2008 Ford Focus

The Ford Focus has been the oldest design in the compact car segment for some time now. When Ford decided a few years ago not to bring over the then-new European Focus that had met with wide acclaim, there were some questions raised. But of course, the world knew about the company’s trials and tribulations, and an updated Focus for North America would have to wait – until now.

The 2008 Focus is not a radical departure from the last one, nor a development of the Euro version, but as one would expect, it is better in every way than the car designed in the 1990s was. Ford wanted us to see that at the launch, as it provided the outgoing model to try one last time.

2008 Ford Focus

The funky hatchback and useful wagon are gone, replaced by a prosaic two-door coupe, joining the four-door sedan. Models include S, SE, and SES. Styling inside and out is truly all-new. Keeping up with all the other compact cars so-equipped, Focus now comes standard with side and curtain air bags, tire pressure monitoring, Sirius satellite radio, auxiliary input jack, and air conditioning in all models.

Under the hood is a 2.0-litre four cylinder with 140 horsepower. With the five-speed manual transmission, Focus is a lively performer on par with anything in the class. With its four-speed automatic, the engine has to be pushed to deliver similar pace. On the one we drove, the transmission tended to hunt between third and fourth gear on slight inclines at highway speeds, a function of a higher final drive ratio fitted for fuel economy and quiet running. Certainly, a five-speed autobox with more sophisticated control would deal with this, but then, it would cost a lot more, too.

Focus has always been considered one of the better handling compacts, and that continues, with its McPherson strut front / multi-link rear suspension having been totally massaged with new spring rates, shocks and stabilizer bars. The Focus feels solid to drive, with especially good steering and braking feel.

2008 Ford Focus front

The biggest improvement in the new Focus is inside, like night and day from the old one. First off, Ford did its homework on aero management and cabin sealing, and it is noticeably more quiet at speed. As well, it is much more refined looking, with lots of room up front, and comfortable seats with height adjustment. Ergonomics, even for taller drivers, are very good, and would be excellent with a telescoping steering wheel. The back seat has more headroom than legroom, and it folds down to add to the large cargo hold.

But the new feature that will get all the buzz is the first appearance of Sync, developed in conjunction with Microsoft, which allows voice control of peripheral electronic devices. For example, a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone can be operated totally hands-free, for either voice or text messaging. It will even read you any text messages received.

Not only that, but it offers full hands-free, voice-activated command and control over portable media players and USB storage devices. Plug in your iPod or flash drive to the USB 2.0 port, and you can access all the sub-folders on it by voice commands. Tell it to Play your favourite artist, and all the songs by that artist are played in order. Tell it to play a specific song, and it will do that too. It’s quite cool, and Sync will soon appear in almost all Ford models. No, there is no huge hard drive like some other systems, but hands-free voice control is an advancement in safety, convenience and fun – and availability at a low cost ($495) on an inexpensive car.

The new Focus has a long list of worthwhile improvements, putting Ford solidly in the game again in the compact car segment.