Renting a Ford Focus SE Offers a Look Into the Non-Enthusiast Life
It's no Focus RS, but it does what an everyday economy car is supposed to do, and it does it well.
The key tag said "Ford Focus, grey." Despite my insistence that this key must belong to the Focus RS in the middle of the dealer's showroom, they led us to a more pedestrian Focus SE—our rental car after my wife's Flex decided it needed a break. It wasn't so bad, really. In fact, after being quite impressed by the Focus ST press car I drove for a week last summer, I was curious to see how the platform performed in the application most Focus drivers use it for: basic everyday transportation. As much as we wish every Focus made was an ST or RS, the truth is that the vast majority are examples like this, tuned for comfort and economy rather than performance.
Few options exist for this, the most basic Focus available. Aside from the color, you can equip the Focus SE with an optional cold weather package, remote start, and that's about it. They all have the same 16-inch wheels. They all have the same 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. No manual option is available. Only the most basic SYNC infotainment system is available, but even this includes satellite radio and Bluetooth capability. Essentially, the SE trim level is the most basic, cookie-cutter version of the Focus.
Yet even in this form, the Focus still shines. The suspension is much softer than the ST, but the chassis is still as solid. There's no torque steer at all with only 123 horsepower on tap—half as much as the ST, and nearly one third of the RS— but it's still plenty to move the SE along just fine in regular street driving. Brakes are firm and just a little touchy, which is good. It does lean in the corners a bit, and the all-season tires grip nothing like the performance oriented rubber of the enthusiast versions. But because it's still a Focus it remains well composed, easy to point in whatever direction you want to go. After a week in the Focus ST last year, the SE felt quite familiar to me, despite its lack of numerous options the ST has. If I needed a basic daily driver, I could certainly see myself choosing the Focus SE over other basic transportation options like the Kia Rio we rented in Puerto Rico, or even the Mazda 3 we rented in Montreal.
Of course, I'd have no intention of taking a Focus SE to the track, or even the local autocross. There would be no point, especially with a Subaru WRX in our household fleet. But compared to the competition, or even the excellent Focus ST, the bare bones Focus SE holds its own quite well.