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Ford Focuses Away from Hatches


 

Just a week after Ford, in Frankfurt, showed a facelifted 2008 version of its European-market Focus and pulled the wraps off a concept called the Verve, which is expected to herald the design direction of future global small cars, the Dearborn automaker gave U.S. and Canadian automotive press — some of which were in attendance at Frankfurt — an up-close look at the 2008 U.S.-market Focus.

 

The version of the Focus that North America gets, which was first shown at the Detroit auto show this January, gets a very different redesign, with styling cues borrowed from several of Ford’s recent U.S. market successes, namely the Fusion and Edge. Like those vehicles, the Fusion gets a prominent chromed grille with horizontal bars — two here, instead of three in the aforementioned vehicles — along with revised sheetmetal all around, a cleaned-up rear appearance, and a revised, sleeker roofline.

 

In recent years, the U.S. Focus has remained competitive with the bulk of the market but has hardly been at the head of the pack by most assessments. It has lagged especially in refinement, ride quality, and interior appointments, and remains based on the first-generation global Focus that was first introduced nearly a decade ago, while that global version has continued to evolve, as a second-generation car, since 2005.

 

Ford aims to solve those issues and make the Focus a great deal more appealing with this latest iteration of the U.S. Focus, which is a step more than a stop-gap refresh but short of a full redesign. The new version boasts a dramatically improved interior, plus a completely recalibrated suspension, better road-noise isolation, and a number of other changes.

 

The only thing missing here, to us and to a lot of shoppers, is a hatchback.

 

Since its U.S. launch in 1999, the Focus has been offered in a wide range of body styles, including three- and five-door hatchbacks, four-door sedans, and wagons. The hatchbacks and wagons have never been big sellers in our market, but they have, albeit, been a significant portion of Focus sales.

 

That’s before mentioning that hatchbacks are clearly in the midst of a revival that’s been underway for several years, albeit gradually. With the success of hatchback body styles of vehicles such as the Nissan Versa and Mazda 3, plus cars like Dodge’s hatchback-only Caliber and the upcoming Saturn Astra, the increased supply and demand is clear.

 

So it’s curious that Ford decided on the coupe, a model it hasn’t had since the ZX2 model offered in the previous, ovoid-styled Escort line. Beth Donovan, product marketing engineer for small and medium cars, said that among cars in this size class, sedans cover 65 percent of the market, and the Focus sedan and coupe that were decided on results in “the best car for the most of the market.” Donovan added that during the Focus’s development time (about 32 months, according to chief nameplate engineer, Marcio Alfonso), the market share of hatchbacks in the Focus’s segment rose from 7 to 11 percent. A third bodystyle in this new Focus lineup isn’t ruled out completely, said Donovan, adding that a five-door hatchback would have been the product team’s third preference.

 

North American design chief Peter Horbury alluded to one of the reasons why the company decided to do a coupe; while coupes and sedans typically carry different rooflines, especially toward the rear of the car, he confirmed that the roofline is identical between the sedan and coupe — with the coupe’s proportions slightly compromised to achieve that — a choice apparently made to keep manufacturing and development costs down.

 

Stay tuned later this week as we bring you our take on how the revamped Focus drives, and give a rundown on Ford’s much-anticipated new Sync interface.

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