Posted on 12/9/02
Vehicle Overview
The European-designed Focus was introduced for the 2001 model year, and it quickly displaced the Escort as Ford’s top-selling passenger car. It is now second in sales among Ford vehicles, behind the midsize Taurus. An abundance of body styles is one attraction. The front-wheel-drive compact comes as a four-door sedan, a two-door and four-door hatchback, and a four-door Wagon. The sedan models are offered in LX, SE and ZTS trim levels. The two-door hatchback is called the ZX3, and the four-door hatchback is known as the ZX5.

A new high-performance SVT Focus from Ford’s Special Vehicle Team debuted for the 2002 model year. The ZX5 hatchback is now available in three trim levels. Two new contemporary interior fabrics are available, while the options list adds heated front seats and mirrors. Traction control and an antilock braking system are available in a new option package. The headlights have new gray surrounds, and newly designed 16-inch alloy wheels are available.

A silver-colored instrument cluster and color-keyed trim go on premium models. A CD/MP3 player is now standard on ZX3 and ZX5 hatchbacks. A perimeter alarm is now optional for all models. New throttle-body calibrations promise better engine response, and the automaker claims that the Focus interiors are quieter. According to Automotive News, Ford plans to launch an intensive marketing campaign to try and overcome an image of quality problems that has plagued the Focus since its debut.

Standard models use a 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and the sportier Focus editions carry a 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder that generates 130 hp. Several “Z” editions are offered and are fitted with special interior items. In September 2002, Ford announced a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty for the Focus as a result of slow sales and the impact of numerous recalls.

At 168.1 inches long overall, Focus sedans and hatchbacks are 6.5 inches shorter than the Honda Civic and a foot shorter than the Toyota Corolla. At 56.3 inches to its rooftop, the Focus is roughly the same height as the four-door Civic and 1.2 inches shorter than the Corolla. This combination of length and height makes the Focus look larger on the road than its actual dimensions might suggest. The Focus Wagon is a foot longer than the other body styles.

Ford calls the distinctive styling “new edge.” Its design is marked by prominent creases and dramatically designed headlamps that sweep back into the hood and fenders.

The seats are relatively high in the Focus; they are part of a long, tall interior that is designed to accommodate taller and older people, despite the car’s emphasis on youth. The doorways are large, which makes it easier to get in and out of the Focus. Large, clearly labeled interior controls are convenient to reach and easier to see.

Ford claims the Focus is not only capable of comfortably seating five occupants, but it is also roomier than key rivals, such as the chevrolet Cavalier, Dodge Neon, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The backseat folds down on all models to expand cargo capacity. Focus sedans have a 12.9-cubic-foot trunk, the hatchback models promise 18.6 cubic feet of space, and the Wagon offers a maximum of 55.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.

Under the Hood
The base engine is a 110-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The ZX3, ZX5, ZTS and Wagon are equipped with a 130-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s also used in Ford’s Escort-derived ZX2 coupe. The stronger engine is optional in the Focus SE sedan. Both engines may team with a standard five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. The high-performance SVT Focus uses a 170-hp engine and a six-speed-manual gearbox.

Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are optional. An optional AdvanceTrac electronic stability system reduces engine power and applies brakes to individual wheels to help prevent skidding. AdvanceTrac is available on Z models, and it works with the traction control and antilock braking systems.

Driving Impressions
European heritage reveals itself mainly in the Focus’ crisp cornering ability and in its roomy, upright, ergonomically oriented interior. The hatchback models look sharper than the sedans and are practical for carrying cargo.

The ZX3 is frisky on the road with its manual shift, and it accelerates eagerly from a standstill. It is quite spirited for passing and merging. The hatchback is highly maneuverable and fun to drive. The smooth clutch action and a gearbox that works fairly easily contribute to driving enjoyment. The Focus’ ride comfort is firm but above par, and the suspension deals competently with urban bumps. Long side glass helps visibility in the hatchback, despite the presence of thick pillars. Front-seat headroom is huge.

The ZTS sedan with an automatic transmission comes across as uninspiring compared to the ZX3 hatchback. All Focus models represent good value when compared to such rivals as the Civic and the Volkswagen Golf and Jetta.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide