This object of apology, the car he seemed almost ashamed to offer, turned out to be a nearly new Ford Focus SE compact sedan in Lightning Blue. Now, sure, a Ford Focus is not a glamorous car. It's not one that Autoblog or other automotive news outlets tend to write about much — not unless it's a Focus ST or RS. This SE was far from those performance models, though it was equipped with the optional engine, Ford's spunky little 1.0-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost. Not much about the car was high-tech — it lacked driver assist features or fancy infotainment. It had the basic Sync unit with a tiny screen and a decent-sounding stereo. A simple trip computer was nestled between the gauges, and it had a couple of small niceties: power mirrors, stop-start, and it rode on a set of Continentals. No one would accuse it of being luxurious, with its respectable cloth seats, to paraphrase Nixon. It was an economy car.
But you know what: Over the next few days I had more fun behind the wheel of that Focus than any of the past 10 crossovers I've driven.
A new Focus SE equipped like this one carries an MSRP of $20,120 including destination charge — but heavy incentives and a climate of buyer disinterest would probably get you out the door for under $15,000, while the sales team high-five one another behind your back for moving another scorned sedan.
Fun fact: For the average transaction price of just one luxury compact crossover, you could buy three brand-new Ford Focuses.
Of course, soon you won't be able to buy even one. Though a next-generation Focus and Fiesta have debuted in other parts of the world, 2018 is the end of the line for them in the United States (with the Fusion eventually joining them) as Ford shifts its offerings almost entirely toward crossovers/SUVs and trucks. It's the automotive equivalent of skipping a salad to leave yourself room for more steak.
The whole time driving the blue Focus, I puzzled over that turn of events. This is a solid little car. The engine revs happily to offer up its 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The clutch is light and tactile, and the six-speed shifter is precise. The car is nimble befitting its size. It's enjoyable and involving — remember, when this Focus was introduced, it was widely considered a segment leader with multiple publications crowning it the winner of comparison tests. For someone in college or early in their career, it would be a great car for the money.
Scratch that. It would be a fine car for absolutely anyone. One of my best friends has a 50-mile work commute. He's done it for years now in a Ford Fiesta. He makes plenty of money. He could commute in any car he wants, and he owns a variety. But he says he'd be nuts to do that drive in anything but his little red Fiesta. He likes the way it drives. He likes the Sync. And he loves the fuel savings. It gets better mileage than some hybrids.
He drives it even in Missouri winters. No all-wheel drive needed when you grew up driving in Plains snow — front-wheel drive will pull you right along. Which prompts the thought that Americans typically buy more car, with more capabilities, than they need. A grandmother I know purchased a Chrysler minivan because she had visions of going on outings with all her grandchildren aboard. Which has happened exactly never. And of course we all go off-roading in our crossovers and tow Airstreams with our pickups every weekend. More like, we think we need them for hauling the trappings of our suburban lives, but I managed to jam a Weber grill in a box measuring 20x27x38 inches into the back of the Focus at a Home Depot. It wasn't easy, but it fit. Had it been a Focus hatchback, it would have been easy, no crossover needed. But the industry is always happy to sell us more car than we need.
After running five days of errands in the Focus, it was time to return it to the dealer. I did a double-take at the pump. It had burned four gallons of gasoline.
I could be happy owning this car. You could be happy with this car. But we aren't buying it quite like we used to, so it's doomed. Still, Ford sold more than 158,000 of them in the United States last year — it sold 400,000 Fiestas, Focuses and Fusions combined. And even after those models are kaput here, Ford will continue to sell tons of them overseas.
It's a chicken and egg situation: Did we Americans really demand crossovers and trucks instead of sedans, and so automakers supplied them? Or did marketers whisper in our ears to stir up desire for these high-margin models, and made us think it was our idea? Who knows how we got here. But here we are.
What's the point of all this? It's just to say: The Ford Focus is/was a reasonably priced car that made sense — sensible yet fun. A few days in one demonstrated that. It's getting the boot through no fault of its own. A company's gotta do what it's gotta do, and Ford will likely end up richer for dumping basic cars. Those of us buying more expensive vehicles and making a bigger footprint might be the poorer for it. But that's what we say we want. If we change our minds, and as millennials and Gen-Zers embrace sedans, there will always be Civics and Corollas.
Ford Focus, it was nice knowing you.