrumentation behind the steering wheel lights up in blue and red accents on gray/white gauges. The logically designed controls for radio and SYNC, heat and air conditioning are in the center of the dashboard, although the manual explains how to use the various functions.

Some critics have cited the plastic vents and dashboard treatments. The silver coating does wear off in time. However, federal fleet mileage requirements have pushed carmakers to use lighter materials — more plastic — to save weight.

The 140-hp (at 6,000 rpm) inline 4-cylinder engine handles the hills quite well, noticeably better than a 100-hp engine in a similar compact, even with a 5-speed manual transmission. California regulations limit the horsepower to 130 for a low-emission vehicle. At posted highway speeds, the engine in the tested car turned at 2,500 to 2,800 rpm, which helps the gas mileage. The manual 5-speed shifts smoothly and offers good acceleration.

The visibility in the Focus is somewhat limited for backing into and out of parking spaces, mainly because of the large, solid headrests. On the open road, visibility is fine, with larger mirrors than in other cars and the side windows.

The back seat, usually a tight fit in many coupes, is spacious in the Focus but difficult to enter and exit, even for an average-size person. The hooks for hanging dry cleaning, for example, are back far enough that some people would have to step into the back to reach them. The large trunk includes a safety latch for someone trapped inside to escape.

In its digital readouts, the tested car averaged more than 31 mpg between fill-ups of the 13-gallon tank. With the gas receipts, the tested car approached 33 mpg for combined highway and local driving.

The Ford Focus SES, nicely outfitted, comfortable and sporty, can make 700 miles in a week roll by almost without notice.

Data Box:2008 Ford Focus SES
Vehicle class: 2-door coupe.
Power: 2.0L, L4 DOHC engine.
Mileage: 24 city / 35 highway.
Where built: Wayne, Mich.
Base price: $16,475.

Stephen H. Goldstein, senior editor for Golden Quill Editorial Services, has been a print and broadcast journalist since high school graduation — and in print even earlier.

No comments: