2004 Ford Focus


2001 Ford Focus

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 6
  • Easy entry and exit
  • European-style handling
  • Comfortable, upright seat positions
  • Less-than-impressive quality image
  • Some safety features are extras
  • Road noise and annoying squeaks, groans

The Focus is in its second model year now—a good time to determine whether initial impressions of Ford's newest small car were accurate.

Entering the market in the 2000 model year, Focus breezed in with lots of hype that, as Ford's newest small car, it would set new standards in interior comfort and packaging.

I'm happy to say the hype wasn't misleading, given the novel design of the Focus models, which come as sedan, hatchback and station wagon. Each is taller than many competitors, allowing Ford to build in commendable interior room and position seats—and riders—higher off the ground than what you'd expect in a small car.

The result is a 2001 Focus sedan, for example, with 38.5 inches of rear-seat headroom compared with 36.7 inches in the 2001 Dodge Neon and 36.9 inches in the 2001 Toyota Corolla.

The Focus wagon has even more—40 inches of rear-seat headroom compared with 38.1 inches in the 2001 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon and 39.12 inches in the Saturn SW.

Higher seats bring better legroom
Because riders' hip points are raised with those higher seats, the Focus offers more legroom, too. The sedan has a full 43.1 inches in the front seat and 37.6 inches in the back seat, while the Neon has 42.2 inches and 34.8 inches, respectively.

The Focus wagon also offers 43.1 inches of front-seat legroom and another 37.6 inches of legroom in the back seats. These compare with 41.5 inches and 33.5 inches, respectively, in front and rear seats of the VW Jetta Wagon and 42.5 inches and 30.7 inches, respectively, in the second-row seats of the Saturn SW.

The Focus wagon cargo room of 37.5 inches is more than the 34 inches in the Jetta Wagon, too.

But Focus isn't necessarily wider than competitors, so three adults still fit snugly next to each other in the back seat.

No struggle to get inside
One of Focus's best features, in my view, is the easy entry and exit for occupants. I didn't sit "down" in this car. I merely turned and sat on the seat gracefully.

The interior felt more spacious than I expected—with no clutter.

Someone my size—5 feet 4 inches—doesn't always get a usable dead pedal. But I did in the Focus wagon.

I also appreciated the easy-to-use wind-up height adjustment for the driver seat. It's a standard feature that helped me get good visibility out of the vehicle. In some other entry-level cars you have to pay extra for height adjustment.

Four-cylinder engines offered
There are two Focus engines, and both are four cylinders. I'd recommend the up-level Zetec for best performance.

This double overhead cam powerplant doesn't take much away in terms of fuel economy ratings compared with the base single overhead cam engine, but the peppier performance can be noticeable. Also, Focus models with the up-level engine have larger stabilizer bars in the suspension system, which improve handling.

The Zetec engine is the only one offered in the Focus hatchback and station wagon models for the 2001 model year.

The 2.0-liter Zetec four is capable of 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. It didn't make my test Focus wagon a pocket rocket, but the car did feel lively on flat roads and highways.

Engine noise heard
Mated to a four-speed automatic, the engine in the test car was easy to hear, both at idle and on acceleration.

The sound was especially noticeable as the engine worked hard in mountainous terrain, and I didn't get a sense the Focus wagon is highly insulated from noise overall, because road noise and wind noise also were evident.

The Focus engine compares with the 115-horsepower 2.0-liter single overhead cam four cylinder in the base Jetta Wagon that puts out a maximum 122 lb-ft of torque at 2,00 rpm. Note the Jetta Wagon also will be offered with two other engines—a 170-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter four cylinder and a 174-horsepower 2.8-liter V6.

European-style handling
Still, the real pleasure of the Focus is in the handling.

Though Focus carries a famous American name—Ford—the car is sold around the world, so Ford made sure engineers from its European operations were involved. The Europeans stressed the need for the Focus to drive and handle more like a European car, and their work is noticeable to anyone who has driven Ford's small cars in the past. Simply, the Focus comes with surprisingly fun and capable handling for a small, entry-level car.

The Focus power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering surprised with its quick response, for example.

The MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear both include stabilizer bars and managed road bumps effectively, providing a pleasant ride. It's not exactly cushioned, but it's not punishing, either.

The Focus wagon and hatchback ride on bigger, 15-inch wheels while the base sedan rides on 14-inchers and the top sedan, the ZTS, has 16-inch wheels.

Honored as new car, but . . .
The Focus received many awards as a hot newcomer in its first model year.

But the Focus also has been the subject of at least seven recalls. Additionally, independent surveys indicated there have been some quality issues that, for example, reportedly resulted in a lower-than-average score in the annual J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study, released in May 2000.

My Focus wagon had an annoying metal-on-metal squeak in the rear interior that I couldn't pinpoint or eliminate. Also, each time I turned into a driveway or parking lot I heard a groan from somewhere in the front suspension or brake system of the test car.

There also have been complaints from owners who don't feel they're getting the kind of fuel economy they expected from this new small car.

Some safety equipment is optional
Unfortunately, on the Focus wagon anti-lock brakes are a $400 option, and side-impact airbags are a $350 option. They're both standard on the Jetta Wagon, in addition to side curtain airbags.


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BB03 - 9/19/2014 11:10:11 PM