If you ask the people who’ve spent a lot of time around me, talk to me on a routine basis, or possibly have spent more than a half-hour in my presence, they’ll tell you that I’m an argumentative person. I love a good argument, it gives me a chance jog my memory on a wide range of topics, improves my mental agility, and lets me stretch out to see things from someone else’s viewpoint. Arguments are like a gym membership for the mind, and I think it’s something that people should do more often, if only to really test what they believe in and exercise those critical thinking parts of the brain that go seriously underused these days. As listeners to the podcast will attest to, I’ve never shied away from making my opinions heard, and if there was some way to allocate all the time I spend saying the same line sixty-three billion times in an effort to make it sound like I haven’t coated the inside of my mouth with Vaseline and instead spend it talking and arguing with real people out there, I would do it in a heartbeat.

This willingness to argue also extends to people I work with. About a month and a half ago, I got a bit worked up over an article by our own Jack Baruth. The actual point of that article aside, I had to admit that I couldn’t say for sure whether or not he was specifically right about the Ford Focus being a better car than the Saturn Astra, as I’d never driven either car before. Nothing aggravates me more than having nothing more to back up my arguments than hearsay, so here I am, one day after receiving a Ford Focus, given the somewhat intimidating task of giving a fair review to a car that I’ve blasted more than a few times for being uglier than a shotgun suicide and so outdated that the chassis could have been designed by Henry Ford, Sr. Now, this part of the review won’t be my final conclusion, I’m heading out soon for a late-night excursion to some of my favorite local southern California driving roads where I can see if it dislocates its hip when it tries to dance like it used to, among other things, but I’ve had it for a day or so, and since first impressions mean a lot with a car, I’ll share mine with you. We’ve got a few other new features coming out soon, hopefully, which will add a little more depth to our impressions of the cars we review.

First off, yes, it’s still ugly. It’s just not a particularly attractive car from any angle, even the interior, which follows the proud American interior design aesthetic of “a big slab of cheap silver plastic”. Anyone who says that they like the way the Focus looks should be carefully observed and kept away from sharp objects, since they are obviously a danger to themselves and others if they purposefully choose to inflict such a horrifying shape on the general public. Once you start it up, it’s more than a little noisy on the inside, but not overly annoying once you shift into fifth gear to shut it up. Speaking of sound, the engine doesn’t really make a particularly good noise, just a generic buzzing that gets louder as you push the thin pedal on the right deeper into the carpet. This buzzing doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with how fast you’re going, as beyond 4000 RPM or so, it continues to get louder but accelerates at roughly the same speed as it did before. This particular example is equipped with a manual gearbox, so I can at least choose to make the engine louder myself, but it’s not a very good one, as the shifter seems to be attached to the gearbox using chewing gum and string instead of steel. The steering wheel must use the same system, as even when I took one of my favorite freeway offramps at speed (a wonderful mix of a long straight followed by a 180 degree banked decreasing radius right hander), I never got the slightest idea of what the front wheels were doing, or if they even were attached to the steering wheel at all. And it’s not as if I’m expecting it to be some kind of high-performance sports car. I’ve driven plenty of small cheap cars before, and they usually give you some kind of indication that you’re taking this turn rather quickly and that the front end is about to break traction and send you careening into a drainage ditch. All of that said, it’s not as if any of these things are particularly horrible. With the sole exception of the styling, I haven’t found anything so far that made me want to get out of the Focus and hit it with a sledgehammer.

That’s not to say that everything about the car is bad, the ride is comfortable enough, I can tell through indirect means that it grips and turns pretty well, and the optional high-spec sound system is very nice. The main ace up this particular Focus’ sleeve is the fact that it’s equipped with Ford’s Sync voice-activated control system. It doesn’t have satellite navigation, but what it does have is plenty useful as it is. Setting up my phone and MP3 player only took a few minutes, and after spending some time figuring out what code phrases it needs to hear to do what I want it to do, I haven’t had a single problem with it since. Whenever some piece of software needs to be activated over the phone or if any other automated phone system needs dealing with, I’m the one in my family who makes the call because I have perfected my “computer word-recognition system” voice, but with Sync, I never had to use it once. Instead of having to spit out “Play ar-tist Bad Re-li-gion” before it decided I wanted to hear REM, I simply said “Play artist Bad Religion” and it instantly put on “Turn On The Light”. Sync is a very good piece of equipment and really adds a lot to the car, and since it only costs $395 more to get it installed if it’s available (the Mustang, Escape, Expedition and all Ford trucks can’t have it), I can’t see why you would get a Ford without it.

However, I’m not sure if the rest of the car is worth having just to have Sync. It’s showing itself to be a pretty mediocre car so far, but if it somehow comes alive in the corners, that’ll really change things for it. That, and a few other things, is something I’m going to be working on finding out over the next week. Hopefully, we’ll have some of those new features up and running soon, if not, I’ll have my final impressions of the Ford Focus up sometime next week.


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Kasey Kagawa

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