2004 Ford Focus

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2004 Ford Focus

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Practical and fun to drive Focus finally gets a really good engine.
Pros:
  • Strong new engine
  • Sharp ride and handling
  • Roomy
Cons:
  • Rather funky styling
  • Anti-skid system dropped
  • Moderate highway wind noise

The latest version of the European-style Ford Focus looks like it has shed its niggling defects and finally has a solid engine to make it an unusually attractive small car.

The previous Focus had a lackluster 4-cylinder engine—unless you wanted to order the costly hot rod SVT version, which came only with a manual gearbox and had an engine that demanded high revs for the best performance. The Focus, after all, was designed to be a roomy, practical economy car that was fun to drive, not a hot rod that called for constant gear shifts.

The new engine is a strong 2.3 liter 4-cylinder unit with 145 horsepower and good torque. As a bonus, the new engine has exceptionally low emissions. It's a modified Mazda unit (Ford controls Mazda) and shows that ultra-low emissions and good power are not mutually exclusive. Good show!

Solid Performance
Push down hard on the accelerator pedal and a Focus with the new engine leaps forward during merging and passing maneuvers. It's not as quick as the Focus SVT, but fast traffic no longer should be a concern of Focus owners.

Engines under 2.5 liters usually are robbed of too much power by an automatic transmission. But my test Focus ZTW station wagon with the new engine and its slick $815 4-speed automatic transmission was nearly as responsive as with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox.

Trim Level Variety
There is a whole slew of $13,425 to $19,330 Focus sedan, hatchback and station wagon versions for seemingly every taste, although all have rather funky styling. The 2.0-liter engine is standard in most of them: the ZTS and ZTW trim levels and in the ZX3 and ZX5 Premium versions. The 2.3-liter engine is optional in the ZX3 and ZX5 Comfort versions.

Last year's Focus had a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 110 and 130 horsepower, which was just adequate. The 2.0-liter SVT version generated 170 horsepower.

You can still get a 110- or 130-horsepower Focus, and also the rather costly SVT version. But the lower-horsepower engines now are for those who want an entry-level Focus with the highest fuel economy, although it's not much better than the economy provided by the 2.3-liter engine.

The Focus delivers an estimated 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway with a slick manual gearbox and 24 and 30 with the automatic transmission.

Figures for the most economical Focus engine—the 110-horsepower unit—are 27 and 36 with a manual and 26 and 32 with an automatic. The SVT engine delivers the lowest economy: 21 city, 28 highway.

Always Fun to Drive
No matter what engine, the Focus has been fun to drive since its arrival as a 2000 model. Ride and handling were tuned by Ford's European operation, so it has quick steering, sharp handling, solid braking and a firm-but-supple ride.

The steering is a little heavy, but has a nice hefty feel and good road feedback. The brakes stop the car with authority, but it's too bad that the anti-skid system has been dropped. Perhaps Ford figured that the option was too expensive at $1,625 for the Focus small car market.

Roomy
The Focus is among the roomiest small cars, with the station wagon especially good in that regard. My test ZTW wagon had a large cargo area even without flipping the rear seat entirely forward. It has a truly impressive 73 cubic feel of cargo volume and puts larger, popular "crossover" vehicles such as the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix (both 53.2 cubic feet) to shame.

Chair-height seating helps maximize people and cargo carrying capability, and the wagon's squared off back end allows plenty of cargo space.

Oversized door handles help allow easy entry, although rear doors should open wider and getting in and out of the coupe's back seat is difficult.

Two tall adults have plenty of room up front in large, supportive seats, but there's virtually no room between the front seats and the doors and center console; drop a piece of jewelry or pen between the seats and it seems as if the seats must be removed to recover those objects.

Rear seat room is generally good, although legroom gets tight for a 6-footer behind a driver with his seat shoved all the way back.

Oversized Controls
The smooth controls in the nicely designed dashboard are exceptionally large and easily reached, particularly those for the climate and sound system controls and for the power windows. Some cars more than twice the size of the Focus have smaller controls.

Even the dual front cupholders are nicely placed at the front of the console to help prevent spills, although the floor-height cupholder at the rear of the front console looks like an afterthought.

The airy interior is mostly quiet, except for moderate wind noise at highway speeds, but Ford clearly has worked to make the Focus more refined. It feels more solid and drives like a costlier car.

With the new engine, the Focus has become one of the top small-car buys.

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BB06 - 9/17/2014 4:43:47 PM