New is a subjective term in the automotive industry. Car marketers continually are telling us that this car or truck is new for a model year. For the most part, the term new usually means virtually all-new. However, it can be a bit of a stretch to understand just what the fresh bits are and how improved the vehicle might be.
That brings me to the "new" 2008 Ford Focus. The novelty is real, although "all-new" may be just a bit over the top. However, all elements of the 2008 Focus are assembled into a vehicle that feels so unlike the previous version that it does, indeed, feel completely new. The Focus I drove was innovative in ride, handling and features.
The refined exterior design is fresh and contemporary with a strong family resemblance to its bigger brother, the Fusion. It is easy to see the family ties here because Ford took a great deal of what it learned with Fusion and made the Focus more of an up-level car and less of an econo-box. The Focus feels and looks like a much more expensive vehicle. After driving the Focus, I was quite impressed with the manner in which the car preformed nearly all the tasks demanded of it.
Granted, the Focus isn't a powerhouse, yet it squirts in and out of traffic with the agility and finesse one would expect. The interior has moved many levels above the standard economy car and is headed toward luxury, especially over what I remember of earlier models.
The features, namely Sync, are at the top of Ford's game in contemporary offerings. Sync is Ford's answer to a voice-recognition system. Using Microsoft software, Sync allows control of most portable digital music players and Bluetooth cell phones via voice commands.
I may not be in the target demographic for the Focus, but I sure wouldn't have any regrets keeping one in my garage. I like the way the freshening has made this car more enjoyable to drive.
Propulsion is derived from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces an adequate 140 horsepower and 136 pounds-feet of torque. It isn't going to light any fires under your tires, but it tackles the streets and freeways with composure.
The front wheels get power to the road via either a 5-speed manual or an automatic with one less gear. Both seem to work well, but perhaps being a bit old school, I prefer the manual gearbox. Through all shifts up or down the gear range, the shifter was tight with gear selections on target, even during quick speed-shifting on backcountry roads.
The Focus is an economy car that has an improved suspension system, which offers good ride comfort without sacrificing handling characteristics. Now, Ford seems to have a handle on both the attributes.
From the driver's seat, the entire car feels tight and well assembled. The steering is solid.
The interior design and execution is pleasant to the eye and fingertips, with the gauges and controls in their assigned locations for easy use. The cabin is quite comfortable and well designed.
Looking beyond the electronic gizmos needed to keep the early-adopter generations entertained and happy, the Focus is an improved and able entry in the market. It will fulfill the needs of many more buyers than perhaps the marketers might think.