The Focus has won safety kudos from the federal government. It has earned awards from several magazines. And it is the only car to have earned European Car of the Year and the North American Car of the Year awards.
Its New Edge styling has helped the Focus stand out from the crowd whether in hatchback, sedan or wagon format.
Two new models have debuted for 2002, the Focus ZX5 and the Focus SVT.
Three 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines are available: a 110-horsepower single overhead-cam; a 130-horsepower double overhead-cam Zetec; and a 170-horsepower high-performance SVT version of the twin-cam engine tuned by Ford's Special Vehicle Team.
For most models, there's a choice of five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission. The SVT engine, however, comes exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.
Sedans are the most popular of the Focus models. The sedan is available in three trim levels: entry-level LX ($12,845), an upgraded SE ($14,350), and the 130-horsepower ZTS ($15,355).
Three-door hatchback models are available in ZX3 trim or the high-performance SVT model. The ZX3 ($12,470) is a sport compact, and comes with all the requisite hardware: the 130-horsepower twin-cam engine, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, and fog lights. Its wild styling makes the hatchback look sportier and even more distinctive than the sedan. Power windows, mirrors and locks, and keyless entry are now available ($740), along with optional cruise control.
Wagons are available in SE and ZTW trim. SE ($16,640) SE comes standard with the 130-horsepower dohc Zetec engine and a choice of manual or automatic transmission. New for 2002 is the ZTW wagon ($17,735), billed as an enthusiast's sport wagon; ZTW comes equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, and a six-disc in-dash CD changer. A four-speed automatic is standard, with a five-speed manual optional.
New for 2002 is the ZX5 ($15,730) five-door hatchback. It's a cross between a four-door wagon and a coupe, with four doors and a tapered rear roofline leading to a rear hatch. ZX5 comes standard with the 130-horsepower Zetec engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, six-disc in-dash CD changer and much more.
Also new for 2002 is the Focus SVT ($17,505). Based on the three-door ZX3, it has been modified by Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) to produce 170 horsepower. SVT boasts a Getrag six-speed manual transmission, SVT-tuned suspension, special trim including a rear spoiler, and more. Only about 7500 will be made, all for North America.
Ford's AdvanceTrac ($1225) vehicle dynamics system is on the option list for all Focus models. Described below, AdvanceTrac includes rear disc brakes and traction control, but requires ordering the optional anti-lock brakes ($400).
Other optional safety equipment includes side-impact air bags ($350). Cruise control is also an option.
Large pie-section headlamps give the front end a distinctive appearance. Several models have fog lamps in the grille opening below the front bumper. There's a similar, but smaller opening above the bumper that houses the turn signals. Both are outlined by arcs. The front and rear fenders are highlighted with geometric curves creased into the sheetmetal.
The roofline is highly arched, particularly noticeable when parked next to another car. The roofline is truncated just aft of the rear axle line. Wedge-shaped tail lamps set in the C-pillars enliven an otherwise plain rear end of the ZX3 and ZX5. Ford claims the tail lamps are more noticeable in that location and reduce repair costs in minor accidents. However, the sedan and wagon have conventionally placed tail lamps, so we'll accept the unique shape and location as distinctive and effective styling.
Lower bodyside PVC coating provides protection from stone dings on all models, and the underbody gets PVC coating as well. Clearcoat paint is standard across the board.
ZX3 and LX have black rather than body-color bodyside protective molding, but this is offset on the ZX3 by black rocker panels. The door handles on all models are black as well. The door handles on black cars blends in, but black also masks the distinctive lines of the Focus that are accentuated by the brighter colors.
The front seats are cushy comfy, well bolstered for side support. The seats have an exceptionally high hip point, 20 inches above the ground. The advantages of this seating include a better view down the road, plus more effective leg room front and rear, and it takes advantage of the high roofline with headroom for the long and tall. It also makes entry and exit easier. The manual height adjustment on the ZX3 allows almost everyone to find a comfortable position behind the wheel and an easy arm's length away from the manual shifter.
Ford's New Edge styling extends to the interior. The dash is a collection of arcs, the instrument panel covered by an asymmetrically curved and sharply creased bezel. The fuel gauge has a small arrow pointing to the right, denoting on which side the filler is located, appreciated by those of us who drive a number of cars, have bad memories or both.
A 7000-rpm tachometer flanks a 140-mph speedometer in the ZX5. Both instruments are round and easily readable, clearly marked with white numerals on black, though the tach has no redline.
The center dash panel is formed by an arc that sweeps upward across the dash to the right side of the car and an inverted parabola. In the ZX5, ZTS, and ZTW it's finished in brushed aluminum instead of black. The radio fits into the top of this area and includes a six-disc CD player, but no cassette player. If you still have cassettes, perhaps you're too old for this car. A removable strip is required for the audio system to work; it's designed to discourage theft. Snuggled into the top left is a 12-volt power outlet and trinket tray where the cigarette lighter and ash tray formerly were. Circular ventilation controls, less frequently accessed, fit below the radio and are styled in the New Edge theme, with buttons styled to fit the room available.
The trunk release, on the left end of the dash, is triangular as well, shaped to fit into the intersection of the arcs outlining the instrument panel.
With its asymmetrical design, the interior looks both informal and rich at the same time. Control knobs all have distinctive shapes for easy identification. Rotary controls are rubberized for pleasing soft-touch operation. The steering wheel on the ZX5 is leather-covered and satisfying to touch. Even the plastics used on the dash and door panels have a finger-friendly soft-touch feel. Our only quibble is that the inside door releases don't feel as substantial as they should.
The ZX5's rear couch is entered easily. Once there, rear-seat riders have lots of legroom, thanks to widely spaced runners under the front seats, plus adult-sized head and shoulder room. The back seat of the three-door hatchback is best accessed by the young and agile, however. Fold the back seat of the ZX3 or ZX5 and there's 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space (yes, for either) and a big door for access. The versatility of the hatchback design is lost on many Americans, who prefer the more formal sedan profile with its conventional trunk. But hatchbacks are making a comeback in America, and the design is hugely popular among Europeans for its practicality.
Focus wagons offer the largest cargo capacity in their class. Fold the rear seats down and there's 55.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity or 37.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in place.
The 2.0-liter 16-valve double overhead-cam four-cylinder engine starts instantly and rewards drivers with an almost imperceptible idle, smooth and quiet. The 130-horsepower engine answers a heavy foot with surprisingly rapid acceleration, a benefit of a lightweight car with well-developed torque characteristics. Fully 80 percent of the engine's maximum torque is available from idle to 6000 rpm; peak torque of 135 foot-pounds comes at 4500 rpm. Making the ZX3 even more satisfying to drive is Ford's excellent control of noise, vibration and harshness in this engine. Forget the usual inexpensive four-cylinder harshness; this pup loves to run and doesn't complain about visiting the upper reaches of the tachometer.
Given a choice, we'd rather have the five-speed manual than the automatic. In the ZX3, we noted that the clutch take-up is good and easy to modulate. Shifting into first gear reveals a rubbery feel to the linkage of the long-shafted shifter. It feels like a Saab shifter; it's precise but not inviting.
On the other hand, the four-speed overdrive automatic is slow off the line. Left in Drive, it operates like a conventional American automatic. That is to say it's as dependable as sunrise, but not as exciting. It does have an overdrive-off button, plus D2 and D1 slots, but it lacks the sporty feel and effect of the manual gearbox. Also, fuel economy drops from an EPA-rated 33 mpg on the highway with the manual to 31 mpg with the automatic.
Still, the ZX5 doesn't act like an economy car. It accelerates and turns much more quickly, making this one of the most enjoyable cars in its class to drive. Response through the rack-and-pinion steering is quick and precise, and feedback is excellent. The car feels like it is leaning in corners more than it actually is because the driver is sitting higher in the saddle. The standard 50-series (16-inch) tires sharpen handling response. The power rack-and-pinion steering is precise, with good road feel and little kick-back or torque steer from the front-drive system.
Out on the interstate the ZX5 is a born cruiser. The engine is quiet and wind noise is absent even up to 75 mph. Speaking of cruising, the cruise control system holds a set speed even on the steepest Interstate grade; with Braille bumps on the steering wheel hub, it's easy to use the cruise control even in the dark (it's not illuminated).
Ordinary roads feel smooth, while well-maintained superhighways feel velvety. Some road noise does filter up through the cargo area.
Optional AdvanceTrac monitors the car's behavior while cornering, checking the steering angle, lateral acceleration and yaw rate, then helps maintain stability. If it senses you're in trouble it reduces power and selectively applies to brakes to individual wheels to keep the vehicle on course; it uses the ABS and traction control system to help it accomplish this. The system intervenes progressively so that the drier is hardly aware that AdvanceTrac has been activated. It may be turned off by pressing a button on the instrument panel, but comes back on whenever the vehicle is started.
The ZX3 hatchback proves economical and practical can also be sporty and fun. The ZX5 hatchback makes it easier for rear seat passengers to join in the merriment. The wagons can carry a ton of cargo. And the SVT brings stellar performance to this class.
Clearly, Ford has done some thinking ahead of the curve. The result is a practical, inexpensive car that is actually desirable.
Model as tested
3 year/36,000 miles
Wayne, Michigan and Hermosilla, Mexico
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
automatic transmission ($815); ABS with Advance Trac ($1625); side-impact airbags ($350); leather low-back bucket seats ($695)
Model Line Overview
ZX3 3-door coupe ($12,470); ZX5 5-door coupe ($15,730); LX sedan ($12,845); SE sedan ($14,350); ZTS sedan ($15,355); SE wagon ($16,640); ZTW wagon ($17,820); SVT ($17,505)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front second-generation airbags, side-impact door beams, 3-point front seat belts with adjustable upper mount, pretensioners and load-limiting retractors, center 3-point inertia real safety belts, UCSSD child safety seat attachments, child-locks on rear doors, pressure cut-off proportioning valve on rear brakes, SecuriLock theft-deterrent system
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter dohc 16v inline-4
Specifications as Tested
AM/FM radio with 6-CD changer, center console, front courtesy lights with theater dimming, door map pockets, cloth trim on doors, removable package tray, sport bucket front seats with height adjust, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, tachometer, driver and passenger vanity mirror, battery saver, rear defroster, solar tinted glass, power point, power steering, trip odometer, rear window wiper/washer, aluminum wheels, fog lamps, power remote locking, power remote mirrors, floor mats; anti-lock brakes
Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter dohc 16v inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
130 @ 5300
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear