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2003 Ford Focus ZX5


     Once again I find myself at the mercy of the small car quota. “Muxlow, call up Ford and get a Focus for the week,” read the note on my desk. Ok, thought I, the primary truck editor here at AT. Half an hour later I had an Infra-Red ZX5 waiting for my impending pick-up. Nothing against the Focus, but when you are moving down from a full-size pick-up one week to a small car the next, the size difference is noticeable to say the least. At first I thought it was a joke when Ford asked whether I wanted it in paper or plastic. Alright, all jokes aside, but it did come in a Hot Wheels package. Ok, that’s not true either. Anyway, for an entry-level car, the Focus can add a flare of fun and style to your everyday commute as we quickly found out.
     Our test car came equipped with the DOHC 16-valve ZTEC I4, the sportier of the two available engines. It was the lifesaver of this little car in our eyes. The 2.0-liter has aluminum heads and winds out 130hp and 135lb-ft of torque at 5,300 and 4,500 rpm respectively. Luckily, with the standard manual transmission getting the little four up to those revolutions is just a downshift and a good prod of the throttle away. If you intend on fun driving or ultimate fuel mileage, the 5-speed manual is a no-brainer. With us, when you are able to row your own gears it is easier to overlook little things like the buzzy exhaust note, narrow tires, or the just adequate power. Don’t get me wrong; the little Zetec gets the job done when you don’t mind revving a little bit in the process. Zipping in and out of traffic can be a blast. Just down shift, twice on occasion, point and shoot. We found our selves confident in our gear swaps though the linkage had a bit of a rubbery feel to it. If you’re feeling aggressive hold on tight because hard shifts inflict the typical front wheel drive torque steer.

      A quick look at the Focus and you’ll be led to believe Geometry teachers, and not very good ones, made up the entirety of the design team. And yes, upon first inspection the barrage of conflicting shapes is polarizing, but we feel, especially now that it has been on the road for several years, that the crisp lines of those taut shapes have kept the car fresh and even handsome from certain angles. As we mentioned before, our test car was the five-door ZX5 model, which features a unique look that’s also functional from a cargo holding standpoint. Simply pop the rear hatch and slide in your bulky objects without worrying if the trunk lid will close or how many shoestrings you’ll have to sacrifice to tie it down.

      We found that the pick-a-shape design theme doesn’t translate as well in the interior but we will admit that everything was within reach and laid out logically with the exception of the hatch release button to the left of the gauge cluster. We liked the thick, leather-covered steering wheel complete with cruise controls and tilt and telescopic adjustments. The radio features large, well-marked buttons and our test car was equipped with the optional Audiophile package which adds the ability to feed 6-discs into the dash. Ford has made the ability to play MP3 encoded music standard on all Foci for 2003.
     Our tester featured only a couple other options including some comprehensive safety equipment that includes the AdvanceTrac vehicle dynamics system that will automatically apply brakes to help a driver with his hands full. Also on our car were side impact airbags and a new for 2003 perimeter alarm system. Those $2495 worth of options brought the total price of our car, including the obligatory Destination and Delivery fees, to $19,495.

      Every car inspires drivers in different ways. While the Focus didn’t do a lot for me personally, Dye became fond of tossing the little guy around. And while the Focus has had its share of recalls, Ford has been continually updating the car and plans to launch a heavily revised Focus later this year as a 2005 model. We are anxious to drive the new car, which features more contemporary and upscale styling inside and out, as well as 150hp in the top model. The new Focus will need all the help it can get because there are some tough new players in the game including its corporate cousin the Mazda 3.
     To sum things up, the Focus isn’t perfect, but for those looking for some excitement in their basic transportation, Ford might have just what they’re looking for.


The Good:
AdvanceTrac stability control, MP3 capable stereo, lively handling.
The Bad:
Not a classic beauty, strange shapes, buzzy engine.
The Verdict:
Thankfully there is a new model on the way because this car just isn’t running at the front of the pack anymore.
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