2005 Ford Focus Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Clean new engines, redesigned interiors.
If you aren't aware there's a new Ford Focus on the road, you haven't been paying attention. Ford is making a big deal of the revamping of its small car, the 2005 Focus. The automaker claims it is conducting an advertising blitz like it did on the F-150 pickup truck.
Ads for the Focus have been plastered all over popular shows like 'American Idol.' They feature the Focus talking and 'begging to be driven.' The Focus is critically important to Ford, not necessarily in terms of volume and profits, but in that it reels in certain kinds of important customers, notably first-time buyers, first-time Ford buyers, women and minorities.
The Focus is one of the many new or redesigned cars Ford introduces this year, its 'year of the car.' The Focus has been spruced up outside by a mild facelift, though it takes a sharp eye to distinguish the subtle changes. Designers made more changes on the inside, rendering a more traditional look than before.
But the biggest news is under the hood where the engine line-up has been revised. Among them is a super-clean, 130-horsepower engine that's more powerful and slightly more fuel efficient; it qualifies as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. A new 136-horsepower engine is more powerful than last year's powerplant.
Despite the makeover, the Ford Focus remains inexpensive, stylish, practical and fun. The sedans are comfortable and move people efficiently. The three-door hatchback proves to be economical and practical yet sporty and fun. The five-door hatchback makes it easier for rear-seat passengers to join in the merriment. The wagons can carry a ton of cargo.
We found the sporty ZX4 ST fun to drive, if a bit noisy. It delivered strong acceleration from its 151-horsepower engine with sharp handling and precise steering from its sports suspension. It ranks among the most enjoyable cars in its class.
Four body styles are offered: the ZX3, a three-door hatchback; the ZX4, a four-door sedan; the ZX5, a five-door hatchback; and the ZXW, a wagon.
Three engines are offered. All models but the ZX4 ST come with either the 130- or 136-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. They are paired with the five-speed manual transmission, standard on some versions, or a four-speed automatic. The ZX4 ST comes with a 151-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder offered only with a five-speed manual.
The ZX3 ($13,005), ZX4 ($13,605), and ZX5 ($14,305) are available in base S trim. The S trim level comes with manual driver's seat-height adjustment, split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD, and 15-inch wheels. (The destination charge will add another $545 to all retail prices.)
Mid-level SE trim for ZX3 ($14,505), ZX4 ($15,105), ZX5 ($15,805), and ZXW ($16,805) adds air conditioning, an overhead console, AM/FM/CD/MP3, dual power mirrors, power windows and locks, and remote keyless entry.
Upper-level SES for ZX3 ($15,605), ZX4 ($16,205), ZX5 ($16,905), and ZXW ($17,905) adds a tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, fog lamps, tachometer, AM/FM/6CD/MP3, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The high-performance ZX4 ST ($17,705) includes: a sport-tuned exhaust; the ST suspension with unique 16-inch alloy wheels; four-wheel disc brakes with traction control; decklid spoiler and lower body moldings; chrome-tipped exhaust; body-color, heated outside mirrors; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob with contrast stitching; and sporty interior fabrics and instrument panel different from the other versions. (The SVT performance version has been eliminated from the line.)
Standard safety features include second-generation airbags, which include shut-off the one for the passenger seat if it is unoccupied or occupied by a small child, child safety seat attachments, child locks on the rear doors. Optional on all models are anti-lock brakes and side-impact airbags ($350). The ABS ($400) with traction control ($115) is standard on the ZX4 ST and optional on all other models.
Other options include a four-speed automatic transmission ($815), power moonroof ($625), leather upholstery, heated front seats, an alarm system and an Audiophile sound system with Sony speakers and subwoofer.
The Ford Focus was a head-turner when it was first introduced in 2000. Its styling at the time was fresh and innovative. While Ford designers describe its new look as more refined and grown-up, it continues with same general theme of sweeping arcs and crisp creases that we've grown accustomed to. It takes a sharp eye to distinguish the subtle changes from the old one to the new one, however.
Designers say they styled the front to have hints of the Ford Five Hundred, the company's upcoming flagship sedan. Its hood and fenders fall away less sharply than the original to make the car look more substantial and to create a better sight line of the edge of the car for easier parking.
The most noticeable change is the larger grille with the diamond pattern ringed in chrome. Other new details include reshaped headlamps with clear lenses and a new fascia that incorporates a wide lower air intake, and new round fog lamps. The sedan has new taillamps and rear bumper fascia. All Focus models have a hood made of harder steel and fascias made of thicker plastics to ward off dents and dings.
Designers made more changes on the inside than the outside. It retains its roomy interior space for its compact size and high roofline for headroom.
The previous dash consisted of a collection of arcs, a theme that reinforced the exterior design, and an instrument panel covered by an asymmetrically curved and sharply creased bezel. Those shapes are mostly gone in exchange for a more traditional look. The instrument panel was re-styled to be less cluttered. The instrument panel is symmetrical with the driver and passenger areas divided by two rectangular climate control registers, the hazard switch and a shallow center stack for the audio and climate controls.
Four interior colors are offered for the interior. A monochrome charcoal is offered on the ZX4 ST, ZX3 and ZX5. All models but the ZX4 ST also come with a two-tone flint interior. The ZX4 and ZX2 can be ordered with a two-tone pebble interior.
On two-tone models, the lower portions of the instrument panel and door trim panels are finished in a lighter shade for a more open feeling. Cloth and leather upholstery are offered. The ZX4 ST has unique woven fabrics or suede seating surfaces surrounded with leather trim.
A standard floor console houses the shifter, two cupholders, the parking brake, and controls for options such as traction control. An overhead console includes a sunglasses holder and a space for a garage door opener. More storage is provided in the front doors, which also have a molded-in holder for cups and bottles.
Since it was introduced, the Ford Focus has been praised for its spirited driving dynamics, particularly for a small car. It has made a number of 'best' lists for its driving characteristics. To that end, John Sidelko, Focus chief engineer, said his group looked at what customers liked about the Focus, enhancing those a bit, and what they complained about, fixing those.
Indeed, the biggest news on the Focus is under its hood. A new 136-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the same one used in the Mazda 6 and Ford Escape, replaces both the previous 110- and 130-horsepower engines, the engines offered in the Focus since its debut in 2000.
In California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, the Focus comes standard with a super-clean, 130-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. (The engine actually began going into some Focus models in 2004.) More powerful than the previous base engine, the new engine is slightly more fuel efficient: 26/35 mpg EPA City/Highway with five-speed manual, 26/32 with four-speed automatic. More important, it puts out much lower emissions so it meets PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) standards. Ford claims the entire 2004 Focus fleet, which began using the engine, is 33 percent cleaner than the 2003 fleet.
A third engine is the 151-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder that goes only in the ZX4 ST. It gets an EPA-rated 23/32 mpg. It is paired only with a five-speed manual transmission. The shifter is a new one and is more precise in locking into gear than the one it replaces.
The higher horsepower engine was the one in the tested Focus ZX4 ST. Indeed, it delivers strong acceleration from a dead stop and easily cruised to passing speeds on the highway. The only complaint with the engine was noise. Despite efforts by Ford engineers to quiet the cabin, the ZX4 ST was excessively loud with engine noise even cruising at highway speeds.
Ford borrowed pieces of the suspension from the European-sold Focus and the 2004 Focus SVT to make the ZX4 ST more performance oriented than the other models. It borrows the front struts and rear shocks from those models, and they are 50 percent stiffer than the ones on the SE and SES versions. The ZX4 ST also has its own distinctive 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels and Pirelli all-season radials. The package provides sharp handling response, precise steering and generally an enjoyable connection with the road. Indeed, the Focus, at least in this version, remains one of the most fun cars in the class to drive.
Despite its makeover, the Ford Focus remains inexpensive, stylish, practical and fun. New engines increase power and efficiency, while new interiors and subtle styling revisions freshen its appearance.
It also appears Ford has fixed the major problem with the Focus: its quality. The 2000 and 2001 models had a lot of recalls, which involved inconvenient trips to the dealership for buyers. Those problems forced Ford to institute a longer warranty like those offered by South Korean makers Hyundai and Kia. The Focus continues to carry the extra-long powertrain warranty of five years or 100,000 miles. Meantime, quality improvements already showed up on the 2004 model with Consumer Reports adding it to its recommended buy list and it getting a bump in the J. D. Power and Associates quality surveys.
Ford Focus ZX3 S ($13,005); ZX4 S ($13,605); ZX5 S ($14,305); ZX3 SE ($14,505); ZX4 SE ($15,105); ZX5 SE ($15,805); ZXW SE ($16,805); ZX3 SES ($15,605); ZX4 SES ($16,205); ZX5 SES ($16,905); ZXW SES ($17,905); ZX4 ST ($17,705).
Wayne, Michigan; Hermosillo, Mexico.
Options As Tested
Sony audiophile sound system ($455); leather seats w/suede inserts ($695; power moonroof ($625); heated front seats ($115); perimeter alarm ($125); side airbags ($350).
Ford Focus ZX4 ST ($17,705).
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