A college student looking for basic transportation with pizzazz or a couple looking for their first new car.
Comparable models in this class:
Chevy Cavalier, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Mirage
The Ford Focus ZX3 was abright, spunky little thing and we had a good old time together. As longas the weather held out, that is. While it's fine to see how well this carhandled the elements, I really wanted to get it out on a nice winding road andset it free. But the week I had the car opened with6 inches of snow, followed a couple of days later by heavy rain (whichwashed most of the snow away). The next day had high winds which was followed(finally) bytwo sunny days in the 50s (the fun days) after which time the snowreturned.
Ford has high hopes for their latest compact, with world domination beinghigh on their list. Unlike other compacts that wore the Ford blueoval, the Focus is a highly refined, solid car with a roomy interior, "New Edge"styling and genuine European road manners.
This is a young person's car with nearly halfof the Focus production going to buyers under 35 years old. To say that the Focusis also a "World Car" is an understatement because the Focus recently achievedbragging rights as the world's best-selling car with versions tailored to therequirements of individual countries around the world. In England, where it is thenumber one seller,Focus is available with diesel engines and, of course, right hand drive. Inthe United States, where SUV's and pickup trucks are king, Focus sales were good enough toput it in the top ten.
This is a well-built car with first-class fit and finish. Visibilitywas excellent with a higherthan normal seating position that provided a commanding view of the road. Thefront seats were comfortable with adjustments for height as well as seatbackangle and reach. I was impressed with the optional steering columnwhich was manually adjustable for both height and reach with the flick of asingle lever, a rare feature on a carin this price range.
The swooping, Picasso-style dash panel was bothinteresting and easy to get used to. All the controls came easily to handand had a quality feel to them. On the down side, the cup holders were a bit of a stretch andthe parking brake handle was awkward to reach because of the optional center arm-restthat was in the way. The manual shifter was smooth and easy to control, but I would have preferredshorter throws and a tighter shift gate.
As with any two door car, the back seat is best used by young limber types,but I was hard pressed to convince my 95 year old (in very good shape) mother ofthat. She insisted on jumping back there so that my wife could sit upfront next tome. Well, I learned early on not to argue with her when she got like that because I would onlylose,so I helped her climb into the back and noticed that she had a lot less troublegetting back there than I did when I tried. I decided that she's not above being conned once in awhile so I told her that, on the way back, I wanted my wife to evaluate the comfort back there for myreport. So on the return trip she reluctantly sat up front, worrying the wholetime how separating us likethat, wouldaffect our marriage. My wife did report that the back seat wascomfortable for the two hour return trip (and mom agreed).
The ZX3's performance was acceptable with 0-60 taking 10.3seconds. The 130 hp 2.0-liter Zetec engine sounded fairly refined even under full throttle withnone of the raspy sounds that are usually associated with a 4-cylinder engine in this pricerange. There was some torque-steer at full throttle especially when theroad was slippery, but it was not too difficult to manage. Torque-steer iscommon on front-wheel drive cars and occurs during hard acceleration or when one of the front drive wheelsstarts slipping, causing power to shift to the other wheel. This hasthe effect of causing the steering wheel to fight you and pull to oneside or the other. On modern front-wheel drive cars, this effect is fairlysubdued and well controlled, but can get annoying in a car that usuallydoes everything else right.
TheFocus ZX3 is a light car with minimal sound-deadening to isolate you from the road. This was especially noticeable in the rain where water spray from the rear tireswould hit the inside of the fender well and reverberate throughout the cabin. It sounded like a high-pressure water hose hitting a metal garbage can cover. Aside from that, this was a solid, quiet car with minimal wind androad noise.
On the snowy days, the traction control took care of the occasional waywardskid and kept this little car that could, chugging along. When I finallygot to my favorite stretch of winding country roads, I found this car to be ajoy to drive. Handling wassharp and predictable giving the ZX3 a nimble feel that inspired confidence. Ialso found it to be quite good at dodging wayward garbage pails on the windy day,
For an inexpensive car, the ZX3 was well equipped, right down to the standardleatherwrapped steering wheel, height-adjustable driver seat; 60/40 folding rear seatand alloy wheels. An AM/FM Stereo with a builtin CD player was also standard.
The optional sunroof was crank operated, but had all the functionality of a poweredsunroof. Turning the crank in one direction will tilt the sunroof up forventilation. Turning it in the other direction will retract the glasspanel back into the roof.
The new for 2001 Egg Yolk Yellow Clearcoat paint job certainly stood out fromthe crowd and made it easy to find in a parking lot. Focus also hadinteresting names for their other colors including: Cloud 9 White, Fort Knox Gold, Infra-Red,CD Silver, Jackpot Gold and Sangria Red among others. Last year, they had aspecial model for the active outdoor person which came in a metallic brown colorcalled "Dirt".
The Ford Focus comes in a variety of models including the darling 2-doorhatchback seen here. There are 4-door sedans in various trim levels and awagon to round out the selection. Prices range from $12,315 for a Basic2-door hatchback with no options to just over $19,000 for a loaded ZTX 4-doorsedan.
The expectations that most people have when shopping for a car in this pricerange are normally quite low. They would be happy to just find a boringsedan that is reliable and gets good fuel economy. When they realize thatthey could get a flashy car like this one for the same price as those econo-boxsedans, their eyes light up.
On one of the nicer days, I pulled into a parking lot where the car caughtthe eye of a group of college students who came over to take a closerlook. They summed up the ZX3 in one word. Coool!
Feedback Do you have any feedback on the ZX3 or any Focus for thatmatter? Anyopinions or experiences of your own? We would love to hear from you. Clickhere to send us your comments
I would jazz up the upholstery a bit. On a happy car like this, the interior needs more color.
Get rid of the standard smoker's package. Many young people today are health-conscious and may resent staring at a picture of a cigarette. Make it a coin tray with the smoker's package as a dealer option.
How does the Focus fit yourdriving style?
Conservative driversThis is a nimble, fun to drive small car that is big on the inside and small on the outside. It's easy to park and has a good ride.
Sporty drivers will enjoy the European feel and smooth power delivery that does not compromise the comfortable ride.
Fast drivers should opt for the 16" wheels and tires for better grip. When pushed to the limits, this car handles predictably and stops well.