2009 Ford Focus SES

The Focus used to be much more sporting. We had this discussion in the kitchen yesterday, agreeing that the second-generation Focus was the "one." And then Ford got deadly serious and made it to big and bland. The 2009 Focus SES gets some spunkiness back, but still needs to move from tidy design to really hot.

That's the exterior. Inside, it's clear that Ford design is moving rapidly and firmly into Audi territory (which should be no surprise, given that two of Audi's former brightest lights, J Mays and Freeman Thomas, are at now at Ford), with beautifully executed interiors featuring attractive material blends and shapes, great switchgear, really well thought out control displays, and exceptional quality fit and finish.

This doesn't just mean the Focus SES is a stylish place to be, it means that all of the controls you use in the course of driving are perfectly sorted - the shape of the five-speed manual's shift knob and the material wrapped around it, it's solid shift feel and the same great feel in the foot pedals, the beefy leather-wrapped steering wheel, shapely fabric-covered seats with good side support.

The 2.0-liter DOHC in-line four is adequate, especially when it's paired with the five-speed manual. And maybe you just need to be from Michigan to understand how to tune a suspension for our special road needs. This one is totally sorted with an amazing ability in a car this small and light (2588 pounds) to soak up the big awful out there.

In all, the Focus SES is a satisfying car, surprisingly nice inside, and a good choice in this category.

Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief

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