Story and photos by Laurance Yap

2005 Ford Focus
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Mont-Tremblant, Quebec – Recently, Ford held a driving program at the big, fast, and scary Circuit Mont-Tremblant, and there were people lined up to take the new 300-hp Mustang out on the track first. Me, I made a beeline for the Focus.

Why? For three reasons, really. First, Tremblant is a big, formidable track, and I wanted to work my way up to the Mustangs from something smaller and slower, where I could re-acquaint myself with the corners a bit before barrelling down the back straight in a car with 300 horsepower toward the hairpin that you can’t see over the crest of the last hill.

Second, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Focus, a relatively humble family car, would perform on the track. And finally, the Focus has always been a great thing to drive with steering and suspension that are amongst the best in the business.

The Focus felt soft on the first lap around Tremblant, but it quickly became obvious that the 2005 model has lost none of its ability. It grips, steers, and most importantly, communicates better than ever. It’s easy to get into a rhythm with the chassis, flowing in and out of corners using small motions at the steering wheel and shifter. Though it’s not exactly fast, maintaining momentum is surprisingly easy thanks to the way the chassis settles down in a turn and the way the suspension absorbs any bumps you may encounter. The steering, which is the same as used in the Ford GT (yes, it’s that good) telegraphs exactly what the front wheels are doing, and if you do manage to enter a corner a bit too quickly and have to back out of the gas, the car’s very forgiving, rotating a bit, but never threatening to throw you off-course.

2005 Ford Focus
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You may wonder whether this means much for the Focus’ performance on the open road. While most Focus owners aren’t likely to ever go near a racetrack, they will definitely notice the sense of confidence and stability that can only come from cars that have been honed to perform predictably at high speeds. On pitted, rutted Quebec back roads, the Focus is unflappable; it’s stable through the corners, rides as smoothly as any luxury sedan, and cruises along at indecent speeds on the highway without any complaint. The engines – a base 136-hp 2.0-litre four in most models and a 153-hp 2.3-litre in the manual-only ST sedan – provide more than enough go for all situations, though the 2-litre works decidedly better with the 5-speed manual than the four-speed automatic.

Rest assured, too, that the Focus remains a practical and economical conveyance as well as an enjoyable one.

2005 Ford Focus
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It was one of the first compact cars to incorporate a higher-set seating position to increase interior volume, and indeed the Focus’ cabin remains one of the roomiest and most comfortable in the class. The seats are firm and supportive, the dashboard and console (totally redesigned for 2005) are littered with useful storage spaces (there’s a flip-down CD bin in the dash, giant cupholders, an armrest-cum-storage bin and large door pockets), and the climate and audio controls are easy to use. Quality, one of the Focus’ shortcomings at its initial launch in 2000, is significantly improved, with nicely-finished materials tucked closely together.

One of the car’s key selling features has always been the wide variety of body styles in which it’s available. In addition to the common four-door sedan, there’s a wagon with a load bay big enough to get a sofa into, and two hatchbacks, with three and five-doors.

2005 Saleen Focus
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Of the bunch, the five-door is the most attractive, and is almost as versatile as the wagon, so long as you don’t need an extra-long cargo area. All of the 2005 Foci also share a new front-end design with squared-off headlights, new wheels with Pirelli rubber, and other detail design changes. On its way for 2006 is an aggressive sports appearance package targeted at the tuner crowd, and incorporating a deeper front bumper, new wheels, sill extensions, and a larger rear spoiler.

Focus prices start at under $17,000 for a basic sedan and can rise to about $26,000 for a fully-loaded ST with audiophile sound system, upgraded interior trim, and side airbags. That’s a wide range of prices for a wide range of cars that cover a wide range of needs. As Ford consolidates construction of Foci in Wayne, Michigan (the company currently builds cars there as well as Hermosillo, Mexico), it plans to continually upgrade the car. According to the car’s chief engineer, Steve Pintar, we likely won’t ever see the new-generation Focus platform that’s on sale in Europe, and which underpins the Mazda3 and Volvo V50 – but in the coming years, we will see a Focus that, though it may be based on the current platform, will look entirely different.

There’s not much wrong with what’s under the Focus’ skin anyways.

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