2009 Ford Focus Expert Review
It's been just over a year since we reviewed our last Focus, a 2008 SES Coupe, and we were willing to bet the farm back then that its new design wouldn't go over well with buyers. But $4/gallon gas and the unexpected popularity of Ford's SYNC system have contributed to Focus sales rising 15.7% year-over-year through November. So what the Hell do we know?
Apparently something, as Ford has tweaked the Focus Coupe for 2009 despite its sales success. While the Focus sedan remains largely the same except for a new, top-level SEL model and the availability of electronic stability control, the '09 Coupe both looks and drives different than its predecessor. Ford recently dropped off a 2009 Focus SES Coupe for us to play with, so follow the jump to see if this year's version is any better than the last.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
The major mechanical difference between this Focus SES Coupe and the one we tested last year is the latter came equipped with a four-speed automatic and our current tester sports a five-speed manual. You'd think the new car might cost less without the expense of the optional slushbox, but you'd be wrong. Whereas the loaded '08 model went for $20,105 with destination and delivery charges, the 2009 model (sans automatic) rang up a bill of $20,615.
On top of our car's $17,570 base price was another $745 for anti-lock brakes, $1,270 for the Moon and Tune Value Package (upgraded six-disc CD/MP3 stereo, eight-inch subwoofer and power moonroof) and $810 for leather seats. After $695 was debited for D&D and a $475 discount added, the 2009 total came to the aforementioned $20,615. Add another $815 if you wish to relinquish gear selection duty and this '09 model could've easily cost $21,430, which is a lot to pay for a little car. Ford's current crop of incentives could reduce that price substantially, and penny-pinchers can still pick up the base SE model that starts at $16,189.
While we bemoan anti-lock brakes being optional even on the up-level SES, buyers do get the popular SYNC connectivity system standard, as well as SIRIUS Satellite Radio compatibility, cruise control and ambient interior lighting that offers multiple hues that light up the footwells and cup holders like a Christmas tree. The steering wheel is also populated with redundant controls for the stereo at no extra charge, as well as being wrapped in leather regardless of whether you opt for the expensive leather seats.
The 2009 Focus Coupe looks better than the 2008 model thanks to some simple changes that didn't break the Blue Oval's piggy bank. The most obvious alteration is up front, where a new bumper does its best to evolve the Focus' sporting intentions. The '08 model's front fascia featured sharp creases; a long, thin air intake stretching from end to end; and a cut out for the license plate. The new front bumper is smoother and softer, shows more body color sheetmetal and sports a single, expansive air intake flanked by two outboard fog lights that are now standard equipment. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but the Focus face has now been tweaked twice in two years, having been modified once already right before the '08 model began production.
The remaining changes up front are minor but make a big difference. The grille carrying the Ford emblem is now dark instead of bright chrome and many of the headlights' shiny elements have been smoked out. The rear tail-lights have also lost their chrome appliqué, and as previously praised, those gaudy faux fender vents are history. The 2009 Focus Coupe has surely lost its visual luster, but that's a good thing from a design standpoint.
Ford also fitted the 2009 Focus SES Coupe with a set of 17-inch dark chrome aluminum wheels featuring 15 thin spokes reminiscent of the rollers included on the old Focus SVT European Package. Unfortunately, they don't look nearly as attractive on the SES due to the visual weight of the body, which makes the tiny spokes appear too small to support the heft of the vehicle. The base SE Coupe features 16-inch aluminum alloys that make up with looks what they lose in diameter, and there's always the aftermarket to cure any perceived aesthetic shortcomings.
Another difference between the base SE Coupe and up-level SES is the placement of the rear spoiler. The base model features a traditional unit fixed on the rear deck while the SES gets a roof-mounted spoiler perched above the rear window. We'd recommend prying off the latter with a crow bar, as it's the one piece of filigree that pushes the SES model into poseur territory.
Slip inside and park your rear in those expensive leather seats, and you'll find the Focus Coupe's interior very familiar -- hardly anything has changed from last year's model. The T-shaped swath of silver plastic still dominates the dash with clearly laid out controls for the stereo and HVAC placed front and center. The information display still sits atop the dash and is a quick glance away, doing its best to relay a lot of information with very little real estate. As noted before, the SYNC system is easiest to interface when using a large navigation screen, and while the small display in the Focus adds a level of complexity, once set up, SYNC can control music and phone calls almost entirely with voice commands.
Overall, the interior is par for the econo-box course, but it does deserve a few demerits, particularly the choice of gauge fonts. The typeface used for the numbers circling both the tach and speedo are fine, but the official Focus font for "MPH" and "RPM" look jarringly out of place. It may be a small gripe, but owners will have a tough time ignoring it if they agree. We also found the front seats a source of complaint, as their bottom cushions are flat and feature soft bolsters that don't reach the front of the seat. And while butt warmers are a welcome inclusion on the leather package, these thrones take entirely too long to heat up.
A few more changes beneath the bodywork of the 2009 model also deserve mention. For one, the SES Coupe equipped with a manual transmission gets a new sport exhaust that allows the only engine option, a 2.0L four-cylinder, to breath better. This results not only include a more aggressive growl, but also three extra horsepower for a total of 143. Focus Coupe's equipped with the four-speed automatic don't get the new exhaust, but do get a 4.2 final drive ratio to help make up the difference on the way to 60 mph.
We were hoping that the new model's larger wheels and slightly increased horsepower would conjure up images of the old Focus SVT. While the '09 model certainly looks more the part, it comes up wanting in the dynamics department. What we liked about the '08 model, and is still present on the 2009 Focus SE, is a big car ride stuffed into a small car package. However, the '09 Focus SES sacrifices a chunk of that comfort for a limited amount of gain in handling prowess.
Both model years are blessed with excellent steering that does most of the work to make this small car feel nimble. Unfortunately, the 143-hp 2.0L engine is not nearly enough to make anyone feel fast. Couple that with an unremarkable five-speed transmission, rubbery clutch and tall shifter, and you're left with an ordinary, economy car driving experience from a vehicle whose exterior promises more.
But the Focus SES Coupe is an economy car, and Ford takes great pains to remind potential buyers that it's capable of achieving 35 mpg on the highway. The 2009 model may look more like the SVTs of old, but that's just the wrapper. Underneath is a basic grocery getter that has little interest in acting like a sport compact regardless of the zoot suit it's wearing. The addition of optional ESC for 2009 makes the Focus Coupe an even more compelling bargain, but we still can't say it leads the pack of econo-coupes on sale today. Judging by our previous record of guessing the fortunes of Ford's new Focus, that means it'll sell like mad.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Sporty new coupe joins newly redesigned sedan lineup.
The 2009 Ford Focus lineup features a sporty new coupe version. This comes on the heels of a reworking of the Ford Focus lineup for 2008. And all models benefit from the availability of electronic stability control for 2009.
Ford reworked the Focus for 2008, giving it new styling inside and out, while maintaining the same platform and basic size. The design shares a family look with Ford's other cars, distinguished by a two-bar version of the company's characteristic razor-blade grille.
The 2009 Focus comes in four-door sedan and two-door coupe body styles (hatchback and wagon models are not available).
Ford's Sync entertainment and communications system is available on the Focus. Developed with Microsoft, Sync provides a hands-free link to cell phones and MP3 players through a series of voice commands. This system recognizes your cell phone's address book. It can even read text messages to occupants through the stereo system.
The 2009 Ford Focus Coupe gains a more distinct identity from the sedan with its own front and rear bumper fascias, a dark chrome grille, and fog lights. A roof spoiler and 17-inch dark chrome aluminum wheels come on the Focus Coupe SES. Focus sedans and coupes with manual transmissions gain a few horsepower (to 143 hp) for 2009; and Focus Coupe SES automatics get quicker gearing. Yet no loss in fuel economy.
Inside, the Focus is aesthetically pleasing. It looks better than the pre-2008 model, with nicer graining on the plastics that continue to dominate the cockpit.
We found the Focus handles well. We experienced lots of road feel with little body lean in corners while driving an Focus SES with its a sportier suspension. That road feel can make the ride a bit harder than some might prefer, but it isn't harsh and we appreciated the handling response.
The Focus has decent power for most needs, but passing on a busy two-lane road requires some space. Fuel economy is quite good, with and EPA-rated 24 mpg in the city and up to 35 mpg on the highway.
The 2009 Ford Focus is offered in two-door coupe and four-door sedan body styles. The sedan is available in four trim levels: S, SE, SES and new SEL. The coupe comes in SE and SES trim only. The lone engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 143 horsepower when coupled to the standard five-speed manual transmission or 140 hp with the optional four-speed automatic ($815).
Focus S sedan ($14,995) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with four speakers and auxiliary input jack, four-way adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, tilt steering wheel, a tire inflation kit, antitheft system and P195/60R15 all-season tires on steel wheels with hubcaps. Options for S include Sirius satellite radio ($195), daytime running lights ($40), and an engine block heater ($35).
Focus SE coupe and sedan ($16,180) add power windows, locks and heated mirrors; remote keyless entry; Sirius Satellite Radio; and a rear stabilizer bar for more balanced handling. Sedans upgrade to 15-inch aluminum wheels while coupes roll on 205/50R16 tires on 16-inch alloy rims. SE options consist of the Driver's Group ($415) with cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio and cruise controls; cruise control alone ($215); Sync in-car communications and entertainment ($395); Ambient Interior Lighting ($295) that uses LED lights to illuminate the front cupholders and front and rear footwells with the driver's choice of seven different colors; Power Code remote starter ($435); and other minor items. Fog lights are standard on the coupe but optional ($355) on the sedan.
Focus SES coupe and sedan ($17,570) come standard with Sync and the Driver's Group, and add bright interior trim and fog lights. The sedan gets 16-inch aluminum wheels while the coupe comes with 215/45R17 tires on 17-inch wheels; 17-inch wheels are optional on the sedan ($580). The Moon & Tune Package ($795) combines a power glass sunroof with a premium stereo and six-disc CD changer. Leather upholstery with heated front seats are optional ($810).
Focus SEL sedan ($17,970) adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, and chrome door handles.
Safety features that come standard consist of dual-stage front airbags; torso-protecting, seat-mounted front side airbags; head-protecting side curtain airbags; tire pressure monitor; and LATCH-style child seat anchors. Four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control and electronic stability control are optional for all models ($745).
The Ford Focus was restyled for 2008, giving it a Ford family look while not greatly changing dimensions. For 2009, the coupe benefits from further freshening.
The Focus front end is dominated by a two-bar version of the three-bar, razor-like grille that first appeared on the Fusion. The grille is flanked by headlights that wrap around to the sides and follow the curve of the hood toward the windshield.
The Focus sedan features a bright chrome grille, and the air intake below the bumper is divided into three rectangular sections, with space for black-bezeled fog lights at the extreme ends.
For 2009, the coupe gets its own face, with a darker chrome grille and a single, large opening beneath the bumper that narrows slightly toward the top. Fog lights are tunneled directly into the fascia on either side; above them, the fascia is cut away, almost like a step. It's all a bit more interesting to look at but doesn't reduce the bumper's visual mass.
The sedan's sides feature a chromed triangular applique at the back of each front fender that looks like tacked on ornamentation. This piece, which looks like an F on the driver's side, is the starting point for a pair of character lines that flow back. The bottom line leads to the rear wheel well, while the top line rises from front to rear and teams with a high tail to give the Focus the appearance of motion.
Here, the 2009 coupe drops the bright ornament and allows the character lines to flow more subtly and naturally from behind the curve of the front wheel arch. The 17-inch alloy wheels of the SES feature a dark, turbine-blade look that nicely complements the dark grille.
The rear of the coupe roofline stays almost as high as the sedan's, which makes it look a bit clunky on the SE, although this is relieved somewhat by the new roof spoiler on the SES. Both styles look best from the rear, where the simple angular shapes seem to work. The 2009 coupe adds a bit of blackout trim at the bottom center of the bumper fascia, but if anything this only seems to emphasize the bumper's mass.
Inside the Ford Focus is an aesthetically pleasing cockpit. The dashboard is dominated by a shiny plastic silver inset that covers the middle of the dash and leads into the center console. This is surrounded by black plastic top and bottom. There are no soft-touch materials here, but the graining looks nicer than it did in the previous-generation model. The center console is deep, though not especially wide.
On top of the dash is a hooded cutout that displays trip computer, radio, and, when ordered, Sync information. The instrument panel has two large gauges, the speedometer and tachometer, and two small gauges, the fuel gauge and water temperature gauge. With markings every 20 mph that light up with a turquoise hue, it can be hard to judge your speed at a glance.
Thanks to Sync, the center stack has more controls that you'd expect to find in an economy car. Along the top are buttons for 10 radio station presets. When Sync and Sirius satellite radio are ordered, drivers can store up to 60 stations: 20 FM, 10 AM and 30 Sirius.
Below the stereo presets are a group of controls that include the volume and tuning knobs, as well as six buttons around a four-way central pad, all of which control the Sync system. Or simply hit the steering wheel's voice control button and use voice commands. An easy-to-use set of climate controls is located below the stereo and Sync controls. We found these buttons easy to identify and reach.
At the base of the center stack is a nice rubberized tray. This area is important because it is where drivers keep phones and iPods when they use the Sync system. We found Sync to be genuinely useful and fairly easy to use. When an MP3 player is plugged in, Sync charges it and has access to the complete playlist. The driver can tell Sync to play a specific song, artist, or genre of music from his MP3 player. Sync will also stream MP3s wirelessly from a source like a phone/MP3 player enabled with Bluetooth technology. When a Bluetooth-enabled phone is in the car and paired to the system, Sync can access its phonebook. It can even play back incoming text messages through the speakers and allow the driver to respond with one of 15 predetermined messages, all while the driver keeps his or her hands on the wheel. Voice commands can be challenging at times, however. And in general, the system is a bit tricky to learn.
The front seats are comfortable, with plenty of head and leg room. Thanks to large mirrors and small rear pillars, the driver's seat affords a good view to all corners. The rear seat has decent room with shorter people up front, but leg room disappears as the seats are moved back for taller front seat occupants. Head room is decent in the sedan, but a bit lacking in the coupe.
The trunk is fairly large at 13.8 cubic feet. That's as big as or bigger than some midsize cars. The second row seats fold mostly flat to allow loading long, flat packages. The trunk lid uses struts, not large sickle-shaped hinges that can crush packages.
The Ford Focus has been known as a car that offers good handling since the 2000 model. This Focus, though different in appearance, is basically that same car, and it still handles well.
The Focus SES sedan we drove communicated a lot of road feel through the steering wheel. There is little lean in turns; after an initial shift, it takes a nice set. All models except the base S now benefit from a rear stabilizer bar for sharper handling. We have not driven the S model but would expect it to understeer more in corners.
Good road feel means the ride quality is a bit harder than some might prefer. But the Focus isn't a penalty box. It's not harsh over bumps.
Antilock brakes do not come standard, and we strongly recommend opting for them, especially with electronic stability control added to the package.
The 2.0-liter Duratec four-cylinder delivers good fuel economy. With the manual transmission the Focus produces 143 horsepower and gets an EPA-rated 24/35 mpg City/Highway. With the automatic, it rates 140 horsepower and 24/33 mpg.
The 2.0-liter is competitive with most engines in this class. It has decent power for most needs, but passing maneuvers will require plenty of space. The automatic transmission downshifts quickly to give you what power the engine has. For 2009, Coupe SES automatics come with a 4.2:1 final drive ratio (instead of the standard 3.3:1) for quicker off-the-line acceleration.
Cars in this class tend to be buzzy and allow a lot of ambient sound to enter the cockpit. While the engine does whine under heavy throttle, it is no louder than most competitors. Likewise, road noise and wind noise are noticeable, but not out of line for an economy car.
The redesigned Ford Focus offers decent handling and miserly fuel economy. The Ford Sync system offers the latest in entertainment and hands-free communications and technology.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Chicago. John F. Katz in Pennsylvania reported on changes to the 2009 coupe.
Ford Focus S sedan ($14,995); SE coupe and sedan ($16,180); SES coupe and sedan ($17,570); SEL sedan ($17,970).
Options As Tested
automatic transmission ($815), antilock brakes with electronic stability control ($745), leather upholstery ($810) includes heated front seats; Moon & Tune Package ($795) includes power glass sunroof with sunshade, premium audio with subwoofer, 6CD changer.
Ford Focus SES four-door sedan ($17,570).
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