For those of us with a car-as-appliance mind-set -- cars are bought for utility, price and expected service, like a toaster or refrigerator -- the Ford Focus, since its introduction as a 2000 model, has been one of America's most popular choices. Ford sold more than 177,000 of them in 2006, not bad for a vehicle that has had only minor updates since it was introduced.
The Focus is due for its most extensive freshening yet for the 2008 model year, but because the basic platform will remain, the changes will be more cosmetic than mechanical. Even so, Ford is offering attractive incentives to keep the '07 Focus moving, so for the car-as-appliance folks, less concerned than most with having the latest and greatest, the Focus might be particularly appealing right now.
The Focus is indeed a workhorse, but in midlevel SE trim, as the test car was, it is not that much fun to drive. Steering feel is rubbery and handling is less precise than in its competitors, but the powertrain -- a 2.0-liter, 136-horsepower four-cylinder engine, with a four-speed automatic transmission -- works just fine. Uplevel Focus models have an even better 2.3-liter four-cylinder shared with Mazda, but for everyday driving, this 2.0-liter gets the job done. And it does it with very good mileage -- 27 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, on regular gasoline.
Inside, the Focus SE is basic and a bit plastic-heavy; in the test car, the flimsy little folding center console was already showing signs of wear. Cloth-covered front bucket seats are fine, and rear-seat room isn't bad for a car this size. Trunk space is also generous.
On the road, the Focus is large enough to make highway driving comfortable and secure. The test model had the optional $750 "safety package," which included side air bags and anti-lock brakes. It also had the $225 "convenience group," which provided cruise control and a tilting steering wheel. Standard stuff included air conditioning, a good AM-FM stereo with CD player, remote keyless entry, and power locks and windows.
Base price on the Focus SE is $15,070, and with options and $595 shipping, plus a $400 discount for the safety package, the total price was $17,055. But, as mentioned, you can do a lot better than that with discounts and rebates.
The Focus SE is a solid little car that is beginning to show its age. How much 2008's face-lift will correct that remains to be seen, but the current model still gets the job done, and cheaply.