Posted by: bkivey | 10 October 2014

2014 Vacation: Observations

The week I spent in southern Oregon was one of the best vacations I’ve had. I could maybe have asked for more clement weather, but I’ve lived in the Northwest nearly twenty years: grey skies aren’t going to dampen my spirits. I got to do some things I’ve wanted to do my entire life in seeing the redwoods and visiting Crater Lake, and discovered some hidden gems. The Oregon Caves, the museum at Trees of Mystery, and Crater Rock Museum was like Christmas three days in a week. And I got to visit every covered bridge in southern Oregon. It was six days of discovery and adventure doing things I like to do., with the bonus of seeing some spectacular scenery.

While there were the inevitable disappointments, this was the first time in years I returned home feeling like I’d been on vacation, in that there was almost no work-related activity. This did worry me a bit, but work came flooding through the door in the days after I returned, filling the October calendar. It was the best of both worlds: a week of truly being off, and enough work to pay the bills for the month.

I’m still smiling.

The Chariot

My SOP when renting a car is to check the ‘Economy’ box and take whatever the rental agency gives me. While every rental company lists the cars available in a given category, I figure by not specifying the car, I can try out a variety of rides.

I contracted with Budget this vacation, and what they gave me was this:

Medford rental car

The car, not the plane. That’s a 2014 Ford Focus SE, and it contributed significantly to my vacation happiness.

I drove the car through 1100 miles of not-at-all conservative driving in just about every condition: Interstate cruising, twisty mountain roads, and around town. In sun and torrential rain, the car delivered, and returned an honest 33 mpg.

Every vehicle design is a compromise, and the Focus did have some traits I would like to see improved. The dead pedal could stand to be a little more robust, and the C-pillars obstruct rear visibility to some extent. The A-pillars can obstruct vision in some circumstances. Cabin noise at highway speed is a bit more than I would prefer, but that seems to mainly be a function of the tires. Some of the controls are a bit quirky: the rear window wiper switch is on the end of the control stalk, so it’s easy to accidentally activate it when you turn on the wipers. Headlights are turned on with a knob, which isn’t my preference. The cabin light controls aren’t as intuitive as they might be, and there is a switch that prevents the high beams from working(?!).

These are mere quibbles compared to what the car does well, which is everything else. The steering is the best I’ve seen since the Pinto (don’t laugh, back in the day, Pinto steering gear found it’s way into many a hotrod). The car goes where you point it, and can be helped through corners with some trailing throttle. The suspension is tight, and I never felt like the car would depart. The steering wheel allows for a variety of hand positions, including my preferred bottom-of-the-wheel grip. There are pads at the 10-2 position, and these came in handy driving through the mountains.

The power-train was the standard 160 hp 2.0 liter mated to a six-speed automatic with a manual option. When conditions warranted, I didn’t miss an opportunity to use the manual option. Pressing buttons isn’t nearly the same as throwing a stick around, but the car was a lot of fun to drive on mountain roads. The car does have  non-defeatable traction control, so it probably makes you out to be a better driver than you actually are. There are times during enthusiastic driving when you can feel the traction control working.

The driver’s seat is comfortable enough; I averaged 200+ miles per day and never felt fatigued. Climate control is good, and I liked the fact that you could dial the cruise control to the exact mph.

I liked this car. A lot. It’s one of the few rental cars I’ve looked into buying. I was hoping it would follow me home, but no such luck.



  1. Hi Blair, glad you had a good vaycay! The Focus is at or near the top of its segment, the auto transmission in that car is in fact an automated manual, some gripe about it, but the car seems to sell well, how does this car compare to the fiat you rented in terms of refinement and handling? Congrats on the milestone reached on your 502 post, sincerely, joe of the ancients!

    • Hi Joe,

      The overall refinement of the vehicle was pretty good: the car felt competent in the variety of driving situations I encountered. American fit and finish has come a long way in the last thirty years, although some of the joints were maybe not as tight as a German product might be. I’ve driven other cars that handled the auto-manual transmission differently; my preferred set-up are transmission selectors that can be moved to the bottom of the slot and physically moved to select gears (usually an inverted ‘T’ with ‘-‘ on the left and ‘+’ on the right). I’ve driven a couple of cars with paddle shifters, but they don’t do it for me. I know that’s the racing set-up, but I’m not driving 200 mph, and I was raised on stick.

      Handling was spot-on. As I mentioned in the post, I had every confidence in throwing the car in and out of tight mountain curves. The car is a lot of fun to drive, and one of the few cars where I looked forward to spending 4 – 5 hours in the driver’s seat. The fact that it’s a sharp looking piece of machinery didn’t hurt, either.

    • Hi Joe,

      Catching up with some old business, my business email is Sorry for the omission.

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