First Drive: 2008 Ford Focus
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2011.
By Andrew Bornhop of Road & Track
Seattle, Washington — While the jury is still out on the styling of the new 2008 Ford Focus — as a fan of the original design, I find the new coupe and sedan a tad plain, especially from the rear — one thing is certain: It's a better car from the inside out. And it's available with Sync, a new Ford system that uses Microsoft software to bring automotive connectivity to a new level by being the first to allow voice-activated, hands-free use of both Bluetooth cellphones and MP3 players such as Apple's iPod or Microsoft's new Zune player.
But first, the car. The Focus chassis is carryover, although substantially strengthened with a stiffened cross-car beam (beneath the dash, supporting the steering column) that gives this reasonably spacious and economical front-driver good overall solidity. This has allowed Ford's suspension engineers to soften the springs a bit and retune the shocks, anti-roll bars and bushings to retain the car's excellent handling while making the Focus more comfortable in daily use. By eliminating the spare tire (the car now has a patch kit) and employing aluminum front brake calipers, Ford has pared about 30 lb. from the Focus.
Contributing to the new comfort is a significantly quieter interior. Wind-tunnel tests have helped reduce wind noise by 8 percent, and a special acoustic windshield teams with slightly thicker side glass and other sound-deadening materials in the door panels, C-pillars and parcel shelf to make the Focus impressively quiet.
Quiet enough, apparently, for the Sync system — standard on the SES model and a $395 option on all other Foci — to correctly hear voice commands, and have its audible prompts heard by the driver. For instance, Sync can read aloud any text message the driver receives, even translating common abbreviations such as LOL to "Laugh Out Loud." It's impressive technology that's only going to improve with time. On a safety note, responses to text messages can be made only when the Focus is stationary.
As before, a transverse-mounted 2.0-liter inline-4 is on duty underhood, the twincam powerplant now fitted with a new intake system and exhaust that bump output to 140 bhp at 6000 rpm and 136 lb.-ft. of torque at 4250 rpm. It's a smooth engine, and in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, a PZEV version that's cleaner than some hybrids puts out 132 bhp at 6000 rpm and 133 lb.-ft. of torque at 4250 rpm. Gearboxes remain a 5-speed manual with decent linkage and a 4-speed automatic that works just fine, both with gearing that translates into highway mileage in the 30s. Unfortunately, last year's optional 151-bhp 2.3-liter four has been dropped.
Inside, the Focus now has thorax side airbags as standard equipment, plus side curtain airbags that deploy from the headliner to protect both the front and rear passengers. The dash has a more modern look. The materials remain hard to the touch, but they're more attractive than the 2007 plastics, and a new top-of-dash display makes it easier to see radio station information and the like.
At the bottom of the center stack is Sync's USB port, where an iPod or a portable memory stick loaded with songs can be connected. With said device plugged in, Sync automatically indexes the material, allowing the driver to call up any particular artist or song. One short moment after pushing a button on the steering wheel and saying "Play, Track, Downbound Train" in my normal voice, a forlorn Bruce Springsteen started singing about a love gone bad. And I never had to take my eyes off the road.
With the new Wayne, Michigan-built Focus, Ford has kept the good (the handling dynamics) and fixed the bad (the dated interior and road noise), while frosting the deal with the reasonably priced Sync. Prices start at $14,695 for an S Coupe, and top out at $16,995 for an SES sedan that boasts Sync and sportier suspension tuning with 16-in. alloy wheels.