Ford Focus(2001)

Ford Focus


The Ford Focus was a very pleasant surprise. After all, it's following in the tire tracks of the Escort ... so our expectations were modest. The truth is, the Focus is a pretty great car. It's extremely well designed, offering an enormous amount of interior space for its size and a fun-to-drive quotient on a par with much more expensive cars. The only question is how it will hold up over time. Has Ford improved its build quality, or just its design quality?

The Focus is the smallest, least expensive Ford you can buy in the U.S. Introduced as a 2001, it improves on its predecessor in virtually every way. The Focus is available as a two-door hatchback, a four-door sedan, and a five-door wagon, all with front-wheel drive. We drove the top-of-the-line ZTS sedan (cars.com target price of $15,839) and the Focus wagon (cars.com target price $16,824).

Driving Experience

Ford FocusFor the price, the Focus was very impressive. Perhaps most impressive was the steering feel, which was as good and precise as some of the German cars we drove that cost $10,000 more. The wagon and ZTS sedan both use Ford's ZTEC four-cylinder engine, the same engine that's in the 4 cylinder Contour and the Escort ZX 2 coupe. We found it to be adequate with the automatic transmission. The engine was responsive, quiet, and smooth. Both transmissions shifted smoothly. The base Focus sedan, by the way, uses Ford's SOHC split port engine, which is also found in the most recent Escort.

Get the Focus out on the highway, and what do you find? It's no Lexus. But you could buy two Foci for the price of the cheapest Lexus sedan. The Focus is a little noisy at higher speeds, but, by cheap-little-car standards, it's not bad at all. It tracked straight, felt solid, and didn't seem to be overly affected by winds.

Ford FocusAcceleration (ZTS), stopping, and cornering were all better than average. Acceleration in the wagon with the ZTEC engine was adequate.

Interior


Inside, the Focus feels positively spacious. If Scotty beamed you into the driver's seat, you'd never guess you were in Ford's smallest car. Ford is the latest manufacturer to catch on to the idea that putting a high roof on a small car makes the interior feel much bigger. The Focus wagon is the same length as the old Escort but three inches taller. Ray thought those extra few inches made the car feel nearly as big on the inside as his Volvo V70.

Ford FocusThe standard equipment in the Focus is pretty basic: ashtrays, carpeting, rear defroster, floor mats, reclining seats, trip odometer, and lots of other stuff we've come to expect in any car that wasn't manufactured in Yugoslavia. Nearly everything else is an option, which is, of course, is one way they keep the base price so low.

And now for an option we wish the Focus we test-drove hadn't had: automatic door locks. As soon as the car gets up to 4 or 5 mph, the doors lock -- all by themselves. You can unlock the doors manually, and they'll stay unlocked through subsequent stops and starts, but it's a pain in the tuchus if you forget. Imagine coming back to the car with your arms full of laundry, only to find that the back doors are locked and you don't have the key. Not a reason to NOT buy the car, but you get the idea.

In terms of safety, driver and passenger air bags are standard equipment. Side air bags are a $350 option. The Focus did well in NHTSA government crash tests, getting five stars out of five in frontal crash testing and an overall crash rating of "good."

Ergonomics

Ford FocusControls on the Focus are wonderfully and elegantly simple. There are no touch screens here, just good, honest switches, knobs, and dials. The controls for the ventilation and the radio require no thought whatsoever, and the instrument panel is easy to read. Good going, Ford! (Is anyone at Mercedes reading this?)

Styling

We think it's a nice-looking car. The Focus looks more expensive than it is. For a car that starts at $12,600, the Focus has a surprisingly attractive European look to it. The wagon is a little clunky looking (but there's not that much you can do with a wagon); the sedan is interesting and stylish without being at all garish; and the three-door has a funky, youthful look to it. But ... where does Ford come up with these colors? Ours was some kind of a parrot-effluent gold, if you'll pardon us for saying.

Reliability

What do we look like, psychics? This is a new car, and even the rental car agencies of Our Fair City haven't had a chance to rack up 150,000 miles on a Focus yet. The Focus does look fairly well built, so that's encouraging. Ford provides its usual three-year, 36,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty, but as we said earlier, this is the big question: The Focus is a great car to drive, but will it stay that way as the odometer rolls over? Our hope is yes; our experience with the Escort leads us to be wary.

Maintenance

Ford Focus
We popped the hood and were disappointed to find that the engine bay is a trifle cramped, especially in comparison to the Escort. Still, all in all, we have a hunch that the Focus will be relatively easy to work on and pretty cheap to maintain, like its predecessor.

Overall comments


The Focus is so nicely designed that, if it turns out to be reliable, it would be our pick for "small car to buy." It really was well thought out, and you get a lot for your money. It's not a luxury car, but it's comfortable enough, quiet enough, simple enough, and cheap enough. It's more than large enough inside, and in ZTS form, more than fun enough to drive. A decent engine and transmission, roomy interior, fine handling, and no glaring faults make the Focus quite competitive with other good small cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protege, and Volkswagen Golf. And, for the price, what else do you want?

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


[Test Drive Notes Index]