Compact Blues - 2008 Ford Focus Long-Term Road Test

2008 Ford Focus Long Term Road Test

2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Compact Blues

June 16, 2008

I'm not sure why, but whenever I mention the Ford Focus, most people wrinkle their noses and make "eeeww" noises. Why is this? If they'd only drive it, they'd find it to be a well-balanced car that steers and handles much better than a lot of the compact competition. It's a kinder, gentler tune of a Mazda3-ish chassis that some find too performance-oriented. Sure beats the heck out of the Corolla's road manners. And our 2008 Ford Focus SES has a PZEV engine that is green and clean and gets high 30's mpg on the highway--only an MPG or two behind a Corolla or Civic.

OK, I'm pretty sure why: it has to be the styling, inside and out. The original one looked a bit spacy (but tolerable as a 3-door hatchback), but the assymetric interior was a horrid festival of plastic. Outside, this new US-spec coupe is a step backwards, or at least sideways; it looks like a old Daewoo, or something. Meanwhile the interior, while a lot easier to look at than before, still seems dated and made of low-rent materials.

Why didn't we get the cool European Ford Focus they sold a couple of years ago? After all, I'm told the chassis is over 95% the same. A year ago someone at Ford told me the Euro Focus cost too much to build. Higher European fuel prices meant that many folks actually preferred compacts over there, but they wanted them well-trimmed with a lot of feature content. As a result, Ford felt they could put more money into the body and interior on the Eurpoean models. It's a more upmarket sort of compact.

Not here. A lot of people here wanted a real (read: big) car or an SUV. Anyone who bought a compact was simply someone who couldn't afford anything more substantial, or so the thinking went.

And then gasoline broke $3 per gallon. Then $4. And it'll probably be $5 before the summer is out. Sure, buying a new car and taking on a payment just to save gas money doesn't make sense in some cases, but a lot of people are doing so anyway. Suddenly the large SUV has fallen out of fashion. Folks who can afford to buy a $45,000 SUV are looking for something that can get 30 or 35 mpg on the highway.

Personally, I've always liked compacts. But since I'm not hurting for cash I've always gravitated towards those with good design, fit and finish. I do not see a compact car as a consolation prize. I think a lot of other folks are suddenly starting to look at this segment the same way, too. Too bad Ford doesn't have their somewhat more upmarket European Ford Focus ready to go in US trim right about now...

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,388 miles

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