• Nov 19th 2007 at 1:06PM
  • 92

2008 Ford Focus SES Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

A car's design is simply a composite of curves, creases and kinks. A good design will elicit an emotion that urges people to buy the car. The affected just have to have it, often blind to any faults the car may exhibit by the way it makes them feel. The design of the 2008 Ford Focus makes us feel an emotion, too. Unfortunately, it's pity.

We honestly feel bad for the latest iteration of Ford's small car. We fear that its strengths will go largely unnoticed on account of a few bad design choices. Of course, we're speaking of the redesigned front end and those fauxest of faux fender vents. It isn't fair to judge a book by its cover alone, or in this case a car by its design, but a bad first impression is difficult to overcome. Ford has made a lot of improvements to the Focus for 2008, but will anyone notice? Follow the jump to find out.

Live photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

Let's start with the exterior design, since it's the first thing most people notice when seeing the 2008 Ford Focus for the first time. Initial reaction to it last January when the car was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show was not good, so much so in fact that Ford actually tweaked the design before it went into production by removing some chrome trim and replacing the car's rectangular fog lights with round ones. It was an odd move, like trying to fix a broken foot by putting a Band-Aid on your ear. Clearly the most egregious elements of this car's design are an ugly mug and the most superfluous fender events in the history of autodom, but for some reason those weren't among the pre-production tweaks.

The front end of the 2008 Focus features a pair of oddly shaped headlights that creep up the car's face on the outside of the hood. Other cars like the BMW 5-Series feature similarly shaped headlights, and while we don't consider the shape particularly attractive, at least the Bimmer's uses every bit of its housing for the purpose of lighting the road ahead. Look closely at the Focus beams, and you'll see that the part extending up alongside the hood is entirely non-functional, contains no lighting element and appears to be purely a design element. They give the car's face a scowl, "angry eyes" if you will, that's completely at odds with its nature.

The rest of the front end is marked by a wide air intake slotted below the two-bar grille and above the front bumper, as well as a large lower intake that's flanked by those new round fog lamps. The hood features four creases that create a kind of power dome in the center, which again is a bit misleading considering that Ford has dropped the larger 2.3L four-cylinder as an option, leaving the more anemic 140-horsepower 2.0L four-cylinder as the only available engine. More on that powerplant later, though.

We found the new six-spoke aluminum wheels handsome enough in an industrial kind of way, but their proximity to those "fender vents" guarantees that not many will notice. These "vents" are an eyesore that tend to draw stares. Perhaps from 50 yards away someone might be fooled into thinking that they're functional, but close inspection quickly reveals them to be imitation double-decker vents with the 'Focus' name emblazoned on a crossbar of the mirror-finished plastic. In fact, we were tempted to pry one off with a fingernail. All things being equal, we suspect the new Focus would simply look better without them.

As for the rest of the car, we're split on the design of the rear, with some Autobloggers lumping it in with other aesthetic offenses, and others viewing the caboose as simply anonymous. It does appear that the trunk was designed by a separate committee as the rest of the car, as it features only a single crease that crosses its flat surface to connect the taillights. The trunk does earn points, however, for using gas struts rather than space-robbing hinges. Those brake lights on the back are also surrounded by a frame of brightwork that again is not functional in any way. The body-colored side view mirrors, meanwhile, feature strakes similar to those on the 2008 Taurus' mirrors. Like on Ford's big sedan, these actually are functional, having been designed and tested to reduce wind noise.

Leaving the exterior of the Focus behind, we venture inside to find a completely redesigned interior that's dominated by the dull sheen of a silver plastic. Stretching from door-to-door and extending down the center console, this hard plastic makes a T shape across the dash and does what it can to brighten up the interior. If more color is required, one can order up the ambient lightning option, although be warned: it basically consists of four red lights divided among the cup holders and foot wells.

The top of the dash and other areas are covered in hard black plastic; sorry, no soft-touch material here. The HVAC and radio controls find themselves swimming in a sea of the silver stuff, though we appreciate that they don't appear to be borrowed from the Ford parts bin. Other touch points, like the floor-mounted gear shift for the four-speed automatic and redundant controls on the steering wheel feel expensive and offer good feedback for the fingers. The chairs in this coupe were covered in the optional leather for $695, which also felt more expensive than what belongs in car at this price. The front seats are fashioned more for comfort than holding you close in the turns, but as a daily driver that's just fine. The rear seats in this coupe, meanwhile, have decent leg room thanks to the scooped-out backs of the front seats, but headroom is compromised a bit by two curious bulges on the ceiling.

The big selling point inside the 2008 Ford Focus is the optional SYNC system developed in conjunction with Microsoft, which basically coordinates hooking up your car to a number of devices including cell phones via Bluetooth and music players through an auxiliary or USB input. We plan on doing a video review of the SYNC system's full capabilities in the very near future, but we took a dip in the shallow end of this experience and have a few things to report. First, the SYNC system is a $395 option that should be checked for every Focus ordered. It offers this inexpensive economy car functions that some significantly more expensive luxury cars can't replicate, and it's fairly easy to use. We say "fairly" because the interface in the Focus is not ideally suited for operating the SYNC system's many talents. The lack of a large LCD in the dash that's optional on other Blue Oval-mobiles means that navigating menus is done atop the dash in a small blue-on-black text screen. One navigates between the phone and music functions using the tuning knob and MENU button, as well as the MEDIA button on the steering wheel.

The first thing we managed to do was connect our iPhone to the SYNC system via Bluetooth. The pairing of the devices was straightforward, and after the setup is done, anytime you receive a call in the car it automatically gets routed through SYNC and the car's stereo speakers. We were impressed with the sound quality, particularly how clear our voices were to those we were talking to. Calls made and received in the Focus are crystal clear for all parties. The SYNC system can also upload your phone's address book, which can then be sifted through on the dash-top screen. Because of the aforementioned ergonomic troubles, however, we found it easier to use the address book in the iPhone itself rather than messing with the SYNC system's cramped menus. We were also disappointed to learn that the provided cable for the auxiliary input didn't work with our iPhone. It's not Ford's fault since Apple designed the headphone jack/audio output of the iPhone in a weird way, but nevertheless, we imagine that a decent number of SYNC users will own an iPhone. (NOTE: After reading our review, Ford informed us that the iPhone will easily hook up to SYNC using its own USB cable provided by Apple. The same thing holds true for Microsoft's Zune and most other DAPs.) We decided to load some songs from iTunes onto a USB thumb drive instead, and that worked just fine. In fact, assuming your songs contain the proper metadata, you can have a lot of fun pushing the 'MEDIA' button on the steering wheel and calling up a song, artist or album by saying "Play - Artist - The All-American Rejects". Unfortunately, however, the female voice with which you're conversing has a tendency to reply at volume level 11.

Along with the SYNC system, we believe the 2008 Focus' other biggest selling feature is its new demeanor on the road. Whereas driving the previous generation Focus was like lacing up a pair of high-tops, the new car feels like slipping on a pair of well-worn sneakers. It's comfortable, as evident by the softer suspension that soaks up bumps like a Buick. The downside is some extra body roll and vulnerability to cross winds on the highway, but the nicely weighted steering that never feels overly assisted communicates exactly what the wheels are experiencing. A bit of the old Focus and that car's fast reflexes remain, but the edge has been taken off to create a car that's very comfortable for a daily commute.

Some of that dulled edge is due to the car's only engine, the aforementioned 140-hp 2.0L four-cylinder. The four-speed automatic with which it's paired is perfectly adequate, but those looking to rekindle a relationship with the Focus they once knew should opt for the five-speed manual, as this motor doesn't have a lot to offer the lead foot. The latter will be needed to wring out whatever performance the 2.0L has to offer. The engine itself, however, has either gotten smoother or been isolated from the passenger compartment better than before. While it may not press you into the seat like a GT500, it does return 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. Get the manual tranny and your highway mileage will rise by 2 mpg, as well.

While we may lambast the 2008 Focus for its questionable styling and continue to hassle Ford to bring over the Euro Focus, the fact remains that the average buyer may not share our wavelength. While running our Focus SES Coupe through a car wash, our ears were shocked to overhear the staff comment positively on the car's looks during the towel drying process. The fact is, Ford has succeeded in making the 2008 Focus look like an altogether different car than the one it replaces, so the average consumer doesn't see a redesigned Focus, they see a new Focus. Enthusiasts and those in the know may see an awkward front end and faux fender vents that bring a tear to their eyes, but beauty is in the eye of the key holder. That is, those who do plunk down anywhere from $14,000 to $20,000 for a 2008 Ford Focus (our loaded tester came in at $20,105 with dest. and delivery charges) will find plenty to like about their new car, and that may include how it looks.

Live photos Copyright ©2007 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      "While we may lambast the 2008 Focus for its questionable styling and continue to hassle Ford to bring over the Euro Focus,"

      Given that the only people who care are a bunch of self-important car snobs who probably wouldn't have bought one anyway, I can't see why Ford would bother with the investment. Not only would they have to shell out the $$ to make the C1 Focus meet U.S. safety and emissions standards, they'd also have to dump a ton of cash into Wayne to retool for it. Cash that Ford N.A. doesn't have right now.
        • 7 Years Ago

        Wow, I didn't know that until I read your comment. Ford must be feeling REALLY stupid now.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Now, maybe I'm wrong (I honsitly don't know any numbers here), but would it really cost that much more than it did to design this whole new focus?
        • 7 Years Ago
        "a bunch of self-important car snobs who probably wouldn't have bought one anyway...."

        I may be self-important, but I'm not a car snob. Otherwise, I wouldn't be driving a focus wagon!

        I honestly would consider a euro-spec Focus wagon if they offered on that I could get below 20K. In a few years, the Focus should be back to a common platform world wide. Then the numbers would make sense to bring it here.

        I like the ZTW; there's nothing else I've seen that quite feels the same. But it's far from snobbery to wish for a good follow up model.
        • 7 Years Ago
        well, I MIGHT pick it over a Corolla but it would have to beat out the Elantra. i dont know if the elantra waves are better or worse.

        seriously, the Mazda3 and the Civic are the only decent looking cars in the class, I'm talking design not execution.

        subie- worse than vanilla now.
        sentra- the front end looks disjointed from the rear of the car.
        corolla- not a terrible design but the car is OLD, old, old.
        Caliber- nothing needs to be said.
        cobalt- nothing spectacular.

        In that light, Ford really didnt have to aim that high. and to be honest, while most of us would like something to be proud of, the large contingent of buyers in this market are looking for economical transportation. otherwise, mazda would be the only ones selling cars in this segment.

        On the flip side, most of the posters here are not professional reviewers so we can rant about how it doesnt work for us.

        • 7 Years Ago

        The unfortunate fact is that Ford has admitted that the redesign cost more money than planned. In fact, it cost more money than Ford estimated it would have cost to bring over the Euro focus.
          • 7 Years Ago

          Where did you get this information?

          if true, why, Ford , why? The Euro Focus is soooo good!!!
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's perfectly good to judge a car solely on looks to me, while the other aspects of the car may be more important, the car says a lot about you, and this car, just from it's looks says "my owner knows absolutely nothing about good taste in design!"
        • 7 Years Ago
        Right on Nissanfreak.

        I am with you on the mid to late 90's designs, hence that's why I still own a 99 Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR-4 and have yet to find the absolute perfect replacement.

        A lot of the cars these days kind of make you wonder how many people are actually sleeping on the job while designing cars.

        So far on the econo level of cars the only car that has a nice sporty aerodynamic shape offered here in NA is the current gen Civic 2 door. If I was going to move to a sedan I will go with the choice my wife and I made for her daily commuting is the 2007 Hyundai Elantra.

        This Focus is and always will be dead ugly, no matter how many things, gadgets, and techie equipment they put inside. Sure the Elantra does not have the Sync garbage but at least the manual 5 speed matched with the 2.0L Beta II 138HP engine can shamefully outdo the 2.0L in this Focus, also with the 5 speed. Also the seats are much more comfortable and there is plenty of head room for even me to sit comfortably in the back seat. The Focus will give me leg cramps being in the rear and gave me a sore butt when driving 150 miles nonstop in it.

        Oh by the way is it me or does the front end of this Focus remind you of the last generation Ford Contour, especially the headlights?
        • 7 Years Ago
        hahahahaha - this is what's killing our society. That kind of thinking. Interestingly, his thinking doesn't pair well with the brand he loves.

        Sentrarolla gogogo.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm not a fan of the Sentra either, heck, I'm not even in love with Nissan's current design scheme, I'm in love with their mid-late 90s stuff, fluid and sporty. And how is thinking that good design should be in everything a damaging train of thought? I don't see how not buying a car because it's ugly is a bad thing, it's just like not buying a car because it has crappy mileage or a bad interior.

        So good design is what's wrong with society, brilliant deduction.
        • 7 Years Ago
        haha, it does. The mid to late 90s had cars like the S14 240sx, 300zx, RX-7, C5 vette, Supra, 3000gt, etc... and they were all dead sexy, it seems companies are trying to go too modern and end up making their cars too blocky. Look at the 4th gen Maxima(I own a 1999 GLE) and the new one, the new one is bigger and bulkier, it's moved away from the 4 door sports car heritage of the first few. I love the elegant designs of years past. Hopefully they can come back soon, because modern automotive design seems far too complex.

        Nissan, Ford, GM, somebody hire me! I want a Design job!!
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm not saying that, but buying things based on what you believe people will say about you as the driver of the car is stupid. It's the reason why moms moved out of minivans to go with SUVs, and now they brought that reputation along with them, leading to the creation of an entirely new segment: CUVs.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The exterior reminds me of the last gen. Escort. I will admit I am not a Ford fan but I would take the previous Focus over this one. The old Focus had better styling in my opinion. Put the new interior in the old body and I think it would sell a lot better than this Escort, oops I mean new Focus. I am a HUGE GM fan and I really do wish Ford the best of luck. Ford is a part of American History. America needs the Detroit 3. BUY AMERICAN!!!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sad excuse for a car that's supposed to compete with the Honda Civic or Scion coupes. This "new" Focus will be a Hertz darling, and buying a used one when Hertz dumps loads of Focuses in a year or 18 months will be the best deal.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Destined for the rental fleets and for those w/o discriminating automobile tastes. Hyundai and Kia's offer a better product for the same or less money. It is ugly and uninspired. I am looking forward to seeing comparison test of 2008 compact cars--I predict the Ford will be behind the Civic, Corolla, 3, Hyundai/Kia, Lance, Sentra, and Cobalt. It may only beat the Caliber which is also dreadful.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sad excuse for a car that's supposed to compete with the Honda Civic or Scion coupes. This "new" Focus will be a Hertz darling, and buying a used one when Hertz dumps loads of Focuses in a year or 18 months will be the best deal.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Until and unless Ford sees fit to sell the new Focus Wagon here (USA), I could care less about it.

      • 7 Years Ago
      All this car does is make me wish Mazda made a 3 coupe.
      • 7 Years Ago
      i actually like the headlights on this Focus. I think that's the only interesting thing about the exterior design. If anything, I thought we'd be talking about those extra small taillamps that make the Focus even more reminiscent of the long and forgotten Escort.

      the headlights ar the only things saving the car from looking like this:
      • 7 Years Ago
      The good news is that those "fender vents" are actually just stickers that the base model doesn't even have, so you should be able to shave them off. You're stuck with those headlights, though.

      For me, the biggest flaw is the interior. while it looks nice, the plastics are nasty and ill-fitting, especiallt in the back.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why didn't Ford just rename it the Asstek?
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is an Escort, not a Focus. The Focus was an absolutely daring and original design (the first version). I am totally baffled as to why they didn't just use the same euro Focus, seems as if it would be more cost effective. Are Americans really that different... the ones who look for a small car that we have to have a very ugly looking car.

      I went to the dealership to see it in person to give it a chance, and I just can't stand it. The interior is OK.

      Looks like the US just can't deal with wagons and hatchbacks... really odd. I was hoping to get a wagon, once they improved side crash tests, and added head rests in the backseat to improve safety for my passengers.

      Gez! Mexico gets the Focus ST!
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