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Thank God they don't build 'em like they used to

FROM time to time, I attend various classic car shows and see all the glories of a by-gone age.

FROM time to time, I attend various classic car shows and see all the glories of a by-gone age.

Often, this results in an inspiration to set pen to paper, or rather, to set index fingers to keyboard, and start waxing lyrical about the automobile as art, as passion, as cultural icon.

The curving mudguards and bug-eyed headlamps of the 1930s. The art-deco aerodynamics of the '40s and '50s.

The muscle-car hijinks of the '60s. The supercar excesses of the '80s. Hang on a sec, aren't we missing a decade there?

Yes indeed, and perhaps one best not mentioned.

However, while idly perusing the reading material in my washroom, I happened across an issue of Consumer Reports from the latter part of the worst decade: the '70s. Among the earnest slogans promising forthright and honest investigations into the murky world of toilet soaps, step stools and mayonnaise, was proudly emblazoned "Compact Cars."

"Well this oughta be interesting," I thought. It was.

Consider the current automotive landscape for your average new compact car buyer. You've got your steadfast Honda Civic, your zippy Mazda3, your go-anywhere Subaru Impreza or your stylish Hyundai Elantra. Is there a bad choice? Not really, just one that might not suit your needs as well as an alternative.

But imagine if you were shopping for a car in the late '70s. After donning a shirt with lapels wide enough to land an F-18 on and applying three cans of hairspray to your elaborate coiffure, you might totter down on your platform soles to the local dealership, where a guy resembling Herb Tarlek would show you the latest models.

Let's try a little experiment: I'd like to comparison test the 2012 Ford Focus with its longlost distant ancestor, the 1977 Ford Granada. How far have we come? Just wait 'til you hear it.

In a shocker, Consumer Reports rated the Granada bottom of the class that included such luminaries as the Chevrolet Concours, Buick Skylark and the Plymouth Volare. Ever seen one of these heaps on the road? I doubt it. Only the Skylark name really survived, and it was pretty horrible through the '80s and '90s as well.

Good to know then that the Granada was worst of the bunch. Let's look at the pros/cons that Consumer Reports has provided for us. "Advantages: Comfortable front seat." Well that's promising.

"Disadvantages: Relatively weak acceleration; unsuitable driving position for short drivers; numb power steering; directionally unstable brakes; only fair bumper protection." Wait, what? "Directionally unstable brakes"? Imagine that showing up in a review of one of today's cars.

Let's try out these brakes. The 2012 Ford Focus stops from 100 kilometres per hour in a distance of 33.5 meters. Pretty respectable. The Granada, on the other hand, takes nearly twice as long, always assuming that you haven't swerved off the road and into a tree, in which case stopping distance improves somewhat.

What about acceleration? The 2012 Focus rips off a 0-100 km/h time of just 8.3 seconds, en-route to a quarter-mile time of 16.2 seconds and a trap speed of 140 km/h. You're not going to win any drag races with a V-8 Mustang, but not too shabby. The Granada lumbers up to 100 km/h in a scarcely credible 19 seconds and runs through the quarter-mile just afterwards, having taken the entire track to get up to speed.

Curb weights aren't that far off: the Granada weighs just 1,588 kg and the Focus is 1,389 kg. The difference is in the engines, what with the Granada's enormous 4.1-litre engine producing all of 98 wheezy horsepower. The Focus pumps out 160 h.p. from under half that displacement.

Even worse is the passing time. Accelerating from 70 km/h to 105 km/h (the most common speeds passed at), will take slightly more than four seconds in the Focus. In the Granada, it'll take more than three times that long. Hope gravity's on your side.

And at least you'll still have poor fuel economy. The city consumption on the Granada is a Lamborghini-esque 18 litres/100 km, and 11 l/100 km highway. The Focus does 7.2 l/100 km and 4.8 l/100 km respectively.

Consumers had other helpful things to say about the Granada. "The 250-cubic-inch six usually stalled once when started from cold." Well that's annoying. "Acceleration was apathetic." I'll say. "One or more wheels locked prematurely during hard braking, causing weaving from side to side." Ulp!

There's more. "The automatic transmission gave us trouble . . . it whined; we couldn't get the kickdown to engage without a determined stomp on the accelerator pedal; and shifting out of "park" was difficult on an incline." And more. "The heater controls were defective, the windshield was optically distorted, and the front wheels were improperly aligned."

I'm starting to see where my parents were coming from with their uphillbothwaystoschool complaining about the old days. Things must have been pretty bad. Consumer Reports lists 33 sample defects, and those are just the ones they could find.

Meanwhile, the little Focus is winning awards left, right and centre for initial quality. It's become a front-runner in the blue-oval's renaissance, proving that small, premium cars originally designed for the European market can work just as well here.

We move on to more subjective areas like style and design. Pretty simple: the Granada doesn't have any of either. It looks like it was sketched by a guy who had a ruler and a thing for speaker grilles.

Now, it is theoretically possible to cram a V-8 under the hood of a Granada, and they did make a two-door version, so there's every possibility I may soon receive a strongly worded letter from the Ford Granada Appreciation Society. However, I'm fairly certain that I'm safe in declaring the 2012 Ford Focus the clear winner of this comparison.

Who knows what the future will look like? Perhaps soon we'll be looking down our noses at the Ford Focus from the comfort of our hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered electric hovercars. One thing's for sure, we've come a long way, baby.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@ Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.

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