The 2009 Ford Focus was the best selling car over the week of the initial Cash for Clunkers marathon. For many months, I had been cruising the dealerships within several miles of my home in search of a four-wheel drive vehicle I could scarcely afford when the U.S. government finalized its plans for the “Clunkers” program.
We routinely make a 400 mile round-trip drive to a location in upstate New York and the fuel consumption was killing us. I decided to forestall buying the Ford F-150 4 x 4 truck I couldn’t afford, and started looking around for a fuel sipper. Through all the research I’d done on motor vehicles, I’d gotten a jump start on the competition. On the first morning of the Cash for Clunkers program, I zeroed in on a 2009 Ford Focus. In short order, the sales guy made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Base price of the Ford Focus S on that day and at that dealership was $16,200. The Ford Focus I’d finally settled had a higher trim and option level and had a MSRP of $17,590. Because I was one of their first “Clunker Customers,” the options were essentially “free.” I also took advantage of my clunker trade-in of $4500 and Ford rebates of $1500, plus a $250 dollar dealer mark-down.
So how do I like our new ride? Well, the car looks good, at least as good European imports which would set you back a great deal more. A better Ford Focus price comparison would be with a Toyota Corolla, another good seller with a tired design and a higher price. The weak dollar has made foreign vehicles more expensive on the whole, especially those which are imported.
I’m an inch over six feet, accustomed to driving a big highway cruiser with plenty of room and horsepower. Naturally, the Ford Focus driver’s compartment was smaller, but I would hardly describe it as “cramped.” The Ford Focus was designed to have plenty of headroom so persons taller than myself would fit. I did notice a difference in seating width. Notice to myself-get plenty of exercise so as to avoid the “junk in the trunk” car seat phenomenon.
Compensating for the narrower seats, the Ford Focus SE had bucket seats which wrapped around the torso and were reasonably comfortable. I don’t have to tell you that there are more comfortable luxury vehicles out there but, remember, this is a review of an econo-box and the seating is pretty good for a person of my height and weight. I tried the passenger side with my wife driving and there was room to stretch out, so long as there were no back seat passengers.
I did try sitting in the back seats, and that’s where there are some compromises. With a tiny person sitting forward in the front seats, there was adequate room. With myself in the driver’s seat, a full sized adult passenger might experience leg cramps from sitting behind me. The back seats are fairly wide and comfortable, however; the real limitation is in the amount of leg space.
The Ford Focus has some nice interior appointments which were a pleasant surprise. The dashboard treatment is superb, with a glowing red-blue color combination that would get a thumbs-up even from the most sullen teenager driver. There’s tachometer, small dial European style gauges, and a bunch of “driver intelligence” feedback indicators to let you know how efficiently you are driving, the length of trips A and B, the average fuel economy, and the number of miles to an empty gas tank. That’s a lot of reading material-it should be enough to get you an Associate’s Degree, at least. The dashboard design itself is very comfortable, solid, and pleasant; the controls for AC, Sirius and regular radio, heater, front and rear defrost, and driver communication are easy to reach and right where you’d like them to be.
The Ford Focus sound system is great, with big speakers and lots of preset choices-30 just for the Sirius tuner. The Focus SE comes with a single CD player unless you pick the option of a 6-CD changer. We used the windshield wipers a lot on our four hundred mile trip; the wipers have several settings to accommodate different intensities of rainfall.
There are two cup-holders in the front, one deep, the other shallow, and one for the back-seat passengers. There’s also a sort of circular cut out in the driver door storage area where you can put your McCoffee (Starbucks is for Bimmer drivers) One of the more appealing things, for me, is that you have great flexibility with the seats. The front seats go down for napping (or whatever) and the split back seats fold down easily by pulling on two short straps. That gives you combined access with trunk space for transporting extra luggage. On that count, the trunk itself is not large, but it has a “low-lift” design. You don’t have to struggle with lifting things up high and then dropping them down into the trunk. I should mention, too, that you don’t get a full-size spare with the Ford Focus SE.
There are two concepts of much importance to the new car owner: driveability and reliability. Having just bought the car, I can’t attest to the latter though J.D. Powers gives the Ford Focus a reliability rating of 7 out of a possible 10. U.S. News and World Report says that the Ford Focus is number 18 upon the affordability index and this is supposed to be based on “an in-depth analysis by U.S. News editors of all published auto ratings, reviews and test drives.” Also rated number 18 are Toyota’s Corolla and GM’s Pontiac Vibe, both very popular vehicles, which gives me cause to wonder. When you look at some of the vehicles placed in slots 1 through 18 by that magazine, you’d have to think the magazine’s writer’s were putting together the rankings while holed up on a Friday afternoon in a nearby saloon. While giving the number one Honda Fit one of the highest safety ratings of 9.8 out of a possible 10, the U.S. News and World Report rankings say that the Fit “does poorly when involved in a full frontal crash with a midsize car.” Figure that one out. You could easily get killed in one but are comforted to know it has a high safety rating. I wonder if the testers at U.S. News and World Report crashed it into a Smart four-two. The Ford Focus itself is rather light, weighing in the neighborhood of 2650 pounds. It compensates for the light weight with six airbags and sturdier cage sidebars, a result of the Ford-Volvo connection.
The Ford Focus SE does pretty well in driveability. Like most front-wheel drive vehicles, it’s a little heavy in the nose, but holds to the pavement well and has responsive rack and pinion steering. The uptempo Focus SES model has a better tuned suspension, but the SE and even the S model Focuses are fairly lithe and nimble on country roads. The car brakes very well in spite of having front disc and rear drum brakes. I’d prefer four-wheel disc brakes such as you find on the Scion tC but cars of that ilk cost more and we’re talking recession buying here.
Our larger Ford sedan is a very quiet riding car with a softer suspension so I noticed that the Focus allowed for more road noise. You can feel the bumps, a mixed blessing, for some drivers like the “feel of the road” beneath their wheels. On smooth highways, of the type you find in other states besides Pennsylvania, the Ford Focus is a smooth highway cruiser. On curves, the steering inputs are fairly precise, too.
The Ford Focus has a two litre engine; by way of comparison, you can think of the Toyota Corolla with a 1.8 litre engine. I wouldn’t expect either one to win a road race against the latest Shelby Cobra Mustang or Chevy Corvette but the Focus was adequate to the task it is designed to perform. The automatic transmission is geared more toward greater gas mileage than mid-range performance. The car cooks along and accelerates well at highway speed. For me, I would prefer a little more juice in the mid-range, like during that little nerve test when you’re trying to break into the early rush hour on the Harlem River Drive.
Okay, so now we come to the point of the whole exercise and the reason we bought the Ford Focus SE in the first place. The EPA rates the mpg as 24 city, 33 highway, and 27 combined. Our driving was combined, the largest portion of it being highway, and about 1/4th hilly secondary country roads, and a lesser amount of city or urban driving. The trip indicator showed that we averaged 37.4 miles per gallon over the 400 plus mile trip. Is that darn thing lying? I expect it’s reasonably accurate; a staunch advocate of sensible driving, my wife was issuing her usual driving admonishments most of the way and also enjoying herself by pointing out police cars.
Oh, and did I mention how pious I felt as I drove up alongside Toyota Prius drivers with leonine beards and Birkenstock sandals? The Ford Focus SE has this little translucent logo on the window identifying it as a near zero emission vehicle. I was a little chastened, I admit.