Ford's got the right idea: Give people something that makes an inexpensive car feel upscale, and you've got another opportunity to earn their business. The 2009 Ford Focus SES proves my point. This two-door coupe looks sporty and drives nicely, but the feature that had most people talking was its black leather seats with white top-stitching. A car that my friends and neighbors wouldn't normally have been interested in got a second look after they noticed the seats.
I confess the seats were the first thing I noticed, too. If the Focus had a couple other surprises like the seats in it, it would have made my week test-driving this coupe - with two kids in tow - a little more bearable. Don't get me wrong, I'm an advocate of sedans as family cars, and I live for the day I can own a sporty little coupe in lieu of the family truckster, but just like any other car style, some coupes are better than others.
The Focus is a four-cylinder and gets an EPA-estimated 24/35 mpg city/highway with the standard five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic is available. Driving the front-wheel-drive Focus was better than I expected; it felt tight and well-constructed. The manual transmission let me have more power when I wanted it (merging onto the highway), but it's a four-cylinder, so it's not over-the-top speed-wise. The Focus' engine noise sounds sporty and not too loud.
You know what I'm thinking? The Focus isn't a perfect mom-mobile, but it might be a perfect teen-mobile.
The Focus SES looks sporty in a sensible way. I mean that as a compliment because it'll look relatively sharp for years to come. It's not an eye-catcher, but it isn't embarrassingly cheap-looking either. It has 17-inch wheels that add character, and a spoiler that adds flavah. Well, just flavor.
The front end incorporates a big scoop on the lower half of the bumper. This makes the car look like it's catering to teens (think "The Fast and the Furious" rather than "Desperate Housewives"). Actually, the Focus isn't fast or furious so much as it is moderately speedy and a touch upset.
The Focus' doors weren't too heavy; they sounded solid when closed.
The Focus' rear is boring-looking; it has a completely lackluster backend. It seems many cars must be designed from front to back; by the time the designer gets to the rear, they're tired and out of ideas. The Focus' rear hatch relies on one crease in the trunk's metal and some italicized badging to make it look interesting. Oh, there's a brake light, too, but it doesn't add much to the rear's looks. This is a big oversight in the design; just a little more thought in the Focus' backside would make this car a success. Maybe a little faux taillight or a more significant lip on the top of the lid would add some interest.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
I like coupes, and these days they're getting easier to get in and out of. If you have rear passengers, the seats need to move forward and backward with ease as well as have memory settings whenever possible. The Focus has none of these attributes.
My kids were able to open the door without any problems. However, the front-seat levers were so hard for them to use - even I couldn't do it one-handed - that they came up with their own solution for getting into the backseat (see the video below). The seats were difficult to move, and I had to readjust them every time I sat down. Our solutions to the seat problems were OK, but none are as good as having a functional, easy-to-reach-and-use lever to move the seat. If you have a teen, the lack of mobility might be a bonus because it could prevent them from putting any friends back there. Just sayin'.
To distract from the seats' shortcomings, the Focus has ambient lighting. There's a magic button that changes the color of the LED lights throughout the car and in the cupholders. The kids loved this feature; I have to confess - I kind of did, too.
I also appreciated the Focus' center stack because it was clean, tidy, usable and simple. This is another reason this car might be one to consider for your teen - fewer things to distract a teen driver. My test car had the Sync communication and entertainment system. Although it's supposed to be compatible with my first-generation iPhone, I couldn't get the two to work together. It was extremely frustrating.
The Focus' instrument cluster has room for improvement. The numbers looked like something from the track at race day. They're fun in the beginning, but I got tired of their cluttered design and bizarre-looking notches on the outer rim, which I think is supposed to look a little like tires. The rest of the instrument panel is neat and tidy like the center stack; it's a refreshing break from some of the more clustered clusters out there.
In the backseat, there's not enough room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat without significantly compromising the front passenger's comfort. Booster seats fit nicely in the back, and my kids didn't have any problems buckling up. The Latch connectors and tether anchors are easy to access and use. However, the backseat lacks cupholders or bottleholders, which is an annoyance.
The trunk is pretty small, and there could be problems trying to fit a ginormous stroller back there. My itty-bitty umbrella stroller that I use for testing purposes went in without incident. The 60/40-split folding rear seats make it easy to haul longer items.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The Focus has front-, side-impact and side curtain airbags in both rows. It also has a tire pressure monitoring system, remote keyless entry and an anti-theft device.
Antilock brakes, stability control and traction control are available in the coupe. I'd really like to see these safety features become standard in this car.
The Focus earned an Acceptable rating in side-impact crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If you're deciding between the Focus and another car, this might be a factor that tips another car into favor.
In Diapers: There's not enough room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat.
In School: The front-seat levers are too hard for young kids to use.
Teens: This is a good option for a starter car.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||September 3, 2009|
|David Thomas||Cars.com National||November 18, 2008|
|Cars.com Staff||Cars.com National||August 22, 2008|
|Bill Griffith||Boston.com||July 28, 2009|
|Sara Lacey||Mother Proof||May 13, 2009|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||December 5, 2008|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 30, 2008|
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