Test Drive: '08 Focus is quite nice, but rivals are, too

Ford hopes to hit the car market at the convergence of two advantageous phenomenon: Shoppers giving small cars more consideration because they use less fuel, and a "small is big" trend, in which people decide they've been too indulgent and move into smaller houses, buy plainer clothes, drive smaller cars.

We'll see.

Focus might fall off your list because of desirable rivals for about the same price — recently redesigned Honda Civic, an overhauled Toyota Corolla coming soon, the sportier-feeling Mazda3 or, if you're not too conservative, Toyota's newly redesigned Scion xB. It's roomier than Focus, more powerful, lots more fun and much hipper. Focus gets better fuel economy, though.

Nice enough car, but Focus could be a hard sell against the competition.

2008 Ford Focus

•What is it? Small, front-wheel drive, two- or four-door sedan. More refined, different-looking inside and out, and more comfortable than previous model. Manufactured at Wayne, Mich.

•How soon? On sale this month.

•How much? S two-door with manual transmission starts at $14,695 including $620 destination charge. SE two door is $15,695. SES two-door is $16,695.

S four-door starts at $14,995. SE four-door is $15,995. SES four-door is $16,995.

Automatic transmission is an $815 option on all models.

•Who'll buy? Everybody, Ford hopes: See, it has these youth accessories, so c'mon kids. And, hey, it drives like a mainstream car, so take a look, mom and dad. It's not terribly expensive, so put it on the list, budget-minded of all ages. It's built in Michigan, so give it a tumble, Yank-o-philes. Pretty good mileage, so consider it, fuel savers.

•How many? Ford, in the modern manner, won't forecast. The automaker has been averaging about 14,800 Focuses a month through 2006 and so far in '07.

•What's the drivetrain? 2-liter, four-cylinder engine rated 140 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 136 pounds-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm; five-speed manual transmission. Traction control is optional.

Engines in cars sold in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, required to meet stricter anti-pollution standards, are rated 136 hp at 4,250 rpm, 133 lbs.-ft. at 4,250 rpm.

•What's the safety gear? Front- and side-impact air bags in front, head-curtain bags front and rear. Anti-lock brakes are optional.

Stability control is not available. The government requires all cars and trucks to have stability control by Sept.1, 2011.

•What's the rest? Air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible stereo with auxiliary input jack; power steering, brakes; tilt-adjustable steering column; rear-window defroster. More details at www.ford.com.

• How big? 175 inches long, 67.9 inches wide, 58.6 inches tall on a 102.9-inch wheelbase. Weights range from 2,588 lbs. (two-door, manual transmission) to 2,642 lbs. (four-door, automatic).

Rated to carry 827 lbs. of people, cargo. Don't tow with it, Ford says.

Passenger space is listed as 93.3 cubic feet, trunk as 13.8 cubic ft.

•How thirsty? All versions are rated 24 miles per gallon in town and 28 mpg in combined city-highway driving. Automatic is rated 33 on the highway, manual is 35 on the highway.

Trip computer in automatic test car showed 24.4 mpg in 165 miles of suburban driving.

Manual test cars registered about 27 mpg in short trips mainly on rural two-lane roads.

Tank holds 13 gallons. Regular (87-octane) gasoline is specified.

•Overall:Classy, pleasant to drive, but crowded in back and lacks safety head restraints in rear.

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