Review and photos by Chris Chase
The Ford Focus was something of a sensation when it first went on sale here in 1999. Bred in Europe, it was an instant hit for its edgy styling and sharp handling. The same enthusiasts who were so keen on the original were disappointed when a second-generation Focus was launched in Europe in 2004 , but never made it here.
We wouldn’t get a redesigned Focus until 2008, and even then, the car that arrived was a mostly a cosmetic update, with a revised suspension tuning but using the same platform and powertrains as the car it replaced. Perhaps the worst slap in the face, at least for those who had come to appreciate the Focus for its comprehensive availability of body styles, was the discontinuation of the hatchback and station wagon variants. For 2008, the Focus was offered as a sedan and in a new coupe bodystyle. Blame that decision, as our Buyer’s Guide entry for the 2008 Focus so succinctly puts it, on “the traditional U.S. buyer’s horror of liftgates.” Note that the coupe was discontinued after 2010.
While I have mostly praise for many of Ford’s recent designs, the decision to reserve the true second-generation Focus for overseas markets and sell a warmed-over redesign here is one I’ve never understood. Thankfully, the 2012 Focus takes the car back to its original global roots – one excellent (we hope!) car for the world over.
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge
But enough griping, and on to the nitty-gritty. The 2008 Focus used a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine making 140 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque, which came standard with a five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel consumption was rated at 8.5/5.7 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission, or 8.4/5.9 with the automatic. A manual coupe I tested in 2008 averaged about 8 L/100 km in city driving, and managed a disappointing 6.7 L/100 km in the 50 Litre Challenge that Autos staged in the summer of 2008. By 2011, the Focus’ ratings had improved to 8.2/5.8 L/100 km with the automatic transmission, and 8.0/5.6 with the manual.
Early Focuses were infamous for poor reliability, but that improved markedly through the years. To that point, the 2008-and-newer Focus gets Consumer Reports’ “better than average” used vehicle rating, and the publication notes no significant trouble spots for the second generation car. One prevalent problem in the first-generation car was an ignition switch that would get stuck and not let the key turn; CR notes some instances of electrical system troubles in 2008 and 2009 models that could well be linked to the same thing. (http://forums.focaljet.com/team-tech/497529-new-ignition-cylinder-help.html)
Squeaks and rattles are a complaint too, and another that has plagued the Focus since its introduction. Other first-generation problems that might cross over into the second-gen car include rear suspension control arms that don’t deal well with aftermarket swaybars (http://forums.focaljet.com/suspension/598486-twist-snap.html) and an engine thermostat housing that cracks, causing a coolant leak (http://www.focusfanatics.com/forum/showthread.php?t=186316).
2008 Ford Focus SES. Click image to enlarge
From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Focus two-door earned a “good” rating in its frontal offset and side impact tests. The four-door, however, got an “acceptable” rating in the side impact test, due to a likelihood of pelvic injury to the driver, and torso injury for rear seat passengers.
From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the four-door got four stars all around, save for five for driver protection, while the two-door got five stars in the frontal impact test and three in side impacts.
At this writing, Canadian Black Book puts used Focus values start at $9,450 for 2008 S coupe, to $20,350 for a 2010 SES sedan with leather and a power sunroof. Those numbers make the Focus notably less expensive than a comparable Japanese model, but comes closer in price to its Korean and domestic competitors. Next to the other domestics – the Chevrolet Cobalt/Pontiac G5 twins and the Dodge Caliber – the Focus is an easy choice, being more comfortable and refined than either. You might – though it’s definitely not a given like it used to be – get better long-term reliability from a Civic or Corolla, but you’ll pay a lot more for it, too. The second-generation Focus offers next to nothing for enthusiasts, but as basic transportation, it’s a solid small car at a reasonable price.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) January, 2011:
2008:Certain vehicles may contain an incorrectly assembled driver’s airbag module. The airbag may not deploy properly during a frontal crash, which could increase the driver’s risk of injury. Correction: Dealers will replace the driver airbag module assembly. Note: All vehicles were in dealer inventory at time of recall.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.