The sedans are comfortable and move people efficiently. The three-door hatchback is economical and practical yet sporty and fun at the same time. The five-door hatchback makes it easier for rear-seat passengers to join in the merriment. The wagons can carry a ton of cargo. We found the sporty ZX4 ST fun to drive, if a bit noisy. It delivered strong acceleration from its 151-horsepower engine with sharp handling and precise steering from its sports suspension. It ranks among the most enjoyable cars in its class.
The Focus benefited from extensive upgrades inside and out for 2005 so there are relatively few changes for the 2006 models. New options for 2006 include a package that bundles popular safety and convenience features. A new Street Appearance Package adds a unique face, foglamps, lower air deflector, rear bumper and spoiler designed to give the Focus the look of a tuner car.
Buyers of early models had to endure a string of recalls, but those problems appear to have been solved.
Ford Focus ZX3 S ($13,465); ZX4 S ($14,075); ZX5 S ($14,780); ZX3 SE ($14,985); ZX4 SE ($15,590); ZX5 SE ($16,300); ZXW SE ($17,310); ZX3 SES ($16,095); ZX4 SES ($16,700); ZX5 SES ($17,410); ZXW SES ($18,420); ZX4 ST ($18,220)
Styling revisions to the front of the Focus for '05 were designed to complement the look of the Ford Five Hundred, the company's flagship sedan. Its hood and fenders fall away less sharply than the original to make the car look more substantial and to create a better sight line of the edge of the car for easier parking.
The most noticeable change is the larger grille with the diamond pattern ringed in chrome. Other details include reshaped headlamps with clear lenses and a fascia that incorporates a wide lower air intake, and round fog lamps.
On two-tone models, the lower portions of the instrument panel and door trim panels are finished in a lighter shade for a more open feeling. Cloth and leather upholstery are offered. The ZX4 ST has unique woven fabrics or suede seating surfaces surrounded with leather trim.
A standard floor console houses the shifter, two cupholders, the parking brake, and controls for options such as traction control. An overhead console includes a sunglasses holder and a space for a garage door opener. Storage is also provided in the front doors, which feature molded-in bottle holders.
A CD player with MP3 capability is standard on all models. Models with the optional six-disc CD changer feature audio controls on the steering wheel.
The 136-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is the base engine for most of the country. In California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, the Focus comes standard with a super-clean, 130-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Fuel economy is good: The base engine earns an EPA rating of 26/35 mpg City/Highway with the five-speed manual, 26/32 with the four-speed automatic. More important, it puts out much lower emissions so it meets California's PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) standards.
The Focus ZX4 ST is fun to drive. Ford borrowed pieces of the suspension from the European-market Focus and the 2004 Focus SVT to make the ZX4 ST more performance oriented than the other models. It borrows the front struts and rear shocks from those models, and they are 50 percent stiffer than the ones on the SE and SES versions. The ZX4 ST comes with unique 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels and Pirelli all-season radials. The package provides sharp handling response, precise steering and generally an enjoyable connection with the road.
We found the higher horsepower engine in the Focus ZX4 ST delivered strong acceleration performance and cruised easily on the highway. The only complaint with the engine was noise. Despite efforts by Ford engineers to quiet the cabin, the ZX4 ST was noisy even when cruising at highway speeds. The 151-horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder that goes in the ZX4 ST gets an EPA-rated 23/32 mpg.
The Ford Focus is inexpensive, stylish, practical and fun, and it appears Ford has fixed the quality problems that plagued the 2000 and 2001 models. The Focus boasts an extra-long powertrain warranty of five years or 100,000 miles and the improvements have boosted its quality ratings.
Michelle Krebs filed the original report, with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.