2009 Ford Focus SES Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

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