The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2009 Ford Focus Sedan SEL Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

MORE: Ford Specs, Pics and Prices-Ford Buyers Guide


2009 Ford Focus Sedan SEL

American automakers can't make a good small car, right? Such is conventional wisdom, but after a week with a 2009 Ford Focus I would argue against that sentiment.

Refined continuously since its debut in 2000, and given freshened styling inside and out last year, the Michigan-built Focus has stayed competitive in the Japanese-dominated compact family sedan class. Given a major makeover last year, it's currently offered in both two-door coupe and four-door sedan form. Sedans are available in bare-bones S(although air conditioning is standard fare), better-equipped SE (with power windows and mirrors, Sirius satellite radio, alloy wheels, and remote entry standard), mostly fully-equipped SES (16-inch alloys, upgraded suspension, interior ambient lighting, upgraded interior and exterior trim, steering wheel-mounted auxiliary audio and cruise controls, and heated outside mirrors among the benefits), and fully-loaded leather interior and chrome trimmed SEL trim levels. Coupe choices are simpler, limited to SE and SES models with similar standard equipment levels to their four-door counterparts and newly-revised front and rear styling this year.

Power for all is a 2.0-liter twincam four-cylinder with 140 horsepower (142 in the coupe) and 136 lb-ft of torque, or 132 hp and 133 lb-ft in PZEV-state tune. Mounted transversely, it drives the front wheels through either a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. The chassis features fully-independent suspension, tuned moderately, for comfort, but with good damping and steering response.

I've spent the past week in a Focus SEL sedan with key options including the automatic, antilock brakes and stability control, and the moonroof and audio upgrade "Moon and Tune" package. So equipped, and with the standard SYNC connectivity and leather, it was an honest but upscale small car at a non-upscale, competitive price.

APPEARANCE: You'd have to look hard to see the old Focus underneath the new. Only the passenger cabin bears any resemblance, and that's no slight as its height means interior space. The front and rear have been brought into contemporary Ford style with Fusion-inspired bright horizontal grille flanked with large headlights at the front and chrome-trimmed over-sized taillights at the rear. "Reverse scoop" cutaways on the sides, with chrome accents at the front, add interest. SE and higher trim levels get alloy wheels, with SES and SEL adding front foglamps.

COMFORT: At the SEL level, the Focus is more comfortable than expected. The front seats get high marks, at least from my body. Moderately firm, they provide noticeably more support than is typical for the class, and leather is a bonus. Multi-hour drives are painless, even pleasant. Because of the high roofline, headroom is never a problem, even in the rear seat. It's spacious for the car's size, and split 60/40 in all models. The trunk can hold 13.8 cubic feet, although the trunk-mounted subwoofer that is part of the "Moon and Tune" package looks to take up some of that. It is protected from damage by trunk contents. The interior is stylish in the modern sporty compact idiom. A matte finish on the instrument panel's large amount of silvery plastic makes it non-reflective and so easy on the eyes; ditto for the dark, textured IP top. Blue-backlit main instruments are easy to see, and both trip computer readout in the main instrument cluster and time and audio information at the top of the stack are useful. The color-configurable "ambient lighting" that is standard fare in the SES and SEL is more than a little gimmicky, but it does provide footwell lighting, an unusual feature in the low-price class. All models have at least AM/FM/CD capability with a mini-jack for audio players; the SES and SEL additionally get SYNC audio and Bluetooth-based connectivity for phones and a USB port for audio players so-equipped.

SAFETY: All 2009 Focus sedans get the full complement of airbags -- dual front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain -- safety belt usage monitors, three-point harnesses for all seating position, safety belt pre-tensioners and energy-management retractors, and crash severity and driver's seat position sensors. Antilock brakes with electronic stability control are available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: On the road, the new Focus feels solid and stable. Its unibody structure has had minor enhancements over the years, and its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, "Control Blade" multilink rear suspension has been retuned, with spring rates, dampers, stabilizer bars, and bushings all revised. SES and SEL models, with 16-inch wheels and lower-profile tires, get a rear stabilizer bar to reduce understeer. The suspension tuning is soft, for good passenger comfort, but in the European manner well-matched spring and damping rates mean no bounciness or wallowing -- this is not your grandfather's LTD.

PERFORMANCE: The Focus's 2.0-liter "Duratec" 16-valve twincam alloy four-cylinder engine does an admirable job under the hood, even matched with the optional four-speed automatic. The secret is torque, lots of it and available low in the rev range. A minor weight-loss regimen doesn't hurt, either, with around 100 pounds dropped. In regular tune, as in my Michigan-registered test car, it makes 140 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), with torque peaking at 136 lb-ft at 4250. PZEV (CA emissions) states get a little less, 132 hp and 133 lb-ft. Acceleration is good for its class, and there was never any lack of power for merging or passing. Figure around 9 seconds for 0-60. There is no separate manual shift mode, and none is really needed - manual shifting can be done if necessary with the overdrive button and shift lever. But I didn't bother, as the automatic worked well enough for the car's purpose. Prefer manual shifting and more involvement? Save money and get the standard five-speed stick. With EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 33 highway and a real-world 27 during my week, the Focus compares well with other compact sedans.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Focus SEL sedan is a pleasant and comfortable small car with any useful features and a reasonable price.

2009 Ford Focus Sedan SEL

Base Price			$ 17,970
Price As Tested			$ 21,020
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve
				 inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 6000 rpm (132 PZEV)
Torque (lb-ft)			136 @ 4250 rpm (133 PZEV)
Transmission			4-speed automatic (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		102.9 in. / 175.0 in.
Curb Weigh			2642 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		18.9 (20.0)
Fuel Capacity			13 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/50R16 Kumho
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, antilock available
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 33 / 27
0 to 60 mph				est 9.0  sec

Automatic 4-speed transaxle		$ 815
Antilock braking system			$ 745
  with electronic stability control
Moon & Tune value package - includes:
  6-CD audiophile audio system,
  power moonroof w/shade		$ 1,270
Destination and delivery		$   695
Moon & Tune discount		       -($  475)

MORE: Ford Specs, Pics and Prices-Ford Buyers Guide