Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Car Review: 2010 Ford Focus SES

If you’ve taken the time to read my complete profile and some of my previous posts, you are probably aware that, like most 12 year old boys trapped in men’s’ bodies, I like cars. I used to have a subscription to Car & Driver back in high school when it was expected that young men would dream of the cars they would someday own. Or, at least, cars they think they would own someday. That is, before being rudely slapped by the middle class reality of having to make the choice between having a fun/cool car and a useful car.

I remember well reading those glowing articles about Corvettes and Porsches and Ferraris…and just about every other car on the planet that I’ll probably never own. I can’t remember an auto magazine ever really saying anything truly bad about a car. Except for maybe the Yugo. They really had to stretch to say anything nice about that car. “Um….it’s kinda cheap….until you factor in repair costs and parts availability….and the fact that you’re taking your life into your hands every time you drive it.”

Seriously, though, one fairly recent article (at least it’s not decades old…I think) stands out in mind right now. One of the car magazines had Mario Andretti drive several high end performance cars including a custom tuned Corvette (it was one of the big name customizers, but I can’t remember which one). I can’t remember all the other cars involved in the test. There might have been a Dodge Viper, a Porsche and a few other cars. Suffice it to say that they were all super fast performance cars that cost more than I make in a year. The thing that sticks out in my mind about the article is Mario Andretti nonchalantly talking about driving the Corvette at 200 miles per hour and noting that it did not seem like the ‘Vette’s aerodynamics had been thoroughly studied at those speeds because the handling was getting a little loose.

Oh, really Mario? You think? I bet the engineers at Chevy are busy right now studying the aerodynamics of the ‘Vette at Mach 2 thanks to you thinking that maybe, just maybe, someone will try and take a ‘Vette out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to break the land speed record.

You see? That’s the problem with car magazines. They don’t write reviews for the rest of us. I am not a short Italian with decades of experience driving high performance cars on racetracks. Of course I had dreams of being a race car driver just like millions of other boys (and girls) when I was younger, but I’m not likely to ever fit into a race car much less have the capability necessary to extract every ounce of performance from a car I’ll never be able to afford. Today, I know one guy from high school who actually drives race cars. He also owns his own engineering company making race car parts. Yeah, I’m jealous. He’s the same guy who, in high school, delivered pizzas in a 1973 Ford Mustang equipped with dual Holley 850 CFM carbs mounted on top of a tunnel ram intake. He told me he thinks he lost money at that gig. Yeah, I’d say that’s a safe assumption.

So, where are the practical car reviews with information people really need to know? For instance, I’m 6’4” tall and weigh around 240 pounds (give or take…I haven’t weighed myself in a few months). I need to know if the car is designed for clowns and midget Japanese people. Seriously. I remember when the Toyota came out with the MR2 back in the late 80s. I was looking to buy a car and wound up at the Toyota dealership to see what they had to offer (remember, this is before the internet). I attempted to sit in the MR2 they had on the showroom floor only to find out I had to stick my head out the sunroof to fit. My head literally stuck out the sunroof by 2 or 3 inches. My eyes were directly in line with the roof. Scratch one car off the potential purchase list.

What about soccer moms? Don’t they need to know if the front seat headrests offer sufficient protection from backseat projectile vomiting? Don’t they want to know if the manufacturer offers a “cone of silence” option or a “stop poking me” straight jacket option? These are much more important issues than zero to 60 times for the average person. At least, I’d read those articles.

Anyway, that was a rather lengthy set up for today’s feature which is my review of the 2010 Ford Focus SES.

First, the official disclaimers and disclosures.

1) Ford Motor Company is NOT paying me even one thin dime for this review. As far as I know, FMC has no clue that I even exist aside from the recall notice I received on the 2002 Ford Windstar sitting in my driveway.

2) I (actually my company) paid for the privilege of being able to rent this vehicle from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Again, no promotional consideration was paid by Enterprise to me for this review. Aside from the guy at the Enterprise rental counter, I don’t think they have a clue who I am either.

3) I like Fords. I’ve owned six of them so far; and, in all likelihood, I will own more of them before I die. I have nothing against Dodge or Chevy (except for, maybe, the whole government bailout thing which we won’t talk about right now) or any other car manufacturer. I have also owned three Nissan products at various times including the 300,000+ mile Maxima parked in the driveway.

4) I am not now, nor will I be in the near future, in market for a new car. In fact, I will probably never buy a brand spanking new car ever again. I’m more than happy to let some other hapless soul take the hickey on depreciation while I merrily pick up gently used cars for more reasonable prices.

As I mentioned yesterday, renting a car to drive to Austin was more cost effective for the company than me flying on Southwest Airlines or driving my own car. Enterprise Rent-a-Car is one of three preferred rental companies approved by my company. I normally rent through Avis, but I thought I’d give Enterprise a try this go round. I went by the airport to pick up the car Sunday afternoon since they wouldn’t be open when I needed to leave on Monday morning.

The company policy gives me approval to rent an “intermediate” sized car. I’m not sure who exactly comes up with the definitions for rental car sizes, but my guess is they used to work in military intelligence. The guy at the Enterprise rental counter told me I had a choice of the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Dodge Caliber and the Toyota Corolla. I opted for the Ford because, like I said, I like Fords.

I was handed the keys to a “Sangria Red” 2010 Ford Focus SES fairly well equipped with heated leather seats (like I really needed HEATED leather in mid June in Texas), a sunroof, 17” aluminum wheels, a cute little spoiler on the trunk lid, cruise control, power locks and windows and the Ford Focus Premium Sound System. That’s what it tells you on its little digital screen every time you press the "on" button. Like it needs to remind you that you have the PREMIUM sound system. I’d think I’d remember. Since, if I were the owner, I would have paid for it and all which Ford’s website says would have cost me about $18,780 not including tax, title and license, dealer installed extras and the fabric protection they're always trying to sell you. Or, at least, they were still trying to sell that junk last time I bought a car.

This particular car also had the Ford SYNC in car connectivity system which would have allowed me to plug my iPhone into the car had I had the cord to do so and the time to figure out how to make it work since Enterprise doesn’t trust its renters with their cars’ owner’s manuals. Needless to say, I didn’t get to take advantage of that feature and tell you how wonderful it is. Or not. I wouldn’t know.

Now, above, I mentioned that this car has a sunroof. I also mentioned my previous experience with a certain MR2 and its sunroof. I’ve never had good luck with sunroof equipped cars given my height. It is absolutely true that the world is designed for average sized people, and I am not average sized. One of these days I’ll have to tell the story of looking for clothes during middle school and high school. For now, I will say this: they don’t make many clothes for people 6’4” tall weighing less 200 pounds.

I digress again. I apologize. This is supposed to be a respectable car review. I mention the whole previous sunroof experience thing to tell you this: I had NO CLUE this car had a sunroof until I was half way home from the airport with the car. This is a good thing. It means that I didn’t sit in the car and immediately have my head shoved 45 degrees to one side by the lower ceiling height common to most sunroof equipped vehicles. Brownie points to Ford for thinking of us tall folks who might want to enjoy a sunroof now and then.

There is another little nifty feature that I discovered when I left the house at a little before 6:00 AM Monday morning which is Ford’s “ambient interior lighting.” You won’t notice this feature in broad daylight…’cause it’s not dark. Duh. Seriously, though, this is another Brownie point for Ford engineers. They have strategically placed little groups of blue/purple tinted LED lights in useful places like the cup holders, the coin tray, the sides of the center console pointing into the front floor boards, etc. to make it easier for people to find stuff they’ve dropped while driving in the dark. This way, you don’t have to hunt around for the dome light switch and have your night vision destroyed just to pick up the donut and comics section of the morning paper you dropped while trying to move your electric shaver to your other hand. I thought it was a cool feature. You may feel differently. You’re entitled to your wrongheaded feelings.

So, how was the interior comfort? Overall, I felt the interior was good. Not great, but not horrible either. I mentioned the leather seats. Honestly, it seems to me that putting leather seats on a Ford Focus is a little like making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but who am I to argue? The steering wheel was tilt adjustable which is a must for me. The idiot gauges in the dash cluster were intelligently laid out and easy to read with the minor exception of the little arrow on the gas gauge which tells you on which side of the car the gas tank filler spout is located. The arrow kinda blended in with the “F” and made it look like a pointy “P”.

Another minor gripe is the driver’s side arm rest and window sill locations. I have always tended to park my left elbow on the arm rest or window sill and hold the steering wheel with my left hand. I know it’s not proper driving technique, and I know it’s a tad lazy. Sue me. I just find it comfortable, and it works for me. Except in the Focus. Ford seems to have been intent on thwarting lazy elbow people like me. The window sill was too high and the arm rest was too low for me to casually drape my monkey arms where they are accustomed to residing.

The Ford Focus Premium Sound System controls were a little busy for my tastes. In fact, it took me a while to notice the little button that said “Sirius”. Oh yes. This car had satellite radio. For those of you who have not experienced satellite radio yet, let me just say that it is THE must have item for any long road trip. I was also a little annoyed by the location of the tuner knob on the far right of the radio control cluster. We are talking a land far, far away from the driver’s seat. As mentioned in another post, I have monkey man arms. I have a full yard+ of wing span hanging off each shoulder. For me to say something is a little out of reach should tell you average sized folks a thing or two. If I have to lean a little forward and to the right to use the knob, short folks are gonna have fits.

One last thing on interior comfort. This is not the car to take on a cross country road trip unless you are prepared to stop every couple of hours and massage a little life back into your legs and butt. I don’t know why; but, after the first hour and half or so, the seats made my butt hurt and my legs stiff. I am by no means grossly overweight, but those leather coated seats were just not working for me. Maybe petite, short, little girls who weigh 100 pounds soaking wet might have better luck. The seats had support in all the right places, and I didn’t feel like I was shoe horned in or swimming in too much seat either. But, my legs and my butt were just not liking the seats. I actually looked forward to walking a mile after dropping the car off back at the rental location.

Now, let’s talk about performance and styling. This is not a race car. It’s a small sedan designed for fuel efficiency and economy. Here again, putting “sporty” aluminum wheels and a trunk lid spoiler on a car like this is almost blindly optimistic as they really serve no other purpose than to dress up an otherwise unexciting body design. That’s not to say the Focus is ugly. I just don’t know too many people who will get whiplash when one drives by.

Ford’s inline four cylinder engine is not going to win you any races at the local drag strip…especially with an automatic transmission. I remember driving the 3 door hatchback Focus when they first came out. That one had a five speed manual which made the Focus a little more fun to drive than the automatic equipped sedan we are discussing here. Again, the sedan is not designed to be a “fun” car. It’s designed to get people from A to B in one piece while not requiring a bank loan to fill the tank. The engine does have all the power you need to get around town and drive at 70+ miles per hour on the highway without getting squashed by eighteen wheelers.

Ford claims the Focus can get up to 35 miles per gallon gas mileage. Based on 7 hours or so worth of driving, I’d say the Ford engineers are actually erring just on the low side for this one. For the approximately 400 mile roundtrip, I averaged 36.2 MPG according to the Focus’ mileage display while driving right around 70 MPH most of the way and encountering some heavy rush hour traffic. I even saw 45 MPG at one point when I was flirting with some very basic “hypermiling” techniques just for giggles. I think it would even be possible to get 50+ MPH out of this car on the highway if you were not insistent on driving like a deranged type A personality on a caffeine high.

My only gripes performance wise (understanding that this is not a “performance” car) are the brakes and the steering. Don’t misunderstand me, both the brakes and steering are good on this car. Perhaps too good.

I had trouble getting used to the brakes. Maybe it was the weight of the car. Maybe it was the size of the brake pedal, or Ford used some freakishly large brake discs for the size of the car. I don’t know. However, it seemed that, whenever I lightly tapped the brakes, the nose dived something serious and we were well on our way to being stopped dead in the middle of the highway before I knew what was happening. This could be a potential safety plus or minus depending on your perspective. One thing is for sure: I didn’t have to worry about rear ending anyone in rush hour traffic coming out of Austin. Getting rear ended…that’s another story.

The steering was equally sensitive. There was NO play at all in the steering. You breathe on the steering wheel, and the car makes a change in direction. Again, maybe it’s just me. I do think the car handled very well for its size. Cornering was good. It didn’t feel like the front end was pushing or the back end wanted to see what the front end was doing. The tightness of the steering was actually a plus when you wanted to make a turn. Its turning radius is pretty short which made my morning u-turn into the donut shop parking lot much easier than it is in the Windstar.

Build quality appeared to be good throughout. The doors and trunk made solid “thunk” noises when you shut them. There were no annoying rattles or other quirky noises. In fact, the road noise was fairly minimal indicating fairly good insulation of the cabin.

My overall impression is that the Focus is a good car for its intended purpose. Some might even argue that it’s a great car for its intended purpose. I would consider buying one as a commuter car if I weren’t lucky enough to be working from home.


  1. You know, K, I'm sorry. I thought you were a smart man. But a Ford? Really? You know, they've already circled the problem for you. It's right there on the logo.

    Not a fan of Fords, though I did own the Mighty Mav and that was a car that would never stop.

    Will never buy a Ford again after owning a Taurus. Bad, bad memories. And just ask Earl about his experience with his truck.

  2. GunDiva, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I saw "Earl's" post when he was bemoaning his misfortune with his Ford diesel. I've heard all the jokes including the circle joke. First On Race Day. Found On Road Dead. Fix Or Repair Daily. Etc. Etc. I've just never had a major problem with one, and the Ford dealers in my area have always treated me right. I've had 2 Thunderbirds (a '73 and a '95), a '88 Tempo, a '97 F150, a '02 Windstar and a '83 (I think) F150 "project truck" that is currently awaiting time and energy for me to tinker with it.

    I do have to agree with you about the Taurus. The Queen purchased one shortly after we met, and it was a mess. She forced the dealer to take it back after a week and went and bought herself a '95 Jeep Grand Cherokee which is still sitting in the driveway. My dad had one as a company car way back when they were first introduced, and I seem to recall it going through a couple of transmissions. Lesson learned? Avoid fleet vehicles of any make.

  3. 1. I don't know anything about cars except where the gas and key go.
    2. I was raised by a Chevy man and am married to a Dodge man, so I think it's mandatory for me to dislike Fords...that being said there is something to be said for the fact that Ford seems to be the only financially stable Car manufacturer right now.
    3. It's laughable that anyone would classify a Focus as "intermediate" sized!?
    4. Kudos to you for confessing to owning a Tempo :)

    Good review, Mr. Erickson, good review.

  4. Mel,
    1. You are hereby commanded to go forth and learn more.
    2. Thou shalt verily worship at the altar of fiscal responsibility.
    3. I agree. I suppose they think it's the size between compact and "standard"; therefore, it is intermediate. However, that begs the question of why a Pontiac G6 is standard while a Nissan Maxima is full size.
    4. There is no shame in owning a practical car when you are but a poor, humble college student. That, however, did not alleviate the ration of crap doled out by friends who thought I should have bought the Mustang (for which I could not have afforded insurance at the time).

  5. But how does it handle at 200, 120, 80? 70 would matter. An Escort I drove was a little light at 70mph. A Marquee was too drifty in a cross wind. The Sable was the nicest car I rented.

  6. Lyndell, I wouldn't know nothing about 120 or 200. The closest I've ever been to either speed was doing a little over 100 in my '95 T-bird and on my motorcycle. I got close to 80 with the Focus at one point, and it handled the same as it did at 70. The Focus is essentially the Escort platform under a different moniker. It does feel light at speed but not dangerously so. Monday wasn't a windy day. So, I can't comment on crosswind stability. With the steering as twitchy as it was and as boxy as the design is, I'd say it would probably be a challenge in high winds. But, you'd probably get used to it just like I got used to driving the Windstar in windy conditions.

    Lastly, if the Sable was the nicest thing you've rented, may I suggest saving up a little and splurging on Hertz's prestige or fun collections. I rented a Jag XJ12 from them for the wedding with The Queen, and it was NICE.

  7. Hello , I do feel this really is a fantastic weblog. I stumbled on it on Yahoo , i’ll arrive again when yet again. Funds and liberty will be the finest method to adjust, could you be abundant and assist others.


I am not easily offended. Please feel free to express your opinions: good, bad or indifferent. Basically, the "Golden Rule" applies. You get what you give. Treat others like trash here, and your comments will be trashed accordingly. Rudeness and vulgarity will not be tolerated.