Ford Focus Review
Pop the hood of the new Ford Focus and you'll see an infestation of duct tape worms. Every wire is wrapped in black duct tape. And the thing is, Ford didn't even try to hide it. There's no flash-casted plastic cover to hide the Focus' handmade electrical insulation. I mean, how much would that have cost FoMoCo? Five bucks? What's more, the duct tape I discovered in the economy car's engine bay was already unfurling. That's worrying. But it's nowhere near as disquieting as the overarching Scrooge You cynicism informing every nut, bolt and rock hard panel of this po-faced makeover. What’s worse, the new Ford Focus looks atrocious.
When Ford reskinned the Focus to take-on the bevy of B-class beauties prospering from the patronage of economy-minded American car buyers, who’d a thunk they’d use the Medusa-esque Chrysler Sebring as a template? The resemblance is uncanny– and ungodly. The domestic sedans share the same dopey proportions; simmer surfacing, inelegant side and hood strakes; flared and squared wheel arches and what-the-Hell-do-we-do now? rear side glass. Encountering the Focus for the first time is like discovering that a short, fat, balding Elvis imitator has a less attractive twin.
The second time you clap eyes on the “new” Focus the detailing delivers the disastrous denouement. The front end is a dog’s breakfast; incomplete with a two-blade grill (the Fusion, Taurus and Edge get three) and a front bumper sculpted with a Play-Doh knife, that stands proud of the body only in the literal sense. The Focus’ side air vents are an unintentionally hilarious affectation hearkening back to the days when rear wings adorned econoboxes. And I’m not saying the back end is frumpy and ungainly– just in case you think Ugly Betty is a babe.
If Sam’s Club made an interior, this would be it: all the right bits in the right places without any color, style or comfort. Mind you, my tester was an SE stripper: no ambient lighting, all-weather floor mats or fancy SYNC™ system to tell your pacemaker to connect with your iPhone, stat. More importantly, the Focus’ steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach and there’s so little rear seat legroom that the front seat backs are stuffed with ground-up Nerf balls.
All this would be forgivable– no wait, it isn’t. Save Chevy's Aveo, every other economy car's cabin has a little something to recommend it. The Focus doesn’t. Sure, Ford’s erstwhile designers have eliminated the previous model’s egregious ergonomics, but the old gauges were more practical and attractive, and the stereo and climate controls weren't identical. The new Focus’ interior may be wildly inoffensive, but it reeks of cheap.
Nobody who’d buy a Focus would expect it to be anything other than frugal. And it isn’t. Yes, the Focus’ 2.0-liter Duratec is a smooth and parsimonious mill (helped by spare tire deletion). But the four banger is plenty loud, with a sonic signature that’s about as appealing as a motel vacuum cleaner. (At 4:30am.) The hard-as-nails Hankook all-season rubber adds to the din, which includes an unpleasant graunching noise (and burning brake smell) whenever you beat the Focus’ rear drums.
On the positive side, the Focus’ steering rack is a delight, with perfect weighting, a well-judged turning ratio and more-than-merely adequate road feel. Whether you’re crossing four lanes of highway traffic or fighting for supremacy in the supermarket parking lot, the car goes exactly where you point it. The Focus’ eight-year-old chassis’ motions are also well controlled, with minimal body lean or nose dive. As a result, the sedan isn’t entirely corner-aversive.
But with such little pep on tap, cheap shoes and more understeer than a freight train, who cares? By the time you get a Focus up to speed, the tires have already answered the Deliverance-style inquiry into porcine imitation. In case you were wondering, buying a Focus SE for driving pleasure is like purchasing a Ferrari 599 for mechanical reliability.
The Focus’ ride quality is the more important consideration; Ford’s normally masterful chassis tuners have got the balance between “Euro-inspired” handling and American-style comfort exactly wrong. You don't tip over, but you feel every lump and bump. The physical sensations are muffled, but there they are, entering the cabin like the report of distant cannon fire. There’s no glossing over the fact that the Focus’ aged underpinnings have outlived their usefulness; they give the car’s dynamics the mien of mean.
My biggest problem with the new Ford Focus isn’t the new Ford Focus. It’s the Mazda3. For a couple grand more than the box-fresh Ford, you get coherent exterior style, a classy cabin, an adult-compatible rear compartment, a better sounding powerplant, vastly superior handling, greater residuals and an engine bay without a trace of duct tape. Considering Ford’s relationship with Mazda and their long history of badge-engineering… Oh well. I guess Ford just couldn’t admit they’ve lost Focus.
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