The Ford Focus has been Ford's entry-level car since the start of the new millennium. This front-wheel-drive model is far from luxurious but nonetheless displays a surprising amount of character from behind the wheel. Its affordable price, expressive styling and availability in multiple body styles have all contributed to making this one of Ford's most popular cars worldwide.
2008 Ford Focus SE Coupe Shown
Introduced for the 2000 model year, the Ford Focus was designed to be a "world car," meaning it has been sold around the world in the same basic form as the car sold in the United States. In order to appeal to European buyers, the Focus was tuned to provide responsive handling and communicative steering.
Since that time, Ford has gone on to introduce a second-generation Focus for European markets. America's Focus, however, has continued on without a full redesign. As such, it hasn't been a top-tier choice for an economy car in recent years. Ford did perform a significant refresh for the current 2008 model, however, and it's been effective enough to keep the Focus a still-viable choice for a new economy car, particularly for shoppers focused mainly on value. As a used vehicle, the Focus represents a solid pick, especially since its lower resale value compared to import-brand competitors typically translates to lower purchase prices.
Current Ford Focus
Compared to models sold for 2007 and earlier, the current Ford Focus is more up-to-date thanks to a significant refresh. Changes include revised interior and exterior styling, altered engine and body-style lineups and additional safety equipment.
The Focus is currently available as a coupe and as a sedan, and both body styles come in three trims: base S, midgrade SE and sporty SES. All Focus models are powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that offers 140 horsepower. Cars sold in California-level emission states have a cleaner version of this engine that is PZEV-certified; it's good for 130 hp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a four-speed automatic offered as an option.
Within its cabin, the Focus offers a reasonably attractive environment. Still, the Focus' interior doesn't measure up to the cabins offered by some of its competitors, both in terms of materials quality and design aesthetic. One unique feature sets the car apart: Ford's Sync system. Developed in conjunction with Microsoft, this system functions much like Bluetooth, but is simpler to operate.
Though its handling isn't as finely honed as that of the segment's performance leaders, theFord Focus offers a reasonably engaging driving experience; additionally, fuel economy is excellent. Factor in its amenable price, and it becomes clear that the current Focus has much to offer in the area of value, if not refinement.
Past Ford Focus Models
The Ford Focus is still in its first generation, but it's seen a few changes since it first appeared on showroom floors. Focus models sold from 2000-'03 were available as a two-door hatchback sedan or wagon, and came with either an anemic SOHC 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated for 110 horsepower or a preferable DOHC 2.0-liter engine called the Zetec that was good for 130 hp. In 2004, Ford added a 2.3-liter inline-4 to the lineup that offered 145 hp and cleaner emissions. The 2.3-liter was optional on all 2004 Focus models, except in California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, where it was standard across the line.
A 170-hp four-cylinder engine and a six-speed transmission were featured in the short-lived and rare Focus SVT hatchback. Coveted by young enthusiasts, the SVT Focus was offered as a two-door hatchback in 2002, and as a two-door and a four-door hatch in '03 and '04.
In 2005, the Focus got a modest refresh that provided cosmetic changes on the outside, a revised control layout inside and a new engine lineup: a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 151 hp, and a 136-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission was standard across the line and a four-speed automatic was optional on most models. By this point, a five-door hatchback had been added to the body-style lineup; it was discontinued after 2007, as were the wagon and two-door hatch.
Our editors were quite fond of the Ford Focus in its earlier years, and the car earned Editors' Most Wanted Award designations from 2000-'03. Although we consider it a good buy on the used market, the car's reliability record hasn't been perfect, particularly the 2000 models, which were plagued by recalls. We'd advise a thorough mechanical inspection before you buy. Additionally, shoppers looking at the SVT Focus should pay special attention to the quantity and quality of any aftermarket modifications the previous owner may have made.