2005 Ford Focus Preview

The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Jim Burt Jim Burt Editor
May 17, 2004




Review continues below

When an automaker carries over a platform from one product cycle to the next, the result usually draws yawns, snickers and indifference. That is especially true inDetroit.

But the 2005 Ford Focus, while not perfect, should at least continue to draw peeks and serious consideration for the next four years from anyone shopping for a good car under $20,000.

Call it a mid-cycle refresh, I guess. But because Ford doesn’t want to incur the expense and hassle of giving the U.S. the brand new stem-to-stern remake of the Focus arriving in Europe, the U.S.2005 Focus is a more substantial “refresh” than we are accustomed to.

The hood is a smidge taller than the 2004 model, so women can see better when parking. The dashboard is, curiously, now less modern-looking than the old one. It’s now cleaner, more sedate and sort of Volkswagen-esque, like many of Ford’s new interiors (see the Five Hundred and Freestyle later this year, and you’ll get it). Gone are the ovoid air vents that appeared to be designed by George Jetson.

Clean machine

The press kit glibly states “Hug a Curve. Save a Tree.” Another line tries to appeal to both NASCAR lovers and the Sierra Club members: “Meaner, Greener, and Quicker.” All this and you get the point that the Focus’ newest engine is a nod to the crowd that would rather spend their money on food and shelter instead of gas. The inline four-cylinder engine, Ford says, is now one-third cleaner than the old one.

There are actually three new powertrains in the Focus this year. The new 2.0-liter Duratec 20E PZEV E engine (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) supposedly has zero fuel-system evaporative emissions. It produces 130 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. This engine is standard on the S, SE and SES versions of Focus, which will make up around 80 percent of the sales volume outside of states that require Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (SULEV). Then there’s a super-clean 20E version of that Duratec, which is the standard offering in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine — SULEV states. Topping the range is the 2.3-liter Duratec 23 DOHC engine in the performance ST version, coupled to a standard manual transmission. It kicks 154 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque. The ST replaces the SVT model, which goes away with the 2004 model year.

These are important upgrades. The old Focus offerings were a 110-horsepower, single-overheard cam four and a 130-horsepower dual overhead cam four.

Trimmed out

2005 Ford Focus

2005 Ford Focus

The changes inside include new door trim. There are now five cupholders and the ones in the instrument panel have better clearance from the shifter than the old one. The steering wheel now tilts and telescopes. The CD changer holds six Van Morrison CDs now instead of one. An MP3 player is offered now, as are heated seats. The gas tank is bigger for greater range, too.

Brakes are larger and quieter. With new linings, they squeak less than the outgoing model. No more 14-inch wheels: Pirelli fifteen-inchers are standard now, but you can go up to 16-inchers. An overhead storage bin has been added too.

All of these improvements are designed to address what every existing Focus owner knows: that this little entry in the Ford lineup used to be a bad seed, the problem child in the blue-oval lineup. The Focus was one of the most recalled cars in the business between 2000 and 2002. But since 2001, things-gone-wrong as measured by J.D. Power and Associates’ Initial Quality Survey have declined 58 percent. And though Civic is still rated more reliable, Consumer Reports rated the 2004 Focus “Best Pick” in the segment based on reliability, price, and performance.

Country roads

A short drive of the

2005 Focus ST
near Ann Arborlast week revealed a somewhat tighter chassis than the old one. The shifter was smooth, though maybe a bit shy of the desirable “snick-snick” that would have been an over-achieving surprise.

Seats in the ST were heavily bolstered, bordering on over-bolstered, for today’s American bottoms. One of the only remaining niggles from the old model was noise. Engine noise was tolerable, but wind noise is still excessive despite a lot of work done on the old model to improve air seals. Thicker glass needed? More insulating material? Something. A bit quieter, and this car suddenly drives like a VW Golf with Honda quality. And wouldn’t that be nice?

As with the 2004 model, the Focus comes with a 100,000 mile/five-year powertrain warranty, which was done in part to address the quality concerns with the Focus, and also to compete better with Hyundais, Kias, and Suzukis with long warranties battling in the same segment.

We stopped to open the trunk to find a pretty big boot, with a 60-40 fold down split of the rear seats. Tons of room for a lot of Home Depot purchases, even in the sedan. And Ford fixed the odd trunk latch in the 2004 model that drew complaints. The old one was hard to open, especially for women, oddly and awkwardly catching the latch when you open the trunk. Better still would be an automatic opener on the key-fob that springs the trunk open from a few feet away from the car.

The front grille on the Focus is bigger and the front turn signals have been taken out of the grille and put alongside the headlamps where they belong. And a tiny detail: the odd Focus font that made the word “Focus” on the trunk lid look like something out of a Community College design class is replaced by a clean block letter “Focus” font.

As with the old Focus, the lineup comes in sedan, three-door hatch, five-door hatch and five door wagon, a remarkable amount of choice and utility. Base Focus prices range from $13,550 for a three-door ZX3 to $18,250 for a Focus ZX. With Hyundai and Kia upgrading competing models, and their reputation for quality climbing the charts, and GM’s Cobalt debuting in the fall to replace the geriatric Cavalier, the Focus may have difficulty maintaining its share. But in our first drive, the 2005 model seems up to the task.

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