Universal Export: the Ford Focus hatchback
On the British show “Mock the Week”, a game was once run in which comedians had to come up with “lines you won’t hear in the new James Bond movie.” One of these lines was “Here’s your new car Bond, a Ford Focus.” On the face of it, the diminutive Focus — which launched in Europe in 1998 and arrived on our shores a few years later — isn’t exactly the type of car 007 would drive. Not unless his License to Kill was stripped away and replaced with a “license to save fuel”, that is. Now, until recently, I’d never driven a Focus. The other day, in honor of my “Small American Hatchbacks” series here at SW, I sought to change that. I was pleasantly surprised.
The Focus is quite a common car, and I’d always found it a bit boring. It’s small and inoffensive. While the crisp New Edge styling was controversial in 1998, it’s merely average in 2010. The thing is, most Focii seen on the streets are sedans or wagons. The hatchback version, which is what I tested, is much more interesting.
Start with the styling, for instance. The sedan, especially after Ford’s misguided 2008 redesign, is vaguely dorky in appearance. The wagon is similarly afflicted. The three- and five-door models, on the other hand, share the crisp front-end styling of the regular Focus, but have really funky high-mounted taillights. The rear side windows are shaped like really weird triangles, and meld well with the curving roof line at the back of the car. It’s an interesting package, to say the least. It almost reminded me of the styling seen on some of the European cars we can’t get here. This makes sense, as the Focus was originally developed by Ford in Europe as a “world car” that would be exported, with minimal changes, to international markets.
Inside, the Focus is somewhat less impressive. The interior was somewhat austere and boring. The materials were a little disappointing. The plastic used to make most of the dashboard was the same kind used to make the seats on the really cheap GT winter racers. The upholstery was equally disappointing. That said, the fat steering wheel and intuitive, accessible controls were both plus points. The switchgear wasn’t bad, and the dials were laid out well. The car I drove lacked a tachometer, which was disconcerting for me. I imagine this was because it was an automatic.
What really made to Focus for me, however, was the way it drove. The 2.0L four-cylinder engine, which produces 130 bhp, made a deep, purring sound. It had an almost diesel-like delivery of torque, which made the Focus a great in-town runabout. Handling was nimble and precise, and the ride, at both town and highway speeds, was surprisingly comfortable. Sound dampening was excellent. If I were buying a Focus, I’d find one with a manual. I think it’d be much more fun that way.
Focus crash tests are strong, though not as reassuring as those of the slightly larger Vibe. The driver receives a five-star rating on the frontal impact test, while most other tests on the car get three- or four-star figures. Reliability has been satisfying, and fuel economy is excellent, as is typical of most small cars.
The Focus isn’t quite as versatile as the Vibe, but I think it would be much easier to live with. The hatch provides plenty of versatility, and it really is a fun little car to drive. ZX3 and ZX5 hatchback models could be optioned quite thoroughly. The ZX3 I tested had heated seats, a sunroof, and a CD player. Other available options included leather seats and alloy wheels. Overall, I think the Ford Focus hatchback would be a great student car. It’s simple and cheap, but it has a fun-ness, a joie de vivre, that even James Bond might approve of.
Vehicle: 2006 Ford Focus ZX3, 2.0L
Mileage: 90,000 km
Condition: Showing the kind of wear that would be expected after four years of use.
Asking price: $6,900 (at dealer, with CPO warranty.)
My overall rating: 95 / 100 (“A+”, for being fun to drive and reasonably practical.)