2008 Ford Focus Long Term Road Test

Performance


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2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Can't Take Throttle Response for Granted

July 31, 2009

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When I left work last night, I needed to make a quick stop off at the grocery store to get a few things for dinner. I was hurried and our long-term 2008 Ford Focus didn't seem to mind that.

You're undoubtedly aware that an electronic throttle ("drive-by-wire") replaced the throttle cable in the partial 2008 redesign. Yet, off-the-line response is still quite good in our long-termer -- certainly by economy car standards and certainly compared to some of the newer cars I've driven that are calibrated to scrimp on fuel to an excessive degree.

I've complained mightily about the four-speed automatic transmission in our Focus, but even that deserves some credit. It's more decisive with shifts than many of the easily befuddled six-speed automatics I've sampled recently.

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2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Turning Radius Feels Big

July 30, 2009

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That's what I thought as I flipped a u-turn on the way home last night. It was a standard width street, yet I barely had enough room to clear one of the cars already parked on the curb. I wondered how a compact coupe could make a street feel narrow, I mean it doesn't really get much smaller than this Focus right?

I decided to check the numbers to see how the Focus stacks up in the turning radius department. Turns out I was wrong, or imagining things, or not turning to full lock quickly enough.

According to Edmunds.com statistics, the turning radius of the Focus coupe is a very admirable 34.2 feet. Compare that to the Honda Fit (34.4 ft.) or Honda Civic coupe (35.4 ft.), and the Focus cuts a pretty tight circle. The only car I could find off hand with a tighter circle is the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe at 33.5 feet. And if it's between those two, I'd take the Focus.

Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 25,041 miles

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2008 Ford Focus Coupe: IIHS Frontal-Offset, Side-Impact Crash Tests

July 21, 2009

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Side-impact crash protection was never a strong point of the earlier ZX3 hatchback version of the Focus. It was no surprise, really. Side airbags weren't standard and awareness of what might happen if a small SUV came at you from the side wasn't as high as it is today. It's little wonder that the respawned 2008 Ford Focus coupe has bigger, heavier doors than the ZX3.

The IIHS is just getting around to testing the Focus coupe, but other than the lack of fake fender vents, this 2009 Focus coupe is just like ours. And it earned top "Good" ratings in both the side-impact and frontal-offset crash tests.

So even if I don't want to admit it, our 2008 Ford Focus is a better, safer car than the Focus ZX3 that still tugs at my heartstrings. More photos of the bashed Focus after the jump.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor.

Here's the blue Focus coupe before the test. Maybe we should remove the fender "vents" from our long-term car.

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2008 Ford Focus: Welcome to Death Valley

July 15, 2009

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Last week I put the air-conditioning of our long-term Ford Focus to a serious performance test by driving the little blue coupe through Death Valley, California, one of the hottest places on the face of the Earth.

The temps were pushing 123-degrees in the shade, but the Ford's air conditioning was up to the task, easily keeping the Focus cool and comfortable. The air continued to blow cold even when climbing the long, steep grade just outside of Stovepipe Wells, and the engine's water temperature gage remained pegged right in the middle, with no signs of overheating.

Way to go Focus.

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2008 Ford Focus SES: Drum Brakes. Seriously.

June 26, 2009

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Manufacturers use drum brakes for one reason: They're cheap. And guess what? It shows. Especially behind alloy wheels. Here's a shot of one of the Focus's rear drums.

Aside from the many performance reasons to use disc brakes, I'd argue that simply looking at brake drums through alloy wheel spokes is among the biggest incentives to avoid them. I'll pay extra, thanks. Am I crazy?

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

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2008 Ford Focus: L

May 14, 2009

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So I figured out what the L in PRNDL does. It sucks, that's what it does.

The 'gear' (according to the manual, which I really did read) is designed for enhanced engine braking on long descents and holding a gear going up long, steep grades. I figured it might be good for sluggish freeway traffic. Wrong-o. It is, in fact, good for nothing. While the D 'gear' is too concerned with fuel economy to shift properly, the L 'gear' is too concerned with grenading the motor, shifting poorly and generally making your commute terrible to be of any use.

It holds onto each gear for an impossibly long time. Only when the motor sounds like a thousand blenders being blended by a giant, evil blender, does it slam itself into the next highest gear where it repeats the gear holding, engine blending process all over again. Downshifts are similarly no good and lack any refinement or grace. I even used it on a long downhill only to find the gears to be so far apart that there seemed to be no sweet spot where the car ever felt comfortable or smooth. The engine was either ready to puke its guts out and slowing down too much or the transmission would not relinquish the higher gear and in fact caused me to ride the brakes to hold a steady speed, completely defeating the purpose of the L 'gear'.

Was there something wrong with the PRND321 setup?

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 20,134 miles

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2008 Ford Focus: Killing Time

April 22, 2009

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Over this past weekend, I headed out of town with our 2008 Ford Focus. The plan was to put about 300 miles on the clock for a trip up into our local mountains. My initial reaction was, "7000 feet elevation and a wheezy four-banger under the hood? Ugh!"

All was not lost though. While I was stuck behind slower drivers making the climb into thinner air, I practiced carving the perfect racing line and left-foot braking in anticipation of an upcoming karting event with my cohorts. It turns out, that practicing racing technique at lower speeds is both useful for developing a better touch as well as killing the time between passing lanes. The Focus, with its fairly low power output, makes you realize how important conserving momentum is to weaker cars.

Besides being a decent Karting tutor, the Focus ably swallowed-up all of our cargo for a four-day excursion -- firewood, camera gear, luggage and groceries. The SYNC system is still one of my favorites and a good example of how voice-activation should work. Where the Focus lacked was the rather prominent road noise and previously documented buzzy engine drone. Also, my passenger noted the lack of a grab handle in the curves. All in all, the Focus never limited us in our adventures, but we were certainly glad the cabin was less than 90 minutes away.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 18,048 miles

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2008 Ford Focus: Whiner

March 02, 2009

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I've spent a lot of time in our Focus -- so much so that I've pretty much tuned out its shortcomings. Poorly designed interior door handle? No problem -- I barely notice any more, since I've gotten used to nudging the door open with my elbow. Engine too whiny? No big deal -- I just crank up the stereo.

But the Focus was pretty new to the friends I ferried to the movies this weekend. One of them felt compelled to diss the car's rackety engine note as it struggled to pass an SUV on the freeway. Always nice to get a fresh perspective, I guess. And hmm -- guess the engine wasn't the only thing whining in the Focus that evening. On a more positive note, though, everyone was pretty impressed with SYNC.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 16,940 miles

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2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Trunk Has a Big Mouth

February 24, 2009

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I've complained high and low that our 2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe represents an unsightly transformation from a useful hatchback (ZX3) to a much less useful coupe. But even I have to admit it has a nice big trunk for a coupe -- 13.8 cubic feet. And this morning when I loaded my expanded, overpacked rollaboard carry-on, I realized I could throw it in there at any angle I wanted thanks to the Ford's huge trunk opening.

It still doesn't make up for the 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine's excessive noise and vibration under light throttle, but it's something.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 16,770 miles

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2008 Ford Focus: It's Fine, I Guess

November 21, 2008

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I've spent the better part of four days in our long-term 2008 Ford Focus SES coupe. It was my daily driver to the LA Auto Show and accompanied me to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the Mini E event . If you're wondering, yes, the Focus was the least expensive car to pull into the hotel's valet drive, but no, no one made fun of it.

Still, the Focus is not a favorite of mine and hasn't been since Ford mucked up the steering feel, ride quality, driving position and even the styling -- by trying to turn a fine looking hatchback into a lumpy looking coupe.

Still, even I have to admit that our Focus coupe's 2.0-liter inline-4, rated at 140 hp and 136 lb-ft, has a pretty nice mid-range. It doesn't sound great, nor does our car's four-speed automatic provide a terribly efficient or enjoyable means of getting at the power. But this engine is scrappy enough to accommodate decisive driving in heavy traffic.

Trouble is, I could say this about almost every engine in almost every current compact car, so I don't know if I'd call this an advantage. The best I can say is that our Focus got me where I needed to go and didn't do much to bother me in the process.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 13,992 miles

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2008 Ford Focus: On Steering

September 12, 2008

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Despite the weird styling, cheap-ish materials or the fact that Europe gets, what is by all accounts, a pretty bitchin' new Focus, our Focus does drive pretty well. There's plenty of feedback from the steering and the suspension seems well sorted. It's a little sporty and that reminds me of the original Focus, which is a good thing.

Unfortunately, you'll find it difficult to get much out of the Focus in handling department because of the steering wheel. Looking at the picture above, the Focus has what is essentially a three spoke steering wheel. That part is good. The bad parts are the two spokes at 9 and 3. In order to accommodate all those buttons, the designers/stylists have put in two of the biggest steering wheel spokes I've seen in decades. The size of the spokes (more or less 4 fingers high!) effectively prevents you from wrapping your hands around the steering wheel. People who prefer putting their hands at 10 and 2 might not even notice, but for me (a die-hard 9 and 3 guy) it all but writes off the Focus as being fun to drive.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 12,066 miles

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2008 Ford Focus SES: Recommended?

August 04, 2008

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A friend of mine is in the market for an economy car. She saw me in the Focus this weekend and cornered me for a relentless 45-minute interrogation asked me a few questions. The car's excellent fuel economy has earned it a place on her list of contenders.

She wanted to know if I'd recommend the Focus. I told her that the car has its strengths, but whether it's a match for her would depend on her priorities. She said that fuel efficiency is important, but that what she really wants is a car that's "kinda fun" -- something that "doesn't feel too cheap." She really likes luxury cars and wishes she could get an Audi A4, but it's not in her budget right now.

"Take a look at the Volkswagen Rabbit," I said. True, its fuel economy isn't as impressive as that of the Focus, but it offers a more engaging driving experience and impressive luxury for a vehicle in that price range. Just like an Audi, it feels well-planted and Germanic on the road, and its cabin is remarkably polished.

I also told her to take a look at the Mazda 3 and the Honda Fit. Still, if she'd said that fuel efficiency was the only item of her list of must-haves, the conversation would have been different.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 11,006 miles

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2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: Is It Really That Bad?

July 17, 2008

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For those who enjoy driving, our long-term 2008 Ford Focus SES -- despite its "upgraded tires...as well as...front and rear stabilizer bars for improved handling," in the words of our model review -- is only slightly more pulse-quickening than a dump truck. On second thought, the edge might go to the dump truck; I've never driven one, so I'll have to reserve judgment. Yet there are evidently plenty of non-enthusiasts who like the Focus just fine, judging by the car's 28% sales spike through June. Could it be that our blue bullet isn't so bad after all?

Nah. Like Erin, I think those sales numbers are more indicative of a general state of panic in the face of rising gas costs. Consumers are understandably trying to maximize their MPGs, and that's causing them to overlook what might otherwise be deal-breaking shortcomings -- such as the foul styling, raucous engine and joyless chassis that come standard on every Focus.

What kills me about our Focus is that Ford can obviously do a lot better -- look no further than its global C1 platform, which underpins the stylish and dynamically excellent Mazda 3 as well as the Volvo C30 and the European Focus. However, the Mazda can't match the Focus' fuel economy, and the C30's both thirstier and more expensive. That's why it's kind of exciting that the European Focus is coming our way in 2010. If it matches or exceeds the fuel economy of the current Focus while providing Mazda-like driving dynamics, it could be a real tide-turner for Ford.

Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 10,375 miles

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2008 Ford Focus: I Want the ZX3 Back

July 15, 2008

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The more time I spend with our 2008 Ford Focus coupe, the more worried I feel about Ford's future. Not only is this refreshed Focus a far cry from the second-gen, European-market Focus TdCi I drove a couple years ago, I feel it's a couple steps back from the 1.0 version of the Focus sold from 2000-2007.

I'm not just talking about de-contenting (goodbye, telescoping steering wheel), nor the needless complexity Ford added to the interior (yes, there's Sync, but there are also about 3 times as many buttons and lights). I'm talking about the driving experience, and this one just doesn't measure up. The old car had a terrific freeway ride, yet despite its soft-tuned suspension, it felt light and tossable, and had great steering feel -- and you didn't have to take it on a back road to appreciate its athleticism. I feel almost none of that in this 2008 Focus SES. The highway ride is harsher, yet the old playfulness is gone. The car feels heavy and the steering has about half as much feedback as before.

I had fun with every single one of the old Focuses I drove, including a beater, Euro-spec ZX5 with a weakling 1.6-liter engine I rented once. But driving this one is only a step up from drudgery and I can't even work up the resolve to pair my cell phone and iPod with its Sync interface. Not even those ST knock-off wheels can change my mind.

I know this Focus is selling well right now, but I think it has little to do with the car itself. Instead, it's about Sync and a general feeling of desperation over high gas prices.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ about 10,500 miles

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2008 Ford Focus Coupe: Gas Pedal Gauge

June 30, 2008

With gas prices the way they are, you would think we'd appreciate anything that would seemingly help one achieve more fuel efficiency. And we would, if it made sense. Our Focus has an instantaneous fuel economy indicator, as some other cars, such as various BMW's, do. In short, these things are an intake manifold vacuum gauge, essentially just showing whether you're on the gas or off. They "work" like this:

-- Accelerate normally and the needle (or in this case bar graph) swings towards the low end. Shame on you, you're guzzling gas!

-- Let up and cruise, and the needle/graph moves around toward the middle.

-- Lift off the gas and wow! You're getting excellent cell phone reception! I mean great mileage. Well, for a few seconds, anyway.

The trouble with these "indicators" is that because it's an instantaneous status, the needle or bar graph is constantly moving to and fro. A useless gimmick that is distracting at best. C'mon guys, we all know that going gently on the gas -- avoiding jack-rabbit starts from lights and stop signs, cruising at a relatively steady speed on the interstate -- will optimize mileage. Fortunately, this function is part of a trip computer's menu that also includes an average fuel economy indicator, the kind you can typically reset whenever you want.

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 9,744 miles.

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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...

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2008 Ford Focus Coupe: Back from Smacking Down

May 02, 2008

The Focus is back and all spick and span from our two-day fuel-sipper smackdown to, from and around Las Vegas. I logged about 200 miles in the Focus, including about 130 miles of aimless wondering around the greater Las Vegas area for city mileage testing. After covering that distance, I have mitigated my stance that the Focus is an unmitigated crap can. It's still a class bottom dweller to be sure and a complete half-cocked effort on Ford's part, but there are bits and pieces that work well enough. Although old, the Focus platform is still perfectly capable. The engine isn't particularly powerful, but in our mundane driving, it was certainly sufficient and as our testing showed, very fuel efficient. The seats are pretty comfy and offer decent space for a small car, however, its lack of a telescoping steering column is inexcusable. True, many small cars don't offer this feature, but the Focus used to have one. That's not design retardation (as much of the car exhibits), it's design regression.

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2008 Ford Focus: On the Freeway

April 14, 2008

Ford Focus - photo by Warren Clarke

In some ways, car-journalist world is like a funhouse-mirror version of the real world where aspects are exaggerated and what's opposite is true. In the real world, I'd gulp and squirm at the thought of putting too many miles on my daily driver. However, in car-journalist world, putting some miles on a test car leaves me with sense of real accomplishment, like a newly potty-trained toddler surveying his first porcelain-bound number two.

I had to make a couple of treks to a distant land called Orange County this weekend, and in the process, put about 200 miles on the 2008 Ford Focus... It goes without saying that with just 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque, the Focus sometimes feels a bit out of breath in high-speed passing situations on the freeway. Still, in other ways, it was a pleasant enough companion. If I'd actually plunked down money to buy the car, I'd pat myself on the back for having selected a ride that offers a great sound system and decent driving dynamics for not a lot of coin.

Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 5,735 miles

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2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe: How Low Can You Go?

April 02, 2008

It bothers me that there are no numbered gears on Ford's shifters. What ever happened to selecting a specific gear for climbing a hill or for engine braking? Call me old fashioned, but I Iiked it when I had options other than "Low." I guess the days of choosing your gear in a Ford went the way of the throttle cable. It's too bad, cause I liked those too...

Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor

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2008 Ford Focus Coupe: Long Distance Drive

March 10, 2008

Out of curiosity and maybe a bit of masochism, I stuffed my wife and 8-month-old daughter into the Ford Focus coupe this weekend for a 600-mile roundtrip drive to visit the in-laws. It was a good opportunity to put some highway miles on the car and test out Sync.

In almost every aspect, the Focus was wholly adequate for the long-distance drive. The trunk held most of our stuff. I put our rear-facing child seat behind the driver seat and didn't need to make radical changes in driver positioning. For me, front seat comfort was average, and there was decent storage space for cell phone/MP3 player detritus.

We hooked up my iPod to the Ford Sync MP3/cellphone system for the first time; it's a very cool feature and better than most other factory iPod adapters, though its errors in voice recognition went from amusing to mild annoyance the more we used it. For more detail on Sync, I will defer to staffer Mike, who's rumored to have a detailed post about Sync waiting in the wings.

There were minor disappointments. The car lacks a telescoping steering wheel (the original Focus had one) so I wasn't able to get an ideal driving position. When tending the little one in back, my wife complained about the lack or rear head restraints. The car can be noisy at times in regards to wind and road noise, and the four-speed automatic transmission is a bit of a throwback in today's economy-car world of five-speeds and CVTs.

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2008 Ford Focus: New Versus Old

March 03, 2008

Ford Focus, 2000 to 2008 -- both by The Edmunds.com staff

There are a few of us here at the office who have been around long enough to remember Edmunds' first long-term Focus, a 2000 ZX3 hatchback. In our September, 2000, update for the car, I was quoted as saying:

"The ZX3 has all the typical versatility of a small hatchback ... you know, haul the groceries, park at the mall to see a movie, stuff like that. But what you don't expect is how Ford has made the car fun to drive. [The] steering is quick and responsive and the suspension does an excellent job of providing a comfortable ride and sticky handling."

Here's the thing about our new 2008 Focus SES coupe: to me, it's less versatile and seemingly less fun to drive.

Ford discontinued the hatchback body style in 2007. And while it's been a long time since I drove an earlier Focus, I distinctly remember our first Focus being more fun to drive than the current car. Another long-time editor agreed with this observation.

Ford says that it revised the suspension tuning for 2008, giving the car softer springs and a bigger front antiroll bar. So it likely rides better and is more stable, but in terms of steering and handling response the new model feels heavier and less eager.

The 2008 Focus is certainly a better car overall, but in regards to handling and driving enjoyment that old orange ZX3 will be more fondly remembered.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 3,198 miles

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