The Detroit That Might Have Been - 2008 Ford Focus Long-Term Road Test
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2008 Ford Focus Long Term Road Test

2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: The Detroit That Might Have Been

December 05, 2008

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Every time I see this Focus in the parking garage, I'm reminded of what might have been. It's drowning in bad design now, covered up with lazy sheetmetal flourishes and embarrassing chrome devices, transformed into some kind of shrunken Mercury Marquis. But once the Focus represented the leading edge of thinking at Ford, and all the best engineers and stylists worked on the project.

You can still sense a little personality here, even though the car has been dumbed down over the years to suit a dumbed-down audience. It feels poised on its long-travel suspension and steers with an instinct for an apex. This is not the rally-bred Focus SVT that we remember, but it drives far better than most of its competition in the cheap-and-cheerful market segment, balancing a comfortable ride with alert handling in a sophisticated way.

It's fashionable to blame Detroit for its current predicament. Not the right kind of cars for the modern world, the pundits say. But the truth is, Detroit has been making the right kind of cars for the modern world for decades. But the trouble is, no one would buy them.

The Ford Focus is a perfect example. Partly its failure was the fault of the cars themselves, as anyone who can remember the quality issues of the first year's production of the made-in-Mexico Focus can attest. Partly this was the fault of the buyers, who looked toward import brands for fuel-efficient small cars as a matter of experience and prejudice. Partly this was the fault of Wall Street analysts, who have been forcing Detroit to compromise quality for profits for decades and couldn't understand the idea of a great small car.

So now we're left with the Ford Focus SES. It's been selling surprisingly well in the wake of last summer's spike in fuel prices, and it offers more car for less money than much of the competition. But it's still only a pale reminder of what might have been, a world-class small car with a Ford label. Let's hope the Ford Fiesta will do better once it gets here in 2010.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor @ 14,850 miles


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