Road Test: 2010 Ford Focus SES

Having overcome one of the rockiest starts in life — there were 10 recalls on the 2000 model Focus alone — Ford’s entry-level sedan has finally cleaned up its act. According to the J.D. Power Initial Quality ratings from 2009, the Focus ranks a solid 4.5 (out of five), which is the same as the Honda Civic and better than the Toyota Corolla (4). The irony is that this happened just in time for the current car to be replaced.

Thankfully, it bows out in favour of the European model due in about a year, which promises to raise the entry-level stakes when it eventually arrives.

The four-door SES sedan tested came pretty much loaded–air conditioning, the usual power items along with a height-adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering and a decent audio system. It is a tidy package that has a couple of other pleasant surprises awaiting the driver.

First, quality is very good — decent materials, tight seams and no rattles/squeaks when the road gets rough.

Second, the cabin layout is logical, with large audio controls sitting above the climate controls and comfortable front bucket seats. The instrument panel is also attractive, with white-faced dials standing out against a black background. There is also enough room for four adults to ride in comfort as long as the front seats are not fully rearward. Carrying a fifth person is not recommended as the centre seat is on the hard side and the central tunnel intrusion is large. The 60/40-split/folding rear seat then accentuates the roomy 13.8-cubic-foot trunk.

More impressive are two items that are as much safety-related than anything. The first is MyKey. It allows the driver to set various operating parameters — the car chimes at pre-selected speeds to warn the driver said speed has been attained, the radio does not work until the seat belts are buckled and it prevents the AdvanceTrac traction/electronic stability control system from being deactivated. For a parent, it is a godsend, acting as a surrogate.

The second item is Sync, which allows the driver to “talk” to a paired cellphone, radio or MP3 player and tell each what to do. Sync also dials 911 if an air bag deploys. A small display at the top of the centre stack keeps the driver informed. The design and ease of Sync’s use takes Bluetooth to the next step.

The Focus SES is powered by a peppy 2.0-litre four-cylinder that puts 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque at the driver’s disposal, which is enough for most eventualities. There’s decent snap off the line and mid-range is strong, especially when the engine is teamed with the five-speed manual box.

Testing put the car’s zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time at 9.7 seconds and the more important 80-to-120-km/h passing time at 7.5 seconds. Neither gets one’s heart pumping, but the engine’s work ethic and easygoing demeanour (even when it’s pushed toward redline) is well suited to a family sedan.

The five-speed manual transmission underscores the SES’s sportier overtones. The clutch is light and progressive and the bite point is in the perfect position, which minimizes clutch slip during a fast takeoff. Likewise, the transmission’s gate is well defined, so shifting up through the gears is a painless, balk-free venture.

The SES’s suspension has been given a much-needed massage. While it shares its front struts and multi-link rear suspension with the lesser models, the tuning is noticeably tauter and there are larger anti-roll bars front (22 millimetres) and rear (20 mm). Upping the tire size to P215/45R17 then brings the needed lateral grip.

All of this means the SES responds surprisingly well to driver input. Yes, it will understeer when pushed to the limit and there is a hint of body roll, but neither gets to the point where the driver starts to pucker up when pressing on through a looping on-ramp.

Likewise, the steering is both communicative and precise, pointing the car into a corner with poise and keeping the driver up to speed on what’s happening where the rubber meets the road. The bottom line is that the SES is a car that’s actually fun to drive, and there are not many cars with a $20,399 sticker that are as accomplished.

It seems like an eternity has slipped by since the first Focus roared (or should that be sputtered?) on to Canadian roads. Just as it is being readied for retirement, it has finally grown up. It handles very nicely, especially in SES guise, it has decent power, good fuel economy (a test average of 8.1 litres per 100 km) and it will accommodate a family of four comfortably.

Imagine how successful the Focus could have been had its quality been at Day One where it is today.


Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive compact sedan

Engine: 2.0L DOHC four-cylinder

Power: 140 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 136 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Brakes: Front disc/rear drum with ABS Tires P215/45R17

Base price/as tested: $15,499/$20,399

Destination charge: $1,350

Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km: 8.5 city, 5.6 hwy.

Standard features: Air conditioning, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, six-way manual driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/Sirius satellite radio with four speakers, steering wheel-mounted controls, auxiliary input and voice activation, MyKey, Sync hands-free cellphone and audio access, remote keyless entry, anti-theft with engine immobilizer, ambient lighting, compass and outside temperature readout, trip computer, block heater, body kit with rear spoiler, fog lights.

Photograph by: Graeme Fletcher for National Post