Sweet P...ZEV: 2.3-liter Focus brings more driving fun to an already enjoyable lineup
NOT OFTEN DO YOU GET something for nothing or even almost nothing. Not so the 2004 Ford Focus. We lauded the car when Ford launched it in the United States for the 2000 model year, and weíve continued to do so since. The Focusí combination of cost, steering and handling makes it one of our favorite compact cars this side of factory pocket rockets from Honda, Volkswagen and Fordís own SVT division. But since day one, we often wished for a more powerful, smoother engine option. Neither the 110-hp SPI base engine nor the 130-hp Zetec managed to keep pace (at least not the pace we wanted) with the carís fun, rewarding chassis.
Four years after launch, Ford stepped up to the plate. For a measly $115 (like we said, almost nothing) more than the cost of a 2.0-liter Zetec-equipped Focus, you can specify your car with Fordís Duratec version of the 2.3-liter I4 also available in Mazdaís 6 and 3, as well as the revised 2005 Ford Escape. The Mazda engine produces more power and torque through variable cam timing, though. If you reside in one of the so-called green states (California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont), the Duratec is the only available engine. Besides producing 15 extra horsepower and an additional 14 lb-ft of torque (peaking 250 rpm sooner) over the Zetecís 130-hp, 135-lb-ft engine, the Focusí 2.3 qualifies the car as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle. (The Mazdas and Escape use non-PZEV-rated engines.) This means the carís emissions are equal to or less than the total powerplant emissions produced in order to recharge an electric car. Based on our track test results and owner input, the Duratec recharges our already strong enthusiasm for the entire Focus lineup.
ďThis is an incredibly smooth and powerful four-cylinder that emits a satisfy-ing growl from the engine bay when you punch it,Ē says one owner.
Others agree. Several describe the engine as ďa real jewel,Ē and one driver was flat-out surprised by its per-formance. ďI expected dull response, but found anything but,Ē he said. ďIt really jumps out when you boot it, especially over 3000 rpm.Ē
Our track test results confirm such seat-of-the-pants impressions. With 3000 rpm on the tach, we drop-clutch launched our ZX3 hatchback test car from 0 to 60 mph in 8.52 seconds, 0.62 second quicker than we managed with the Zetec-powered hatch (AW, April 3, 2000). We also bettered our previous quarter-mile run, even though strong winds hampered our full-drag-strip blasts. Our best time of 16.68 seconds at 86.2 mph eclipsed the 16.83 seconds at 81.3 mph we managed with the 2.0-liter car. For each test, we achieved maximum acceleration by running the torquey engine all the way to its 6500-rpm limit between shifts, with second gear good for 62 mph.
More relevant, the Focus 2.3 smashes the Zetecís performance in the all-important time-to-pass drills. Its 3.9-second 40-to-60-mph time betters our previous test carís run by a significant 1.7 seconds, and we ran from 60 to 80 mph in 6.3 secondsóa 1.3-second improve ment. We greatly appreciate the broad torque curve and lower time-exposed-to-danger when passing on two-lane, undivided highways.
Pure muscle isnít the PZEVís only trump card over lesser Foci, though. The new engine boasts slightly better fuel economy (25/33 mpg vs. 25/32) than does the Zetec, aided in part by a taller final drive (3.41 vs. 3.82). AutoFile contributors report the EPAís certification is accurate, with 30 mpg-plus highway economy the norm. One respondent says he has achieved 31 mpg in combined driving conditions during his carís first 7000 miles.
Owners note few problems. One received his car with a faulty front-passenger seatbelt, rendering it useless. The same owner also experienced headlight failure after the related wiring system burned itself to oblivion, prompting him to worry, ďEvery time I work at night, I wonder what will happen when I turn on the headlights.Ē Another experienced headlight switch failure and faulty dashboard lighting. Dealers quickly rectified each ownerís problems under warranty.
Itís fair to say we no longer have much to gripe about when it comes to the Focus; improved interior materials to go along with the improved powertrain would be nice, but really, weíre nitpicking. Besides the new engine, the 2004 modelís revised sus-pension struts and steering knuckles provide more of the same corner-carving fun weíve come to expect. Our test car pulled 0.81 g on the skidpad, the same as the Zetec record-ed, but slithered through our slalom at 45.1 mph. While this 1.4-mph improvement over our 2000 test car is at least due in part to one-inch-larger tires, the point is clear.
Improved performance doesnít always carry a high price.
My dealer was offering $5,000 off every Focus and it was too good a deal to pass up. Iím 42 and I feel like Iím 23 when I jump behind the wheel. I love it because it is fun to drive, fast, handles great, and the ergonomics are nicely laid out. I am a tad concerned about the quality of materials, which arenít up to the standards of Honda and VW. The shifter is also rubbery and vague. But for the $10 grand I paid, I canít really complain. -Mike Pease, Murrieta, Calif.
The Mazda Protegť had a better dash layout, but what sold me on the Focus was the exceptional ride and handling. With the new 2.3-liter engine, it is also much quicker. I was wary of buying a Focus because of its recall history and the reputation of domestic economy cars, but I couldnít be happier. The car remains as tight and rattle-free as the day I bought it. On top of this, it has got to be the most fun-to-drive small car I have driven. -Kevin Averill, Seal Beach, Calif.
I am six feet tall and have no headroom problems thanks to the height-adjustable driverís seat, which also accommodates my five-foot-tall wife. The handling and ride are good. We are averaging nearly 30 mpg in all conditions. We appreciate its size, style and all the user controls. We looked at the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Hyundai Sonata and Honda Civicóall great vehicles, but the Focusí shape, features, warranty, higher horsepower and value sealed the deal. -Brian Semich, Indianapolis
The new engine has great torque and is jewel-like cruising at 85 mph without a complaint. Wind noise is very well managed, even with the moonroof open. The interior has cheap-feeling plastic in places, and I wish you could get heated seats without leather. Despite its small size, my wife feels safe driving it among all the San Francisco-area SUVs. We had one small warranty issue with the headlight-selector switch failing and none of the dash lighting would come on. The dealer replaced it promptly. -Toby Weir-Jones, Sunnyvale, Calif.
Ford Motor Co.
The American Road
Dearborn MI 48126
Customer assistance: (800) 392-3673
Internet address: fordvehicles.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 4000 (est.)
$690 delivery): $15,815
As tested: $18,060
Owners paid; average: $9,975 to
OPTIONS AS TESTED
Leather seats ($695); ABS ($400); audiophile
system ($395); side airbags ($350); six-disc
CD changer system ($280); perimeter alarm
OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Four-speed automatic transmission ($815);
moonroof ($595); traction control ($125)
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