Full 2008 Ford Focus Review
What's New for 2008
While not completely new, the Ford Focus gets a significant refresh for 2008. Many of the mechanical components are unchanged, but the car gets a new look inside and out. Ford's hands-free Sync communications system is added to the options list and the base 2.0-liter engine gets a slight power increase. The 2.3-liter engine is dropped, as are all wagon and hatchback versions. A coupe version of the Focus is also new for 2008.
When the Ford Focus debuted for the 2000 model year, it was heralded as an American compact that offered European driving characteristics in an edgy and stylish package. It's been a rare small-car success for a domestic automaker, as usually this segment is dominated by import brands. Even in its old age, the Focus still sells well, usually third behind the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
As good as the car was at its debut, it had been soldiering on in the past few years without a redesign. In hopes of keeping it competitive, Ford has refreshed the Focus for 2008. Although the Focus looks new, it is mechanically very similar to last year's model. Still, Ford has revised the suspension, added a few horsepower and updated the interior for 2008.
The new interior has a stylish, somewhat upscale look in SES trim, as that's the version that adds metallic-looking surfaces to the dash. Similarly, white-faced gauges with chrome rings add an elegance previous editions of the Focus lacked. Blue gauge lighting also brings the Focus into the 21st century and contributes to the car's overall more modern feel. But the most significant upgrade for 2008 has to be the addition of the Microsoft-developed Sync system. It works as a Bluetooth connection for your phone as well as a voice command interface for digital music players.
For 2008, a coupe body style joins the Focus lineup for the first time. While at first glace, it seems as if Ford has done little more than reinvent the Escort ZX2, company officials say the coupe was added because buyers are looking primarily for coupes and sedans in this segment. As a result, all hatchback variants of the Focus have been dropped for 2008, including the spacious Focus wagon.
The 2008 Ford Focus' new look seems to be polarizing, with some suggesting it pales in comparison to the Mazda 3 and Honda Civic, while others see the obvious visual connection to other Ford products like the Fusion as a positive. Either way, value is still at the heart of the new Ford Focus. Its low base price, six standard airbags and abundance of options will appeal to those who want more car but aren't willing to pay extra. However, those looking for razor-sharp handling and a premium ownership experience will want to look elsewhere.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Ford Focus is available as a coupe or sedan. Both body styles are offered in base S, midlevel SE and top SES trim levels. Base models come with features like air-conditioning, tilt steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack for the stereo. Cruise control and satellite radio are on the options list.
Step up to the SE and many of those features are still optional. The SE comes with full power accessories, remote keyless entry and other options that are not available on the S. Equipment like Sync, an upgraded stereo with a six-CD changer, heated side mirrors, chrome exterior trim, faux-aluminum interior trim, an upgraded driver seat, customizable interior lighting and a leather-wrapped steering wheel all become available on the SE. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are standard versus the S model's steel wheels with wheel covers.
Top-of-the-line SES versions get 16-inch alloy wheels and upgraded tires as standard as well as adding front and rear stabilizer bars for improved handling. There's no real sport package per se, but the SES is as close as you'll find. This well-equipped Focus also comes standard with much of the SE's optional equipment. Other options for the Focus, depending on the trim level, include leather seating, heated front seats and a sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
Just one engine is available in the Ford Focus for 2008. It's a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder good for 140 horsepower. A cleaner version of that engine that earns PZEV tailpipe emissions certification is also available for California-emissions states. That engine makes 130 hp.
The standard transmission on all Focus trim levels is a five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic is available as an option. Opt for any Focus with a manual transmission and fuel economy is estimated at a very good 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. Automatics are similar but decrease highway fuel economy by 2 mpg.
Six airbags are standard on all Focus models. This includes front seat side-impact airbags as well as head curtain airbags for both front and rear seat occupants. Antilock brakes are optional on all trim levels. The rear seats lack head restraints, and stability control is not offered.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2008 Ford Focus has been reworked with new gauges, a different steering wheel and new seats. The seats prove supportive for long driving stints, while the interior environment is fresher and much more attractive. Still, compared to other small cars, the Focus' interior is nothing special in terms of design and materials, even with the optional aluminum-like trim highlights.
New for the 2008 model year is Ford's Sync system. Essentially a hands-free voice-recognition interface, Sync was developed by Microsoft and Ford. It adds Bluetooth functionality to the Focus but requires fewer steps than other systems. You don't have to save voice tags or build lists of phone numbers, as Sync wirelessly accesses your device's phonebook. It offers similar control for the iPod, Zune or other Plays for Sure portable MP3 players.
No one will mistake the 2008 Ford Focus for a Mazda 3, but the car is reasonably fun to drive thanks to quick steering. The interior remains quiet on the highway, as there's little wind or engine noise. Occasionally, road and tire noise makes its way into the cabin, but the car is quieter than the previous Focus and quieter than many other cars in its class.
The 2.0-liter engine provides adequate power. Five-speed automatics are increasingly common for this segment, but the Ford must do with a four-speed. Its gears are well spaced at least, and even on steep inclines, the transmission rarely shifts up and down looking for the right gear.
Read our Ford Focus Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test