Quick, name that car: Prince William recently was seen driving one. It’s garnered accolades from Sweden to Scotland, including the prestigious European Car of the Year 1999 Award. It’s been wolf-whistled by those who determine "l’automobile plus bella du monde" — the World’s Most Beautiful Automobile. It’s captured first place in the German Goldenes Lenkrad automotive competition. And no, it’s not a Jaguar.
Stumped? One more clue: It’s base price is under $12,500.
Correct answer: It’s the all-new Ford Focus, replacing long-running economy-class yawn, the Escort, and promising to create a new standard for small cars when it hits U.S. soil in autumn 1999. That, despite a name that comes in second only to the "Probe" in the contest for cheesy automobile names.
In a class where less is rarely more and "more" generally means colorful detailing and driver-friendly print ads (such as those for the Dodge/Plymouth Neon), or so many of the same model you find yourself trying to open someone else’s car at the grocery store (the ubiquitous Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic), the Focus has taken on the daunting task of standing out in the crowd while obeying its commands: high mileage, low price, reasonable convenience. In our first drive, it has come through with flying colors.
An impressive spec sheet
At a glance and on paper, the Focus is impressive. Built on an all-new platform, its design is far more adventurous than almost anything else to come off small-car assembly lines within recent years. Called "Smart Design," with "New Edge" proportions by Ford’s engineers, the lines are clean and dynamic, from the low hood line to a gracefully arcing greenhouse to its taller-than-average roof line (accommodating ever-taller drivers) and ending with a low-drag "Kamm" tail.
The Focus line shares a common front-end structure up to its B-pillar (behind the driver’s door), but the most striking aspect of the new design is the distinct personality of the three models in the line: the ZX3 hatchback, sedan and wagon.