The cars we loved.
When the Ford Focus arrived on the scene in 1998, it immediately shook up the small car market by offering lively performance, innovative style and considerable value. Over the years much of what made the Focus great seemed to fade. The sporty SVT model appeased performance fans for a while but other models were losing their grip on being the value they once were.
So when word came out that a new Focus would be coming in 2008, Ford fans had reason to be excited. After all, the Focus family of cars in Europe remained an enthusiast favorite and its new second generation had the critics raving. Unfortunately, we would not get that Focus.
What we got instead a heavily reworked version of the first generation car that would be massaged to the point of being almost all new. The carryover chassis was stiffened, while all the body panels were re skinned. Old favorites like the hatchback and rarely seen wagon were gone and in their place came a two door coupe and a sedan. Many coupes were equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission, however like most any modern car, some form of auto shifting was the preferred transmission.
The 2008 Focus was intended as a stop-gap in preparation for making the Focus a true world car. In the meantime the hot 2.3 from the old ST was missing in action as the 2.0-liter Duratec became the sole engine option. Now with 140 hp it was only 4 hp more than the old engine, but, had better gas mileage and smoother operation.
The lack of muscle in the standard engine may have signaled that the Focus was trying to be the mainstream car it once was. Improvements in ride and the interior made the Focus a standout amongst other low price economy cars, but it was done at the expense of quality materials and personality.
The coupe and sedan looked very similar, each with a softer more evolved version of Ford’s New Edge styling. The look was distinctly Ford with side scallops vaguely reminiscent of the Mustang. The coupe was the more attractive of the two, with well-proportioned dimensions. With no hatchback, the coupe had a proper trunk, giving it a similar form factor to Ford’s last small proper coupe, the Escort ZX2. In many ways this Focus was the successor to that car in coupe form.
The Escort ZX2 never had any pretensions to luxury. In a nod to upscale aspirations, early models of the Focus had a fake plastic chrome embellishment on the front quarter panels. With the lesser models sporting smallish 14 inch wheels, the chrome accent looked out-of-place on a car that was not sure if it wanted to be up or down market. The fake chrome would disappear after 2009.
The conflicted personality continued inside with a well laid out dash but with another lashing of fake plastic, this time looking like brush aluminum. The look was somewhat upscale in one of the more feature laden models like the SES or SEL. Other features however like the standard tire pressure monitoring systems and Ford’s then new Sync system were luxury items of real substance. Such entertainment and safety items were usually reserved for more expensive cars. In one of the first applications of LED lighting in a Ford, the Focus could be had with an interior lighting system that gave the car’s cabin a club vibe.
There were as many as four trim levels with stripped S being the value leader. All cars had the same engine option: the 2.0 Duratec four. Few changes had been made to the car in its 3.5 year life-cycle, so it was difficult to tell one year from the next beyond the omission of the chrome element on the finders after 2008.
One of the Focus’ best attributes was it well composed ride. Called “mid-sized sedan like” by Car and Driver magazine. Surprisingly cushy, the Focus rode like a more expensive car. Unfortunately it lacked the kind of personality that made the previous Focus so much fun. Respectable 0 to 60 times (8.0 seconds) were on par with much of the competition, but the Focus lacked an all-out sport model like what Mazda and Honda offered. Despite it’s rather bland personality, it was far more interesting to look at and drive than the Toyota Corolla.
While any performance gaps may have been filled by tuner and the aftermarket, the second generation Focus was successful due to its timing and usually heavily discounted price. Not to say that they were never used in any kind of racing. On occasion you could find them in SCCA events, enough that Mattel immortalized the 2008 model with a Hotwheels toy in 2009.
During the gas crunch of 2008, the Focus became a hot item thanks in part to its 35 mpg rating. Demand was so high that production was increased. As gas prices stabilize and dropped, so did sales, leaving a larger than normal inventory on dealer lots. The timing was bad because the Focus was due for a replacement and the public was eagerly awaiting the new car. By mid-2011 the last of the 2011 Focus shared space on lots with the all new 2012 models. Heavily discounted, they were quickly forgotten due to the overall excellence of the new model.