Even nearly a decade into its lifespan, the Ford Focus is still doing a pretty good job of holding its own. In a small-car segment dominated by imports, the Focus generally finishes in a respectable 3rd place sales-wise behind more popular Japanese rivals. Some credit goes to the significant refresh Ford performed last year, which blessed the Focus with a new coupe body style and an interior upgrade, among other changes. Mechanically, last year's Focus stood pat, but there was still enough inherent goodness to keep plenty of small-car buyers happy.
For the 2009 Focus, Ford has made a few more changes. It seems Ford listened to criticism about the car's odd styling elements, as the coupe has been given sleeker-looking front and rear fascias, and those dopey-looking fake fender vents have been put out to pasture. On the SES trim, Ford throws in a few exclusives, including dark-painted wheels, a new sport exhaust (which increases horsepower a bit) and a shorter final-drive ratio for the automatic transmission, to improve acceleration. The rest of the Focus is pretty much the same, though stability control is now an option again -- oddly, it debuted in the early 2000s, only to disappear in 2005.
The 2009 Ford Focus certainly has some things going for it. Its fuel economy is better than average, and the Sync interface, which allows voice control of MP3 players and cell phones, works impressively well. The Focus is also priced competitively. But those looking for engaging handling and a premium ownership experience will want to look elsewhere. The Mazda 3, for example, is a much more engaging car to drive (though markedly thirstier). The Honda Civic is slightly more expensive, but it's a much better all-around performer. Overall, Ford's aged Focus is still a viable choice for a small sedan or coupe, but you'll certainly want to check out other options before deciding.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2009 Ford Focus is available as a sedan or coupe. The four-door body style is offered in four trim levels. The base S model comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a tilting steering wheel and a four-speaker audio system with a single-CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio jack. Cruise control and satellite radio are on the options list. The SE adds full power accessories and Sirius Satellite Radio, and options like Sync, an upgraded stereo with a six-CD changer, heated side mirrors, chrome exterior trim, faux-aluminum interior trim, an upgraded driver seat, customizable interior lighting and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The SES trim will get you 16-inch alloy wheels and upgraded tires, foglamps and a rear spoiler, along with firmer suspension tuning for better handling. This well-equipped Focus also comes standard with much of the SE's optional equipment, including Sync and cruise control. Top-of-the-line SEL models have all SES features, plus chrome exterior trim and heated leather seats.
The Focus coupe is available in the SE and SES trim levels. They are largely similar to their sedan counterparts, though you'll find a sport exhaust and 17-inch wheels on the SES coupe.
Powertrains and Performance:
Just one engine is available on the 2009 Ford Focus, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder good for 140 hp and 136 pound-feet of torque. A cleaner version of that engine that earns PZEV tailpipe-emissions certification is also available for California-emissions states. That engine makes 132 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque.
The standard transmission on all Focus trim levels is a five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic is available as an option. The automatic on SES coupes is geared slightly shorter for better acceleration. Fuel economy for the Ford Focus is rated at 24 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined for the manual transmission. Opting for the automatic drops the highway estimate to 33 mpg.
Six airbags are standard on all Focus models, including front-seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags for both front- and rear-seat occupants. Antilock brakes and stability control are optional on all trim levels.
In government crash tests, the Ford Focus sedan earned four stars (out of a possible five) for its protection of front occupants in head-on collisions. In the side-impact test, the sedan received five stars for protecting front occupants and four stars for protection of those in the rear. Curiously, the Focus coupe earned a five-star rating for frontal impacts but just a three-star rating for front and rear side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Focus a top rating of "Good" for frontal-offset crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The interior of the 2009 Ford Focus looks contemporary, thanks to last year's refresh. The front seats are flat but prove supportive on long drives. Compared to other small cars, however, the Focus' interior is nothing special in terms of design and materials, even with the optional aluminum-like trim highlights and colored interior lighting.
One key advantage for the Focus is Ford's Sync system. Essentially a hands-free voice-recognition interface, the Microsoft-developed Sync adds Bluetooth functionality to the Focus but requires fewer steps than other systems. You don't have to save voice tags or build lists of phone numbers, as Sync accesses your device's phone book wirelessly. It offers similar control for the iPod, Zune and other PlaysForSure portable MP3 players.
The 2009 Ford Focus will get you where you want to go, but the driving experience is not particularly special. The quick steering is nice, but even the sport-tuned SES models lack the energetic handling feel that earlier Focus models were known for. The 2.0-liter engine is adequate in terms of power, though it makes raucous noises at higher engine speeds. Although five-speed automatics are becoming increasingly common in this segment, the Focus makes do just fine with four. Its gears are well-spaced, and the transmission rarely shifts up and down looking for the right gear, even on steep inclines. On the highway, road noise is about average for this segment and wind noise is nicely quelled.