2008 Ford Focus SES
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
2008 Chevrolet Cobalt
2008 Honda Civic
2008 Hyundai Elantra
2008 Kia Spectra
2008 Mazda3
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
2008 Nissan Sentra
2008 Pontiac G5
2008 Suzuki SX4
2008 Saturn Astra
2008 Toyota Corolla
2008 Volkswagen City Golf

Manufacturer’s web site
Ford Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 Ford Focus

Second opinion, by Greg Wilson

Ottawa, Ontario – A good friend’s retired parents are really annoyed with Ford. After decades of driving Fords of all kinds, they’re considering buying from another automaker when the lease on their Focus wagon is up.

The key words here are “Focus” and “wagon.” As in, there isn’t one any more – nor is there a hatchback. I trust that Ford’s product planners know what they’re doing in reducing the Focus line to sedan and coupe models. On the other hand, I also have to wonder how many other current Focus owners and Ford loyalists are considering mutiny against the blue oval brand.

For 2008, the Focus sedan gets a significant styling update, though what’s underneath the new skin is more or less the same as what was there before. Sure, it’d be great if Ford would (finally) bring the Euro-Focus across the pond for us, but for a platform that’s almost a decade old, this one’s pretty good.

Ford says it reduced the Focus’ weight and actually softened the car’s spring rates with this redesign. Tweaks to the steering and stabilizer bars were used to revise the car’s ride and handling. Base cars get only a front stabilizer bar, while uplevel models (as in, any new Focus with 16-inch wheels) get a rear bar as well.

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

Handling is definitely confident and competent, but what’s missing is the immediacy that the old car had. It’s still fun enough to toss the new Focus into a corner, but the old car felt friskier, where this one feels more grown up. Not that this is uncommon for a significantly redesigned car; it’s just that other cars – the Mazda3, for example, compared to the Protege it replaced – hold on to more of their predecessors’ fun factor when they graduate from adolescence. It’s worth noting that the much lusted-after European Focus is based on the same platform as the Mazda3.

The Focus’ softer springs pay off with a ride that makes the feel car like a larger one. The steering, too, is nicely weighted, the brake pedal is firm and stopping power ramps up progressively with pedal pressure.

Also carried over from the old Focus is the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. Its 140 horsepower (up from 136 last year) is plenty to move the car with authority. The four-speed automatic transmission is also a carryover; while many other compacts get five-speed autos now, this one at least shifts very nicely. Engine noise is well-muted at most speeds too; things only get raucous at high revs, but the motor sounds decent when pressed.

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

Inside, space up front is great. There’s good headroom, even with the optional sunroof (it’s part of the $1,000 Luxury Package that also includes leather seating surfaces), thanks to the manual six-way adjustable driver’s seat. The seats are comfortable too, but they feel like seven-eighths’ scale versions of the chairs from the larger Taurus. They almost completely lack lateral support.

It’s a different story in the back seat. Here, legroom is only okay, and protrusions in the headliner cut into headroom. Also, where are the rear-seat headrests? Cargo space is better: the trunk is a useful size, as is the opening revealed when the back seats are folded.

While I don’t love the look of the new interior, the materials feel like quality and the panel fits are good. The radio display, located atop the dash, is easily visible. My SES tester had the new Ford/Microsoft SYNC audio and communications system. The voice recognition works very well, responding quickly to my prompts. The system will let you switch between line-in and USB input modes with voice commands, but I wish you could do the same to choose radio modes. With the numerous satellite radio frequencies available, it would be handy to be able to choose one without resorting to reaching for the preset buttons.

As mentioned, my tester was an SES sedan. This model carries a starting price of $19,999, which strikes me as a pretty good deal: standard equipment includes the SYNC system, cruise control and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, anti-lock brakes, heated front seats and air conditioning (air comes standard in all new Focii). The big extras were the automatic transmission ($1,150) and the Luxury Package ($1,000). Other options were a $75 engine block heater and a $35 smoker’s package.

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

All told, the bottom line added up to $23,509 including $1,150 freight. Even the lower-priced S and SE models seem like good deals: heated seats are a $200 extra on the SE, and the SYNC system is just $495 on that mid-level model, and a six-disc stereo can also be added to the SE for as little as $495.

Sure, many buyers will be in the same boat as my friends’ parents. The wagon and hatch body styles were big sellers for Ford, so the decision to drop them from the lineup is a bit of a head-scratcher. If you can get past the streamlined lineup and the polarizing looks, however, the new Focus is good value. I suspect that even if Ford loses some buyers to the now-missing models, they’ll gain a few who appreciate this car’s attractive price and generous standard feature list.

Second opinion, by Greg Wilson

Pricing: 2008 Ford Focus SES w/ SYNC
  • Base price: $19,999
  • Options: $2,360 (Automatic transmission, $1,150; Luxury Group of power moonroof and leather seats, $1,000; Engine block heater, $75; Smoker’s Package, $35)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,150
  • Price as tested: $23,509

    Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Ford Focus

    Competitors
  • 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2008 Honda Civic
  • 2008 Hyundai Elantra
  • 2008 Kia Spectra
  • 2008 Mazda3
  • 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
  • 2008 Nissan Sentra
  • 2008 Pontiac G5
  • 2008 Suzuki SX4
  • 2008 Saturn Astra
  • 2008 Toyota Corolla
  • 2008 Volkswagen City Golf

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Ford Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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