2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

I agree with Contributing Editor, Chris Chase that the disappearance of the Focus hatchback and wagon models is a big loss for Focus buyers with practical concerns, but on the other hand, I’m sure Ford can’t help noticing that the best-selling car in Canada is the Honda Civic which only comes as a four-door sedan and two-door coupe.

Personally, I’m not particularly impressed with the Focus sedan’s facelift and those fake side vents behind the front tires, but the general proportions of the car are still attractive – and there are some worthwhile improvements to the suspension and powertrain which result in a quieter cabin, smoother ride, and fewer engine vibrations making their way into the cabin. The ’08 Focus still comes with a fully independent suspension, but it feels softer when cornering and soaks up the bumps better than before. It’s obvious that ride comfort has been given a priority over sportiness and this is probably a result of feedback from customer clinics.

2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge

Around town, the Focus offers easy steering, a tight turning circle, peppy performance from its 140-hp motor, and seamless shifts from the optional four-speed automatic transmission. I was quite impressed with the smoothness of this transmission. On the freeway, it is geared for low revs to improve fuel economy and keep engine noise low: I recorded 2,200 r.p.m. in fourth at a steady 100 km/h on a level highway.

I liked the Focus’ driving position and the driver’s seat with its stitched leather surface, manual height adjustment and optional seat heater, but visibility to the rear is hindered by the high trunk lid and optional decklid spoiler on the SES model. Curiously, the front passenger seat is positioned so high that it left me very little headroom (with the optional sunroof) – and the seat is not height adjustable. The Focus’ rear seats have ample legroom thanks to a big space under the front seats, and headroom is also adequate, but strangely, there are no rear head restraints, even fixed ones. The split rear seatbacks do fold down, but they are not lockable.

The Focus’ trunk is roomy and fully lined – the optional subwoofer takes up a lot of space on the left wall. A button on the key fob allows the owner to unlock the trunk separately from the doors.

Ford’s new SYNC audio and communications system makes it possible to operate your Bluetooth cell phone, i-Pod or USB device using voice commands, thereby allowing you to keep both hands on the steering wheel while driving.

2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge

This is a good idea in principle, particularly for phone calls, but I’m not sure about the benefits for music devices – it seemed just as easy or easier to use the controls on the dash or the steering wheel. The Bluetooth phone can be set up using voice commands, and once ‘synced’, it automatically switches to Sync mode every time you get in the car – even in the middle of a call. Your phone’s phonebook can be downloaded into the system so that you can just say, “Call Bob” and it will dial Bob’s number. To say a command, you first press the Voice button on the steering wheel, and after a voice prompt tone, say the command. Audio comes through the stereo speakers and it operates like a speaker phone. First timers tend to shout at the microphone in the rear-view mirror, but I found that it hears even a soft voice, as long as the windows are closed.

Sync users have to remember specific voice commands in order to do certain things, so a good read of the Sync owner’s manual is needed first. When testing a USB with different music tracks, I found that the system wouldn’t always recognize artist’s names, such as “Play Amy Winehouse”. However, when it doesn’t recognize the artist’s name or song, it automatically gives you a choice of artists to choose from using a number system. If all else fails, you can just yell, “Help”, and it will guide you through the appropriate commands.

One concern: the stiff, authoritative female voice that prompts you to offer commands always seems to be in a hurry and doesn’t give you time to remember the proper command. I found her quite irritating. And when you are by yourself in the car, it looks like you are talking to yourself – or your car – I don’t know which is worse.

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