2002 Ford Focus Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
February 27, 2002

Take it from experience — even with a fresh disposable razor and a jar of Metabolife, it’s highly unlikely you’ll discover any hidden inner Vin Diesel. Some heads just aren’t meant to be shaved and some abs just refuse to show themselves in public.

While buffness doesn’t come without work, you can have some of the performance of those fast and furious machines Vin seems to like, and pretty easily. You can steer clear of the 160-hp version and score a 200-hp Acura RSX, or sneer at the base coupe and go for a 170-hp Civic Si hatch, for example.

But even from those starting points, you might still spend a year’s worth of weekends in the garage embedding new chips and stringing new exhaust systems and fulfilling three of the five legal requirements for estrangement from your spouse. Have at it — or you can admit to yourself that all you really want is a little more power and some of the cool aero add-ons and buy something like the prepackaged hot rod that is the Ford SVT Focus.

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What Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) calls “the most technologically advanced vehicle SVT has produced so far” is really a shortcut. If you’re an enthusiast that wants an aftermarket-looking car, but you don’t know ratchet sets from Nurse Ratched, the SVT Focus is one quick way to street cred. You won’t have to spend a month of Sundays figuring out that a supercharger does nothing to get your cell phone back to life, nor do you have to spend much money doing it. Just $17,995 gets you 170 hp, a six-speed gearbox, good-looking add-ons and a factory warranty that no Pep Boys can match.

Mod mods

How does a mild-mannered Focus three-door become a sexier, faster piece of urban surgical equipment? It goes to SVT for the car equivalent of a two-week stint at a fitness resort. SVT’s mission is to take existing vehicles and give them a sort of American AMG treatment, boosting output, firming up suspensions and ladling on aftermarket cues like spoilers and unique trim, and the Focus benefits from a little of everything.

2002 Ford Focus

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2002 Ford SVT Focus

2002 Ford SVT Focus

The essential piece of machinery here is the 2.0-liter in-line four. Fundamentally it’s the same engine found in the Focus ZX3 hatch, but in the SVT version it makes forty more horsepower, for a total of 170 hp, and ten pound-feet more of torque.

It gets there through a variety of massage techniques, all legit. The intake manifold grows dual-stage intakes, with a longer runner length for engine speeds below 6000 rpm and shorter ones above. The intake valves have larger ports for better breathing and electromechanically operated variable cam timing. The pistons get forged connecting rods, too.

Aside from the extra ponies, another result of the engine mods is that the SVT Focus develops 85 percent of its torque before 2200 rpm, a stark difference from 180-hp Celicas and 200-hp Acura RSXs that don’t even wake up until the clock hits 5000 rpm. At the same time, the SVT also qualifies as a Low Emissions Vehicle, which probably means the Sierra Club won’t slap red paint on you in the Von’s parking lot.

The zippy but throaty engine gets teamed with a Getrag twin-shaft six-speed transmission with thicker clutch pressure plates. All hotted up, SVT clocks the Focus at 7.9 seconds to 60 mph and at a 134 mph top speed. You’ll hear every second of it, too, as the tuned engine throbs and thrums more than a stocker — but surely less than any homemade speed machine.

Moves and grooves

Like the standard Focus, the SVT’s road manners are more than politely capable — they’re conspirators, egging you on to deeper apexes than you might think proper for a car with economy-minded genes.

The Focus isn’t SVT’s first whack at a front-wheel-driven sport model; that honor went to the ’98 SVT Contour. The Focus benefits from that experience and the good road manners of the base car.

2002 Ford SVT Focus

2002 Ford SVT Focus

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Tuning the suspension for aftermarket wannabes means tighter spring (10 percent in front, 20 percent stiffer in the rear) and shock rates, a bigger anti-roll bar and new 17-inch wheels and tires. Brakes have been uprated too, with bigger front discs and standard rear discs all with anti-lock control. The choice of Continental ContiSports (215/45R-17s) came as much from rounds of testing as it did from supplying ease, the SVT guys say.

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On a modified Willow Springs road course, the SVT couldn’t be provoked into an iffy move. It’s set up to corner neutrally and behave benignly, though some other drivers present felt as if one of the test vehicles tipped into noticeable understeer. It’s on the street where you’ll notice the compromises made for the track-ready performance: even a short, low bump sends a firmly damped thump through the cabin. You’ll only object if you tend to view speed bumps as a distraction from tuning the radio.

The steering has some of the Ford heavyweight feel, but it’s easy and a sensual pleasure to dial in everything from a smart lane change to a tire-chirping hairpin. In all the SVT’s handling is a noticeable and worthwhile improvement over an already good setup.

Cue style

Inside and out, the SVT Focus bears subtle differences from the stock ZX3. The front end wears a deeper front air dam with big bullet fog lamps, and new side moldings and a rear spoiler are wrapped around cleanly. Oddly, in red, the SVT seems to blend in with the Japanese hot coupes and hatches, but in blue looks every bit a Ford.

2002 Ford SVT Focus

2002 Ford SVT Focus

The interior gets sport seats from the European Focus (with lever-type seat boosters and color-keyed fabric inserts), leather trim on the seats, steering wheel and gearshift, a new AM/FM/CD stereo with steering column-mounted controls, and titanium-faced gauges. The seats are firmer and more shapely than the standard-issue buckets, and as always the Focus’ cockpit is a great place to work.

Only three option packages are offered: a 290-watt stereo with an eight-inch subwoofer and six-disc CD changer ($675); a power sunroof ($595); and a winter package with heated seats, traction control and a block heater ($395). You can also choose one of four hiply named colors: Infra-Red, CD Silver, Pitch Black and Sonic Blue.

When the 390-hp Cobra Mustang appears this fall, SVT’s lineup will offer three vehicles, including the Focus, Mustang and the 380-hp Lightning F-150. For today’s street racers, the Focus might be the most appealing as well as the most easily available.

2002 Ford SVT Focus
Base price: $17,995
Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 170 hp
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 168.1 x 66.9 x 56.3 in
Wheelbase: 103.0 in
Curb weight: 2750 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 21/25 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side impact airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows, cruise control, CD player, leather and metallic trim, keyless entry
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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