2008 Ford Focus Sync Review
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
What would you pay to have the coolest car on your block? A car with the best hands-free Bluetooth speakerphone and the best text-to-speech system for reading all those hundreds of messages from your thumb-pounding friends. How about owning a car where you could have an intimate conversation with your iPod—or other music player—like “Play me those hot new Fergie songs,” or “What have I got by Kanye West?,” even “I want to hear Rockstar” and like magic the music would explode from four coaxial speakers and 8-inch subwoofer?
That technology—Sync—is only available on the 2008 Ford Focus and it really does cost a mere $395 if it’s an option. Sync is standard on Focus SES models. Ford co-developed Sync with Microsoft and you can only get it from Ford, Lincoln, or Mercury through 2008. So skip to the end if you are only interested in the uber-cool Sync technology, not in cool cars.
Ford’s entry-priced Focus offers three 2008 models, S, SE, and SES. S Coupes start at $14,664, an S four-door at $14,995, and either price includes destination charges. For 2008, Focus is totally restyled inside and out, and the body structure is revised for better stiffness. You’ll immediately notice a strong family resemblance to the larger Fusion. Focus’ two-bar chrome grille (there wasn’t enough room for three) and wide wrap-around headlamps are nearly clones of Fusion. The body sides are different; Focus sweeps from a large bright “arrowhead” back to the rear tail lamp. Its tail lamp is suspiciously Fusion or Escape-like.
From the rear, Focus has a wider appearance compared to the tall and boxy predecessors. That’s a styling trick that pulls the trunk lid up to the rear window and uses strong horizontal lines to emphasize width. Some SES models are spoiler equipped and have both a sexier butt and better aerodynamics.
Inside, many models have white-faced instruments on an inclusively new instrument panel. For the first time, Focus has a display atop the center stack to report information like time, text message replies (with Sync,) CD info, and audio source. Center stacks, regardless of model, are very cool, with controls and buttons poking through a smooth façade. It’s rather more like an Audi than an older Ford. Upscale models have a bright metallic panel across the dash and down the center stack. Did I say “like an Audi?” And if you pop for a few extra bucks, you can select one of seven colors in an LED lighting package to make your cupholders and footwell all nice and orange-red-green-blue-purple and more.
As to what is more important in a new car, engine, safety, or driving dynamics, lets pick the safety aspect first. Standard Focus safety equipment now includes side air bags, side air curtains and tire pressure monitoring system. At the front, new aluminum calipers are fitted to 10.9” ventilated discs brakes. You also get a 3.5 mm audio input jack, tilt steering wheel and air conditioning and you can order SIRIUS® Satellite Radio.
Focus offers only four cylinder engines. They have adequate spunk, but won’t get anyone into drag race heaven. The standard Duratec 20 engine uses an electronic throttle for better shift feel and better engine response. Because the air intake and cooling system are change it now pumps out 140 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque. In the some states, a Duratec 20E qualifies as PZEV and produces 132 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. Transmissions are either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic; both with revised final drive ratios. EPA figures are 24 city and 35 highway under the new, more realistic EPA guidelines.
Focus has always been fun to drive. It’s not a sport car or sport sedan, neither is it boring to drive. The new Focus is incrementally better as the body and chassis have been strengthened and stiffened. That allowed the chassis to be totally retuned with different springs, dampers, jounce bumpers, and bushings. The goal of more comfort without losing sporting character was met. Interestingly, the new vehicle is approximately 100 pounds lighter. It’s a car you can drive just about as hard as the engine will allow and feel comfortably in control. Ford says a hatchback and SVT performance variants are future possibilities and that the decision to exclude a hatchback in the initial launch was because less than 15% of buyers plunk down the bucks for that (IMO) best of all body styles.
One thing Ford isn’t emphasizing as much as it should is how quiet Focus is (actually, all recent Ford vehicles.) They have a quietness that only a few years ago we associated with Lexus and Mercedes — no kidding. Driving 2007 and 2008 Focus’ back-to-back, it took less than a mile to notice how greatly its quietness had improved.
There are numbers to substantiate this observation; overall road noise drops from 70 dba to 67.3 according to Ford. That’s about half as loud. Part of that is due to thicker side glass (3.2 mm vs. 3.8 mm) and luxury-class acoustic windscreen glass. Behind the dashboard, closed-cell foam absorbs sound energy, as does acoustic batting added to door trim panels, C-pillars, and beneath the behind-seat shelf. What that means for you is that at 70+ mph with the optional moonroof open you can easily chat with your passenger. Ford is bold enough to claim it is now the segment leader in NVH, road noise, and among best in class in wind noise.
Another interesting comparison with its rivals like Corolla and Civic shows that Focus has more useable trunk space (unless you get the subwoofer.) In a demonstration, the Focus easily swallowed two big hard side suitcases and two medium sized; its competitors could not fit more than three. This is because Focus’ rear suspension does not intrude into the space. If you need storage, do take time to look into the trunk.
If you have patiently waited for the techno-news about Ford’s Sync, the technology it developed with Microsoft and based on Windows CE. I have to say, Sync is stunningly useful technology for anyone who spends more than five minutes a day driving and I can’t wait for it to be available in the aftermarket for our current family cars. Today you’ll have to buy a 2008 Ford Focus, but in a few months there will be eleven other Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models featuring Sync.
Why is Sync so great? Besides teens reading their text messages, and making replies without taking hands off the wheel, or Blackberry-tethered executives receiving corporate texts messages on the fly, or simply answering and making mobile calls without even a Bluetooth headset, Sync offers the opportunity to use commute time in novel ways.
With today’s technology you must drag along audio CDs and rely on PBS or satellite radio subscriptions for anything other than music and really basic news. With Sync—assuming basic computer literacy and the ability to use iTunes or similar content aggregators—you can load your music player (iPod, Zune, any Plays For Sure device,) a USB memory stick, or even your mobile phone’s extended memory with the latest podcasts and listen on the way to work.
Sync can recognize up to 20 different mobile phones and remembers all of your stored contacts for voice dialing, even your recently called numbers. While Sync will dial out on the “master” mobile, it can allow any “paired/bonded” phone to receive calls hands-free.
Text messages can be received, and are translated into spoken messages, even shorthand and emoticons. Focus limited display requires that hands-free replies are limited to 15 simple stored replies and that you are stopped or moving at less than 5 mph. Later models that use navigation systems will permit different options. For complete instructions, and some really cheesy corporate video, www.syncmyride.com will demonstrate it all.
Audio content gets into the system via a USB connection or it can be streamed via Bluetooth. Only Sync offers total voice command over every iPod function: playlist, genre, artist, album, song. Thus I could say “play:song:Ramalama (Bang Bang)” and have Roisin Murphy sing. And I did it from my iPod and from a USB stick I’d loaded.
Think of it. You could refresh your Spanish with lessons ripped from a CD, get gardening tips and overnight European news Podcasts, or what even audio of missed The Daily Show episodes. What is so totally cool is you can (with Sync) increase your skills in almost any profession or hobby just by saying “Play: Track: podcast: Science Friday. How cool—and terrifically useful—is that?