THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2008 Ford Focus SES sedan.
DOWN THE ROAD: Redesigned for 2008, the Focus loses its hatchback and wagon versions, but as the small-car market booms, due to rising gasoline prices, sales of this sedan should gain even more momentum. The ride on Tampa Bay roads, even during unsavory weather conditions, is stable, smooth and comfortable.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: A 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine develops 140 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 136 pounds-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. The front-wheel-drive sedan is mated to a 5-speed manual or the optional 4-speed automatic transmission for an additional $815. Suspension is handled by an independent MacPerson strut with stabilizer bar in the front; a control blade multilink independent suspension covers the rear. Power-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes handle braking duties adequately.
LOOK & FEEL: The front fascia shows off a two-bar chromed grille with a Ford emblem. The sides sport a fender appliqué made up of horizontal bars with a matte finish. A body-colored spoiler, chrome exhaust pipe and a white arc slicing through the red lens of the tail lamps take up the rear. Ford's much-touted Sync integrates Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and digital media players, including iPods, through voice activation. If personalization is your cup of tea, the $295 ambient light option allows you to choose one of seven colors for front and rear foot wells and front and rear center console cup holders. Metallic finish on the center console and dashboard, four-way manual driver's seat and a three-spoke leather steering wheel are other notable features.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbags for both rows and tire pressure monitoring system. Opt for the $385 four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control.
OUT THE DOOR: $16,375, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P195/60R15; wheelbase, 102.9 inches; length, 175 inches; weight, 2,642 pounds; fuel capacity, 13 gallons; highway, 33 mpg; city, 24 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Focus sales were up 24 percent in March from a year ago the same month. No surprise there, we must say. As gasoline prices edge above $3.70 a gallon, the small car should be a sales leader for Ford. Best of all, this is one hot ride for folks who like to customize their vehicles.