The Ford Focus: Take Two

In January, we rated the Ford Focus among the worst cars of 2008 because “the dashboard looks like an ’80s ghetto blaster.” Maybe that was harsh.

The cockpit does feel overdone, festooned with buttons. Considering the price, there’s a lot of plastic there. And the triangular appliqué adorning the front fenders serves the same purpose as stripes on running shoes.

Still, you’d need a serious New Year’s hangover to call this the worst. It has its qualities.

You get a quiet ride and smooth with plenty of room for four passengers. It drinks a respectable 5.7L/100 km on the highway, though a somewhat greedier 8.5L/100 km in the city. Some nifty standards include the bum-loving seat warmers and remote keyless-entry system.

But what really got my attention was the communications/entertainment interface. Called Sync, it’s simply the best speech-recognition software I’ve seen. It actually understands English, exactly unlike the cable and phone companies’ software.

To launch any function, your eyes need never leave the road. Press the media button and it prompts you from there. Tell it to dial a number (it’s Bluetooth compatible) and it immediately works. Imagine that! No interminable training it to understand your nasal lisp. For the hell of it, I spoke in a dreadfully bad Scottish accent and it still understood what I was saying (though it did sound like it was stifling a smirk). It indexes your iPod, taking about a half-hour to log four gigabytes, while recharging it.

Then you can tell your car to play tunes from your iPod by song, band, genre, album or playlist. Which may feel a bit “Knight Rider,” another silly ’80s icon, but it sure is better than a ghetto blaster.

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