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2009 Ford Focus SES: Between econobox and all-out sport

Posted by Bill Griffith  July 28, 2009 02:30 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith/

Ford's Focus is one car I'm always happy to drive. It's also a model that seems to evolve nicely instead of being reinvented every few years. That said, it remains a competitive player in the small-car category with good things still to come.


Today's test car is the 2009 Ford Focus SES coupe. This is the second year for the coupe version and this one had a nice combination of power, drivability and fuel economy.

An all-electric Focus is scheduled to join the lineup next year. To a generation attuned to plugging in iPhones and iPods to recharge each night, plugging in a zero emissions vehicle with a 100-mile range could be attractive.

Meanwhile, our current SES configuration is spiffed up with nicely styled 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded tires, a firmer suspension, sports exhaust system, fog lights and cruise control to go with Ford's SYNC communications system.

All told, it's a nice package that fits a niche between econobox and all-out sports sedan. The car is nimble, handles well and there's enough oomph to justify the satisfying exhaust tone, and best of all still can deliver 30 miles per gallon in overall driving and 35-plus on the highway.


The SES coupe package also comes with what Ford calls a "sporty roof-line spoiler;" however, it really looks like a new employee on the assembly line mistakenly affixed it to the roof instead of the trunk.

The base price for a Focus S sedan is $15,520; our SES coupe came in at $20,615. The base price is $17,570. Add $745 for ABS and stability control, $795 for a moon 'n tune package (after a $475 discount) that adds a moon roof and upgraded audio system, and $810 for heated leather seats.

That's a bit steep, but it follows the industry trend of adding features to small cars.

And the Focus, especially the coupe, is a small car. It's listed as a five-passenger, but the rear seat isn't for full-size people. This is a one- or two-person car with lots of space for "stuff." Besides the rear seat/shelf, there's a commodious trunk.


The 2.0-liter four-banger puts out 140 horsepower and 136 lb.-ft. of torque. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but it moves the 2,588-pound Focus along quite nicely.

We were following a slightly older Focus sedan along a hilly back road in the Connecticut countryside over the July 4th weekend. The temptation was there to downshift and pass, just to show how the Focus breed had evolved. For the record, we didn't cross that double yellow, the other driver soon turned off, and we enjoyed taking the SES through the "S" curves.

The first Focus we tested was an early ZX3 hatchback back at the turn of the century. That was a fun ride, and so is the present SES.

Among the gauges is an "up" arrow, reminding you to up-shift for economy — a feature I first saw on a '60-something VW Beetle. That's part of an instrument panel with nicely contrasting red and blue/green illumination.

We missed not having a compass and/or outside temperature readout. Also, the side mirrors didn't fold in for self-preservation in tight parking areas.


The interior treatment was far from luxurious and that plastic world was saved by the heated leather seats, a touch which saves the cabin from strictly plebeian status. Color in the form of Ford's adjustable interior lighting also helps in that regard, and it gets interesting when you see a bottle of clear water change color as you cycle the lights in the base of the cup-holders through the available hues.

A leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls was welcome. As was the onboard computer and mileage meter.

Ford is hoping both the SE and SES coupes attract more "Millennials," those people born between 1980 and 1995, to its showrooms. "Eleven thousand Millennials reach driving age every day," said Sam De La Garza, Focus marketing manager.


It's a movement that already is underway with its own fan club — — a group that is, shall we say, focused, on the European Focus, which is scheduled to come to the United States in 2010.

Until then, the present Focus will continue doing what it's done right along; namely, sell well and please customers and look to the future.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. Really happy to see the Euro Focus is finally coming over.

    I wonder if they will bring over the convertible model, ever? For those of us that have kids (and need rear seats), have to drive in snow occasionally (where FWD is better) and can't afford a VW, Audi, BMW, Lexus or Infiniti, it would be a nice fit.

    Posted by J July 29, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Ford has tried really hard (and with some limited success) to keep the focus competitive, but the fact of the matter is this model has not been fully redesigned since its introduction 10 years ago as a 2000 model. When ford "freshened" the lineup they chose not to switch to the Euro spec focus they had newly introduced at the time but stuck with the old architecture and drive train. I have always liked the focus for its driving dynamics, but it got left in the dust about 5 years ago as Honda, VW, Mazda, Toyota, and Hyundai/Kia kept introducing all new models of their small sedans and hatches every 4 or 5 years. I hope the euro-spec focus and snappy new fusion demonstrate a renewed commitment on Ford's part to invest across their entire lineup of vehicles.

    Posted by WVW in West Newton July 29, 09 12:06 PM
  1. As a Millennial myself I did go into the Ford dealership looking for a new car. I actually liked the redesigned look of the new Focus concept I saw in the magazines and hoped to snag one that looked similar.

    At the deathership I find the Focus to have been extremely cut down versus the concept I liked. And no Arrival Blue Metallic. And even the chrome 'vent' accent piece was left off of the affordable trims.

    The overall look of the actual Focus, as you can see from the pics, has so many cheap points to it. From the matte black plasitc window door frame meeting with the gloss black of the stationary window to the thick black surround of the stationary window itself; awkward and cheap.

    There are some good points though. Seating position is great. For a small car it rides high. The tan interior looks fresh and the split folding read seats are extremely handy. Chrome rimmed guages are always a plus and the optional lighting Ford offers is usless but cool item that us Millenials yearn for.

    So if Ford could fix the odd matching of materials for the exterior I would have no problem with this vehicle.

    I too would like to see the convertable model come over here from Europe.

    Posted by Andy July 29, 09 01:19 PM
  1. Just rented the four dour version in Houston for a week. My co-worker and I kept saying how surpised we were with this car. It was a blast to drive and the mileage was awesome. It's not very nice looking but bang for the buck it's a winner if not a sleeper. Considering these cars can be had for under $15K makes it a no brainer. My conclusion was that it is a car that more people need to know about. The euro version will have my attention when it arrives. I wonder if the Fusion drives this well ....

    Posted by bostongmw August 3, 09 12:07 PM
  1. Cash for clunkers just got my father one of these (AT) for 12.5K out the door

    Posted by Texter August 11, 09 11:28 AM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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