|Voted as Europe’s Car of the Year in 1999, the Focus replaces the Escort and Contour. It’s tall body style allows for higher seating positions, easier entry and exit, more legroom, and better visibility. Available as a hatchback, sedan or wagon, Focus prices range from $14,895 to $19,695 plus freight and options.|
Tall body style provides roomy interior
The new European-designed Ford Focus replaces both the Escort and the Contour/Mystique in Ford’s 2000 model lineup. Available as a two-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon, the new Focus becomes both Ford’s entry-level car and mid-level compact car.
Its distinctive and somewhat controversial ‘New Edge’ styling combines sharp angles and triangular shapes with rounded fenders. The same styling theme is also used on the Mercury Cougar in North America, and the Ford Ka in Europe.
While its ‘New Edge’ styling may be an attention-grabber, the Focus’ most significant design feature is its tall body design. Though the Focus is about the same length and width as the Escort, it is 76 mm (3.0 in) taller and has a wheelbase that is 127 mm (5.0 in.) longer.
The benefits of its tall bodystyle are higher seating positions, better outward visibility, more interior legroom and headroom, larger doors and easier entry and exit. The Focus’ seats are more upright with a higher hip point (somewhat like a mini-van) and legroom has been improved through a combination of its longer 103 inch wheelbase, higher seating positions, and increased ‘footroom’ under the front seats for rear passengers.
Ford claims the Focus has more legroom than its major competitors, including the Chevrolet Cavalier, Saturn SL sedan and SW wagon, Chrysler Neon, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.
Ford’s group vice president of worldwide Product Development, Richard Parry-Jones, says the tall bodystyle was inspired by an increasingly taller population.
“In the year 2000, we expect the average male to be nearly a half-inch taller and women a quarter-inch taller than they were 10 years ago,” said Jones.
The appearance of taller cars may also have something to do with the increasing popularity of roomy mini-vans and sport-utility vehicles which have more passenger room and cargo room than most cars.
At the moment, the Ford Focus and Toyota Echo are the only ‘tall cars’ on the market, but expect to see more of these in the next few years.
Despite being considerably larger than a Ford Escort, the Focus weighs only about 43 kilograms (96 lb.) more, and has the same base engine: a 110 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine. Thus, the Focus’ power-to-weight ratio is about the same. Those who want increased performance can opt for a 130 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine, standard on the uplevel ZTS sedan and ZX3 hatchback.
My test car, a ZTS sedan, provided ample acceleration for most city and highway driving needs and proved to be a very comfortable highway cruiser. Acceleration from a standing start, mid-range acceleration, and highway passing was more than adequate, however I found the accelerator pedal to be sensitive when accelerating from a standing start, causing the car to jerk forwards if it’s not applied gently.
The Zetec engine emits a buzzy drone when accelerating hard, but is very quiet most of the time. At 100 km/h in top gear, the engine turns over a relaxed and quiet 2500 rpm. The optional four-speed automatic transmission proved well-matched to this engine, changing smoothly and unobtrusively.
On the highway, the Focus is a very comfortable car, with a well-damped ride, responsive steering, and predictable handling. The standard suspension is fully independent, compared to a semi-independent suspension in the Escort. With MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link ‘Control Blade’ system at the rear, the Focus corners very well.
The ‘Control Blade’ suspension introduces a small amount of passive rear wheel steer to improve steering and directional stability. After having driven the Focus on the track, I can state that this car offers exceptional stability and grip for a small car with a tall bodystyle.
All Focus models have standard front drum/rear disc brakes. ABS is standard on the ZTS and optional on all other models. The ABS-equiped brakes on my test car had plenty of stopping power for this lightweight sedan, and the standard power-assisted rack and pinion steering had the right balance of assist and directional control.
Interior is Trendy, But Functional
The Focus’ interior design continues the ‘New Edge’ styling theme found on the outside, featuring bold diagonal character lines across the dash, and acute angles around the instruments and dash controls.
More importantly, all controls are well-positioned for reach and visibility, particularly the power window buttons on the doors which face the driver and passenger, and the radio/heater controls which are large and easy-to-reach.
The driver’s seat is manually height-adjustable with a small wheel under the front of the seat. The higher seats and taller doors make entry and exit easier than in a typical sedan. Rear passengers have better-than-average room under the front seats to place their feet because the front cushions are raised and the supports for the front seats are set at the sides of the seats.
For storage, there’s a glovebox, large door pockets, and a centre folding armrest/storage bin, however the latter isn’t big enough to store CD’s.
Outward visibility is excellent, particularly over the low hood, but the trunk lid is a bit high for clear visibility when backing up. Another small complaint: my right leg sometimes bumped the protruding lower dashboard near the headlamp switch when getting in.
Standard safety features include front airbags, optional side airbags, rear child seat anchors and door locks, and front head restraints – surprisingly, rear head restraints are not available.
My test-sedan had a large 12.9 cubic feet trunk with a wide opening and standard 60/40 split folding seatbacks. The latter includes a rear-seat cushion that pulls up vertically, and seatbacks that fold down to provide a flat loading surface from the trunk. To stop thieves from entering the trunk from the passenger compartment, the rear seatbacks can only be released from inside the trunk.
The Focus hatchback has a 12.4 cubic feet trunk, and the Focus wagon has 37.5 cubic feet of cargo area, the largest cargo area in its class.
Three Bodystyles, Four Trim Levels
Focus four-door sedans come in three trim levels, LX, SE and ZTS priced at $14,895, $16,895, and $19,695 respectively. The Focus LX and SE sedans are priced about the same as the 1999 Escort LX and SE sedans – the sporty Focus ZTS sedan is a new trim level for 2000.
Focus Wagons come in one trim level, SE, priced at $17,595 – about $700 more than last year’s Escort SE Wagon – but the Focus Wagon now includes a standard automatic transmission.
The new Focus two-door hatchback is available in one sporty ZX3 trim level priced at $16,595. (The 1999 Escort-based ZX2 sporty coupe will continue to be offered for the 2000 model year.)
Standard equipment on the $14,895 Focus LX sedan includes the 110 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, 5 speed manual transmission, AM/FM radio with four speakers, power steering, two front next-generation airbags, height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, 12 volt power point, manual outside mirrors, rear defroster, and 14 inch tires.
SE Sedans, priced at $16,895, add the following features: air conditioning, all-door remote entry, and the availability of certain options such as power windows and tilt steering wheel.
Top-of-the-line ZTS sedans, at $19,695, add the 130 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, AM/FM/CD with removeable faceplate, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows, tachometer, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 15 inch tires with alloy wheels.
SE Wagons, $17,595, are equipped similarly to SE Sedans, but add a standard rear cargo cover, rear window wiper/washer, and roof rack.
ZX3 Hatchback models, for $16,595, add the 130 horsepower engine, rear wiper/washer, fog lamps, power mirrors, AM/FM/CD player, sport seats, a unique bright dash trim, and 15 inch tires and alloy wheels.
Focus models are assembled in Wayne, Michigan and Hermosillo, Mexico.