2008 Ford Focus

Erik B. Johnson
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We've long praised the driving dynamics of the Ford Focus--it was, after all, our Automobile of the Year in 2000. We're fans of its eager handling, tactile steering, and well-tuned ride characteristics. But given that it's been on the market for nearly eight years with only minor updates, a new version has been way, way overdue.

Well, hallelujah and praise be to Big Bird, because there's a new Focus on the way.

Enthusiasts have longed to hear the words "new Focus" in connection with an announcement that the European-spec Focus would find its way across the Atlantic. Introduced in 2004, that car features edgier styling, an even sportier personality, and a lineup that includes a retractable hard top coupe/convertible and the hot, 225-hp Focus ST. But the Focus we're getting ain't European. And, truth be told, it ain't exactly new. Sure, Ford's ditched the hatchbacks and wagons in favor of a fast-roofline coupe to sell alongside the Focus sedan, but both 2008 Focuses (Foci?) utilize the same tired, if somewhat revised, mechanicals as their North American predecessors.

To update the Focus for '08, Ford started with the interior. The old car's dark, dank cave was one of our largest complaints, filled as it was with crappy plastics and hard to read and even harder to locate controls. Quality is marginally better now, and the whole thing's been brightened up and restyled. It's attractive, comfortable, and will likely be what entices most new Focus buyers to fork over the dough.

Because it sure won't be the car's exterior styling. While the front end is mildly attractive, there isn't a single line elsewhere on the car that doesn't simply shout "Korean subcompact reject." The newly raised beltline has resulted in acres of sheetmetal on the car's rear quarters, which makes the wheels look absolutely tiny, which makes the wheelarch gaps look even bigger, which only reinforces the nineteen-bucks-a-day-at-the-Seoul-airport kind of feel. And what's with the fender grilles?

So, yeah, it's a new Focus, but it's not the one we want. In fact, had we been asked what we'd want for the latest Focus, "old mechanicals," "horrifying exterior styling," and "no hatchbacks" wouldn't exactly have sprung to mind. Enough with the bold moves; we'd like to see some smart moves, too. Putting the Euro-spec Focus in American dealerships would have been a good place to start.

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