In 1998, Ford launched the Focus in Europe, as a successor to the legendary but aging Escort. Designed from the beginning to be Ford's first truly global small car, it was a wild success.
The Focus was the broadest application of Ford's 'New Edge' styling and the best execution to date. The chassis was similarly revolutionary, with expensive multi-link 'Control Blade' independent rear suspension at a time when the rest of the industry was transitioning to less costly and less complicated torsion beam set-ups. With such a sharply styled and thoughtfully conceived vehicle, the Focus quickly won over the media and new car buyers around the world.
In 1999, it was selected Car of the Year by seven top European auto magazines. That fall, the Focus went on sale in the US and was selected the 2000 North American Car of the Year a few months later, making it the first vehicle in automotive history to win the award on both sides of the Atlantic. It went on to garner many more distinctions from the automotive press, but more importantly, the Focus kept Ford's registers ringing around the globe. In 2000 and 2001, it was the best-selling car in the world.
In our little world, the Focus was doing gangbusters as well. Privateers campaigned them in the Speed World Challenge and SCCA ProRally series. The popular import drag racing series had not one, but two heavy-hitting Focus race teams: Ben Ma's seven-second, rear-wheel-drive Team AEBS Focus and Shawn Carlson's Meguiars front-drive dragster (which Hot Wheels committed to its collection, as did I). Things could not have been going better for the Focus.
Fast-forward to January and the 2007 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). In our Spinout coverage of this show, we take the 'new' Ford Focus to task in perhaps the soundest thrashing we have given a vehicle we didn't actually drive. Unwarranted? Unfair? I don't think so.Prior to the debut of the 2008 Focus at the NAIAS, US fans were hoping against hope that Ford would finally deliver the all-new, second-generation Focus the European market has had since 2004. Instead, we got the warmed-over, lacklu... well, our impression is well documented on page 37.
So what gives? Ford's official explanation is that the European version is simply too expensive to bring over, claiming it couldn't be done without raising the car's price to beyond what US consumers are willing to pay.
And there is some truth to that. In Europe, the new Focus, like most B-segment cars, is essentially a level up on their US counterparts. The price of the base Focus starts at about $19,000 while the turbocharged ST hits over $30,000. This is in line with the prices of the hot hatches we're also not privy to, including the Honda Civic Type-R and Vauxhall Astra VXR, whatever that is.
But there is one big problem with this argument: it's called the Mazda3.
Built on the same platform as the Euro-spec Focus, the Mazda3 competes in the same markets worldwide. In the UK, Mazda3s are offered in the same price range, from the base model all the way up to the $30k MPS version (the Mazdaspeed3 equivalent). In the US, a 2007 Mazda3 sedan starts at $14,390, slightly cheaper than the $14,455 you'd pay for a first-gen-based 2007 Focus sedan (though Ford's entry-level hatchback is less than both). On average, the Focus line-up is cheaper than the Mazda3, but only because Mazda offers a higher level of kit, like the Mazdaspeed3 rocketship. But no matter how you cut it, Mazda found a way to bring over what it offers in Europe.
And it's not the only company. VW has been doing this for years, most recently with the Rabbit, a renamed variant of the Golf MkV, that sells in the US for $14,990.
Of course, this argument isn't new. But neither are Ford's counterpunches that its hands are tied. Yes, Mazda benefits from a favorable exchange rate, while Ford would get murdered if it tried to import Euro-built Foci. Ditto for converting North American factories to produce the new car. But these excuses still don't quiet the grumblings heard soon after Ford pulled back the sheet on the 2008 Focus.
To be fair, this 'new' model has redesigned sheet metal, a thoroughly revised interior, and Sync-a computerized operating system co-developed with Microsoft that Ford claims will revolutionize the way we drive. But why the Focus isn't so much more is beyond my comprehension.
So I'm simply another Blue Oval fan left to wonder why a company that Ford owns can find a way to sell a version of the Euro Focus in the US, when Ford claims it cannot. Why, despite developing such a clearly defined recipe for success in the first generation, Ford decided to simply reheat the leftovers and sprinkle some garnish on top.
Why don't we get it? I don't really know. Maybe we should be asking why Ford doesn't get it?