I raised an eyebrow in suspicion as I scrolled through the rental car options for a Gulf Coast SCUBA expedition I was planning for Christmas 2012.
You had to be 30 to qualify for the 911 and the Mustang Convertible could only be had in a V6, so I was left with no logical option but to go most-cost-effective.
There, on the bottom of the list (who can resist looking at cars by “Most Expensive” first?) was the heading “ECONOMY”
“Nissan Versa or similar.”
I ran through alternatives in my head. There had to be something cooler I could drive for the week.
Could we get on with a scooter? One of those two-person bicycles I’ve seen in P-Town? Perhaps even some alternative means of conveyance?
But none of those ideas landed with Sydney, my dive buddy, so a supermini from Alamo Rent-A-Car it was.
Carrying on with the theme of “cheapest-possible-transport” we touched down in Tampa, FL at something like two in the morning.
While my sidekick sought our luggage, I was charged with getting us mobilized. Alamo’s desk was closed and I was greeted with this sign:
Seems logical enough I guess… though it didn’t at the time, I’ll confess to at least one “bonus lap” around the garage looking for the location this sign was describing.
Finally reaching the desk I was met with the exact scenario I had been bracing myself for- a line, complete with disgruntled employee, disgruntled customer ahead of me, and flat-out furious five-month-old screaming at the top of his/her (its?) lungs.
The decision on which human to engage was easy enough. I nodded at the baby and offered what comfort I could;
“I hear ya, bro. Florida airport at 2am? Fahgetaboutit.”
I figured I could get away with a Seinfeld-era New Yorkism in Tampa… they couldn’t possibly have advanced past 1998 yet, right? At any rate the child’s mother was not amused. I pretended to ignore her by trying to think of some witty Facebook Check-In to peck into my phone.
What felt like ninety minutes later the one person in line ahead of me was allowed to leave the glass prison we were occupying and I was meant to approach the bench.
The first stage of negotiation began almost immediately; ”You need to have a return flight to rent through this policy” grumbled the car tender.
“Right, I’ve got one. Here” I replied, producing a document with both directions of flights, booking numbers and confirmation numbers like it was Dr. Who’s psychic paper.
Of course, the desired effect was not reached. She didn’t believe me until I read the ticket to her out loud… perhaps she couldn’t read, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just forgot her glasses that night.
She then had somebody fetch the car, which was not a Nissan Versa at all.
To my pleasant surprise, the vehicle I’d be entrusted with by the Alamo rental company was a 2013 Ford Focus SE hatchback. Fresh Continental tires on aluminum rims and just shy of three thousand miles on the clock.
“Would you like insurance to cover any damage you may inflict upon the vehicle during your rental?”
I looked back to size up the Focus once again. Not an ST (performance variant) model, not a proper three-pedal, but I liked the look right away and reckoned we could have some fun together.
“Insurance? Ho yah.”
Paperwork signed; I was finally free to retrieve my special lady and the luggage she had presumably recovered.
As I buckled in I prepared myself to adhere to the standard rental car credo; WWJD.
What Would Jason Statham Do?
Everyone knows being behind the wheel of a vehicle not owned by you or anyone you’ve ever met is free license to behave like an absolute imbecile on the road with complete disregard for the safety of yourself and others.
Without so much as a glance in the rearview mirrors I mashed the accelerator into the carpet and felt the front wheels tug and chirp as I began barreling toward a concrete wall. A ninety degree left turn was negotiated easily by dropping the wheel and snapping the handbrake with a quick countersteer. Unable to find the headlamp switch with everything ablur, I plunged through the Tampa Airport terminal parking lot at full noise in total darkness. Using my bat-like sonar sense I measured my distance from the walls by the volume of the echoing tire wails, pinning the tachometer to the rev limiter as the car corkscrewed down the garage-exit ramp. With the terminal in sight, I charged ahead before getting back on the handbrake. The car squealed to a halt through a 450O spin, pointing the tailgate, which began opening as the car came to rest, toward Sydney who was waiting on the curb.
And I’m pretty sure if any of that had actually happened she would have torn her clothes off right there and jumped in my lap. At least, that’s how it seems to work out for the other guy.
Since Sydney and I had travelled to Florida specifically for the purpose of SCUBA diving, the bulk of our time there had been allocated to that activity. When wind proved too severe for our boats to disembark (both days!) we were left with more time to experience the pleasures of Gulf Coast Florida; grain-alcohol daiquiris, line dancing, and in our case the 2013 Focus SE.
Let me disclose that I haven’t spent much of my automotive career as a fan of domestic vehicles. First building cars in earnest around 2004, the American cars my friends and I could afford (things from the 80′s and 90′s) just felt so much “cheaper” than their European or even Japanese counterparts.
And, yes, a certain California couple may have had more influence then I’d like to admit on my penchant for Hondas and Mazdas as I entered the world of tuning.
But since then, things have changed. Starting with the 2006 renaissance of the Mustang, Ford in particular has been on the up-and-up for the last few years in terms of style, performance, and overall value.
When the first Fusion came out, both my father and I had an opportunity to drive a few variants and were pleasantly surprised with every aspect of the car. Now, the thing looks as lovely as an Aston Martin for christsake.
The Focus, while not quite as striking in appearance, is very tidy for a supermini. And more significantly, leagues ahead of what domestic cars in this size and price point were ten years ago.
The car we had, wearing white paint befitting of its Floridian backdrop, featured a nice balance of chiseled lines and swoops. It’s not at all ostentatious, but really looks like it was designed with care. The back compliments the front, the sides tie the tip and tail together, and the whole car just looks correct.
We paused by a causeway in Sarasota for a quick photo shoot, give yourself a virtual walkabout;
Being a rental car, our Focus was equipped with minimal frills and options. But the Ford factory infotainment setup; a Microsoft-based system called “SYNC”, had an aesthetically pleasing layout and was easy enough to operate. You get two little screens; one featuring driver/vehicle focused information that’s logically located between the clocks, and another keystoning the center console for audio, ect. I didn’t bother trying to pair my phone to test the Bluetooth functionality, but the option was there as was an auxiliary audio input. Come to think of it, I didn’t test that either. What the hell was I doing all week?
Well, I did get to road test the vehicle a fair amount due to the fact that our scheduled engagements were cancelled for the week. The first thing I had to conquer was my discomfort with an automatic transmission. Having never owned an ATX, it always takes me a few miles to re-acquaint with a two pedal layout. The Focus made this pretty easy though; the car’s automatic shifted smoothly and didn’t feel awkwardly “between gears” at any speed, unlike some auto’s I’ve piloted recently.
Acceleration to highway speeds was more than adequate if not exactly up to Statham-Standard, and the car an cruise comfortably with Florida’s fast ‘n furious freeway traffic.
That is actually not a joke- I was amazed at the pace I was being overtaken at by petrol pickups with local license plates. Floridians got places to go.
Sydney was a fan as well, and gave me a chance to clamber about the cabin while she took the helm. The rear seat is comfortable for 6′ adults, and since the cargo bay easily swallowed our gear I’d say this vehicle would be able to accomodate twice and many people and travel-paraphernalia as we taxed it with.
With about 600 miles of driving, a lot of that in urban traffic, we averaged just under 32 MPG. At least according to the car’s computer. We only refueled once- right before returning the vehicle to avoid the surcharge. It was then that I discovered the funky “capless” fuel filler. Idiot proof, I love it!
So, what more is there to say about this reasonable little compact car I lived with for a week? It’s competent, cute, not too expensive, and seems like it’ll hold together well enough. Not a riveting driving experience, not an asphalt-eater or a rock-crushing off-roader. But as an urban runabout, its intended disposition, it’s most agreeable indeed.
It’s a lot more pleasant, in my opinion, than comparable Toyotas and Nissans. Though I think I’m a little too much of a Honda fanboy to completely sell this against a Civic. But if you passed up the latter in favor of a Focus at a great price, I wouldn’t hold it against you.
Looks like a Focus comparably-equipped to the one we had cashes out at about nineteen grand. Check out Ford’s site yourself for a more complete spec-list, and of course an always-fun “Build Your Own” app.
In the mid 1970′s, VW built a sweet little hot hatch called the Scirocco. It looked like this:
Uh, I mean this:
I know, sweet right?
The next incarnation came out in 1982. Once again, pretty damn fresh for the era:
After the mid-80′s the car was canceled, to come back as the awesome-looking but underpowered Corrado.
When I was living in Sweden in 2009, I walked past a VW dealership and dropped my smörgås right there on the sidewalk.
I mean, this thing was hot. Low, wide, and with that trendy gloss-black roof I can’t get enough of.
Just look at those air scoops; it sucks up oxygen like I’d suck a body shot of Sauza Gold off Marisa Miller.
Needless to say, I was psyched to see these things hit the US streets.
But that was over a year ago, and you haven’t seen any around have you?
That’s because VW has chosen not to let us enjoy these lovely machines. In fact, I later learned that the car I saw wasn’t even new… it had been for sale for a year already in Europe. So my moment of astonishment chalked up to another one of the many displays of American ignorance I would put on while living abroad.
Adding insult to injury, a few days ago VW bragged about their 100,00th 3rd Gen Scirocco leaving the Portugal factory (yes, they build a lot of VWs in Portugal).
Factory manager Andreas Hinrichs even had the gall to say “The Scirocco is one of the most important cars that we produce. For myself personally, it was a moving moment.” (AutoWeek).
Just rubbing our noses in it. What an asshole.
Did I mention that 100,000th car was a Scirocco R, which puts down 265 horsepower from a turbocharged 2 liter engine and clears 60 MPH in less than six seconds? Not bad for a hot hatch. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure. If you can’t get enough, check out Car & Driver’s gallery.
Is that a D-wheel!? Lucky European bastards!
And didn’t I mention Marisa Miller earlier?