Driven: 2009 Ford Focus SES Coupe

By Winding Road Staff

December 05, 2008

While the second-generation Ford Focus debuted last year, FoMoCo has gone and given the car some tasteful updates for the 2009 model year. A revised front end, larger wheels, and some minor chassis tweaks are enough to make this new Focus a bit better than last year’s car, though it might struggle when faced with the best of the import competition. Still, we were pretty pleased with our Focus’ behavior during its two-week stay in our test fleet.

Chris Paukert

I didn’t spend a great deal of time in our SES Coupe, but it’s heartening to see Ford already making minor updates to last year’s substantial facelift, and they’re changes for the better, including exorcising those dreadful chrome mock fender vents (coupe only) and changing the final drive ratio for better acceleration. This is particularly interesting behavior on the part of the cash-strapped Blue Oval considering that 2008 was a decidedly robust sales year for the Focus.

Driven in isolation, the SES is pleasant enough, offering reasonable pep, solid ergonomics (the information display atop the center stack is particularly nice work), solid fuel economy, and useful technology like Sync. Still, it’s ultimately not as sharp a driver’s tool as some of its competitors and it has some rather poor interior bits (some cheap plastics, contrived gauge fonts).

The Focus remains a surprisingly decent car considering its aging bones. There are certainly better cars available in the segment, but if you can get a good deal from a motivated dealer, there may not be many better up-front values. Long-term values, however, are likely a different story.

Steven J. Ewing
Production and Test Fleet Manager

The Focus has never been first in line for my "best small car" pick. I've always been more impressed with the Mazda3, Scion tC, or Honda Civic—the Ford has always seemed sort of bland. What really turned me off (initially) about this new Focus was that Ford decided to only offer coupe and sedan body styles -- no three- or five-door hatches and no wagon. The more up-to-date C1-platform Focus is a very successful car in other markets and I've always wanted America to experience some of this small car love.

The 2009 Focus has a tweaked appearance which looks a bit better than last year's car, though I would gladly pay a couple of extra bucks to have the dealership remove the awful C-pillar wing. This comes standard on the SES coupe, while the base SE coupe has the decklid spoiler of the 2008 model. The revised front end doesn't look half bad, and the dark seventeen-inch alloys are really quite attractive. The larger wheels and stiffer suspension do aid in giving the Focus a sportier driving feel, though this car still doesn't seem too eager to be tossed into bends in the same way that a Mazda3 does. The engine has ample power for a car this size, though acceleration feels sort of lazy unless you're really pushing it hard.

In all, I'd expect the 2009 Focus to do reasonably well in sales. The price is right and there are a lot of cool options available (Sync, sunroof, heated leather seats) that would make this an attractive car to many buyers. Still, until a more modern Focus is brought to our shores, I think one of the Japanese competitors is still my choice.

Seyth Miersma
Senior Editor

I have to admit that the shape of the new Focus coupe, a non-starter for me when I first saw it, is growing on me a little. The black on black stylings of the SES coupe we tested, along with Ford’s excellent choice of seventeen-inch wheels, really help the package along as well.
The Focus is a pretty entertaining driving machine, provided the five-speed manual has been installed. The gearing seems to have been tuned for quick acceleration, making it feel a bit ballsier than its 143 horsepower might suggest. I was actually inspired enough by my commute home in the SES to take it out for a more extensive thrashing on the winding Huron River Drive the next morning—an entertaining romp but one which showed a few more flaws in grip, rough road suppression, and refinement than were encountered the first time out.
Another quibble was with the Focus’s heater, which seemed to take ages to heat up the cabin of the little coupe. Cold air was blowing from the vents for at least the first ten minutes of my morning drive, leading me to question (yet again) where I hid my gloves last winter.

Nate Luzod
Art Director

The Focus SES Coupe is a very decent drive for roughly seventeen large. It's easy enough to throw around without feeling like you're doing something you shouldn't be, and peppy enough to deliver spirited driving when the occasion calls for it. MPG figures of 24/35 (with responsible driving) certainly don't hurt, either.

The interior is reasonably well done for a "budget" car, with my only gripe being difficult access to the back seat (oh, and the shifter tends to feel too bulky/clumsy) but the materials feel fine and the design/ergonomics are more than suitable. That SYNC is an option makes it particularly attractive with respect to the rest of its segment.

I'm continually impressed with the new Ford products and find noticeable, quality improvements with each new year. The Focus is no exception.


Engine: Inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 143 hp/136 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Weight: 2588 lb
Fuel Economy, city/hwy: 24/35 mpg
Price as Tested: $18,265