The Focus blotted its copybook quite badly at 3458 miles, when Phenix entered the parking lot of the local hospital, on his way in for some minor surgery. The car stalled and wouldn't start again. Phenix pushed the car into a parking spot, and his wife, Emily, called roadside assistance while he went for his appointment with the surgeon's knife. The problem was caused by a faulty neutral safety switch, which ordinarily disables the ignition until the clutch is depressed. A new switch: $8.04. Labor: $32.87. Phenix's never-ending hatred: priceless. We never took his logbook comments as seriously after that incident.
At 8079 miles, the Focus went to the service doctor for two recalls--one related to the cruise control and the other for a trouble-prone fuel-injector sensor. In the grand scheme of FoMoCo recalls, which have been of biblical proportions recently, these were minor but, again, indicative of questions about the long-term durability of the car. At the end of the test, there was a mysterious groaning from the front end and a flapping sound from a rear wheel arch, both of which rectified themselves. In the course of investigating the latter problem, we found the wheel arch lining to be made of some kind of tar paper rather than the expected plastic, a measure taken to reduce road noise.
Those glitches were a shame, because the Focus was, otherwise, a paragon of small-car virtue, one of those reminders--like a Civic or a VW Golf--that relatively affordable and small doesn't mean missing out on automotive goodness. In our 31,708 miles, we averaged about 31 miles to the gallon (enough to please bleeding-heart eco-warriors everywhere), the service costs were minimal, and spare parts were also very affordable. We would still unfailingly recommend a Focus to anyone seeking an inexpensive wagon, sedan, or hatchback, despite our minor problems with the car. And was it a worthy Automobile of the Year? Yes, because this is still the best car to drive in its class. It pleases enthusiasts like us and you, and it's also the most spacious, which will please an awful lot more of its potential owners.