- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

New is quite a subjective term in the automotive industry. Car marketers continually tell us this car or that truck is new for this model year. For the most part the term usually means virtually all-new. However, it can be a bit of a stretch to understand just what the new bits are and how improved the vehicle is.

This brings me to the “new” 2008 Ford Focus. The newness is real, although “all new” may be just a bit over the top. However, all elements of the 2008 Focus are assembled into a vehicle that feels so unlike what the previous version was that it does, indeed, feel completely new. The tested Focus is new in ride, handling and features.

The refined exterior design is fresh and contemporary with a strong family resemblance to its bigger brother, the Fusion. It’s easy to see the family ties here because Ford took a great deal of what they learned with Fusion and made the Focus more of an up-level car and less of an econo-box.

The Focus feels and looks like a much more expensive vehicle. After driving the Focus I was quite impressed with the manner in which the car preformed.

Granted, the Focus isn’t a powerhouse, yet it squirts in and out of traffic with the agility and finesse one would expect. The interior has moved many levels above the standard economy car and is headed toward the luxurious especially over what I remember of earlier models. The features, namely SYNC, are at the top of Ford’s game in contemporary offerings. SYNC is Ford’s answer to a voice recognition system.

Using a Microsoft system, SYNC gives control of most portable digital music players and Bluetooth cell phones via voice commands. It may be a hit with the XYZers, but it left me glad to have a knob on the radio and my own hands-free cell phone in the center console.

I may not be in the target demographic for the Focus, but I sure would have no regrets in having one in my garage. And, though I may not be overly enthralled with SYNC, I do like the way the freshening has made this car more enjoyable to drive.

Propulsion is derived from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces an adequate 140 horsepower and 136 pounds-feet of torque. It isn’t going to light any fires under your tires, but it tackles the streets and freeways with composure.

Both seem to work well, but perhaps being a bit old school, I prefer the manual gearbox especially now that Ford seems to have the gremlins worked out of the shifter. Through all shifts up or down the gear range, the shifter was tight with gear selections on target even during very quick speed-shifting on backcountry roads.

The Focus is an economy car with an improved suspension system that offers good ride comfort without sacrificing handling characteristics that made earlier versions suffer a bit in ride comfort. Now, Ford seems to have a handle on both attributes.

From the driver’s seat, the entire car feels tight and well assembled. The steering is solid without the washed out feel of other entries in the economy segment. Gone is the spongy feel I remember.

The interior design and execution is pleasant to the eye and fingertips with the gauges and controls in their assigned locations for easy use. The cabin is comfortable and well designed.

Looking beyond the electronic gizmos needed to keep the younger generations entertained and happy, the Focus is an improved and able entry in the market.

One that will fulfill the needs of many more buyers than perhaps the marketers might believe.

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