2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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The Ford Focus was given a major update last year that included revised exterior styling, an all-new interior design, a more powerful 136-horsepower 2.0-litre DOHC 4-cylinder base engine, and a peppier 151-hp 2.3-litre DOHC 4-cylinder engine for the new performance-oriented ST sedan model. For 2006, changes are minimal: the most important is a new GFX Appearance Package, available on sedan and hatchback models, that gives the Focus a sportier, “tuner”-like appearance.

The Focus is still available in four body styles: two-door hatch (ZX3), four-door hatch (ZX5), four-door sedan (ZX4), and four-door wagon (ZXW). The ‘3’ in ZX3 and the ‘5’ in ZX5 refer to ‘3-door’ and ‘5-door’, terms that seem to have caught on industry-wide to describe hatchbacks.

The new GFX Appearance Package option, available on the ZX4 SE ($1,395), ZX3 SE ($1,395), ZX5 SES ($695) and ZX4 ST (standard), includes a handsome front fascia with black mesh ‘criss-cross’ grille inserts, a chin spoiler, side marker lights integrated into the sides of the fascia and integrated foglamps. There’s also a new mesh grille above the bumper, a body-coloured rear bumper with a black diffuser, chrome tail pipe extension, and a rear spoiler: a prominent stand-up wing on the sedan, and a large roof spoiler on the hatchbacks.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
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Ford did a good job of making it look sporty without looking gimmicky or overdone, like many tuners cars do.

Focus ZX4 SE and ZX3 SE models also get the ‘Sport Group’ as part of the GFX package (already included in the ZX5 SES) which includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, tachometer, and 15-inch alloy wheels.

My test car was a Focus ZX5 four-door hatchback which is available only in the uplevel SES trim level. That explains its base price of $21,799, considerably higher than the ZX3 S which starts at $17,599 and the ZX3 SE which starts at $19,299. Standard equipment on the ZX5 SES includes the 136-hp 2.0-litre DOHC 4-cylinder powerplant and a five-speed manual transmission. Also standard on the ZX5 SES are P205/50R-16 all-season radials and alloy wheels, a fully independent suspension, front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, all-speed traction control, and a rear stabilizer bar.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
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Inside the ZX5 are attractive ‘charcoal’ cloth two-tone heated sport seats, tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, tachometer, AM/FM/CD stereo, air conditioning, remote keyless entry and power locks, power windows, power heated side mirrors, variable intermittent wipers including a rear wiper, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, rear privacy cover, and four height-adjustable head restraints.

My test car also had the optional power glass moonroof ($1000); 6-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player with 4-speakers ($495); and seat-mounted side airbags ($500). An optional Sony Audiophile system with 8 speakers and an 8-inch subwoofer is $695, or $200 more than the 4-speaker system, so it’s probably worth upgrading to that. Other options available are a four-speed automatic transmission ($1,120), alarm system ($250), and leather-covered front sport seats ($860). With Freight ($1050) and A/C tax, my test car came to $25,639.


Interior impressions

With its high seating positions and tall roofline, the ZX5 is a compact car that can seat four adults comfortably, and unlike the two-door ZX3, rear seat passengers can get in and out easily.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
Click image to enlarge

The front sport seats have large side bolsters and thigh bolsters which grip well in the corners – they look good too – and the driver has excellent visibility forwards, to the side and to the rear. There are no blind spots because of the extra rear side windows next to the cargo area. A sporty, thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt and telescopic movement is easily adjusted to the proper position for short and tall drivers.

Behind the steering wheel, simple white-on-black round instruments convey engine revs, speed, fuel level and coolant level. The centre stack, highlighted with some bright metal-like trim, features very simple controls for the stereo and heater, manual A/C, and rear defroster. The lower centre stack includes a storage bin, two cup or mug holders, buttons for the front seat heaters, and a handbrake lever. Buttons on the steering wheel hub operate the cruise control while a mini-stalk on the steering wheel hub offers controls for the radio that can be used without taking your hands off the wheel. Overall, I found the Focus instrument layout simple and easy to use, and much better looking than pre-2005 Focus models.

I especially liked the drop-down CD storage box just to the left of the steering wheel, and the position of the power window buttons on the door facing the driver. Between the front seats, a folding centre armrest/storage box is very handy for resting the right arm while cruising, and doesn’t get in the way when shifting the manual transmission. However, it can be flipped up so that it is completely out of the way. My only criticism is that the storage box is small, and there aren’t many other storage areas in the front.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
Click image to enlarge

60/40 folding rear seatbacks are standard, but there is a problem. The rear seat cushion is a one-piece affair, so that if you flip it up, and flip down one side of the folding seatbacks, passengers cannot sit on the other side of the rear seat. The solution is not to flip up the single seat cushion and just fold one side of the rear seatbacks down as far as it will go, which is about 45 degrees. That allows one or two passengers to sit at the rear while carrying long cargo on the other side. The Focus does not have a fold-flat right-front passenger seat.

The cargo area in the ZX5 is accessed by a lightweight hatch which flips up over your head. Behind the rear seats, there is 17.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Compare that to 14.8 cubic feet in the Focus sedan and 35.2 cubic feet in the Focus Wagon. With both rear seats folded flat, the ZX5 hatchback offers 39.7 cubic feet of storage space. The Wagon has 73.1 cubic feet, but there are no figures for the sedan which also has folding rear seatbacks.

While the ZX5 hatchback is not as roomy as the ZXW Wagon, it is 78 kg (173 lb) lighter – and better looking, in my opinion – so owners trade some practicality for sportier looks and better performance.


Driving impressions

In terms of vehicle dynamics, the Focus was an outstanding car when it was introduced in 1999, and the chassis and suspension design (front MacPherson strut/rear Control Blade multi-link) have held up well even as many new competitors have entered the marketplace. However, it’s a shame Canadians can’t have the all-new Ford Focus sold in Europe that’s based on a Mazda3 platform. That would, undoubtedly, perform even better.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
Click image to enlarge

Still, the 2006 Focus ZX5 is a very neutral handling front-wheel drive car that loves a curvy road. It feels very stable and controllable when pressing through a series of tight corners and it exhibits little lean or dive, and delivers mild, controllable understeer at its cornering limits. My 2006 ZX5 came with 16-inch Pirelli P6 radials which offered excellent traction and grip in varying weather conditions. The 2006 Focus also excels in the steering department with communicative steering feel, ease of effort when parking – the turning circle is a tight 34.2 feet – and stable tracking at high speeds. It offers standard rack and pinion power assisted steering with no variable assist.

The standard 136-hp 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine, introduced last year to replace both the old 110-hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder and the 130-hp 2.0-litre Zetec 4-cylinder engine, is a sporty powerplant but it lacks bottom-end torque and you need to get the revs up above 2500 rpm to get the power out of it. This may be partly explained by its maximum torque output figure of 133 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm, and the fact that this engine doesn’t offer variable valve timing, as some of its competitors do.

Another unusual characteristic of this engine is that it takes longer than average to settle down from peak revs when the clutch is dumped. Most modern four-cylinder engines drop away quickly from the redline when the clutch is disengaged.

I found the 2.0 litre engine surprisingly quiet and vibration-free at highway speeds, and at 100 km/h in fifth gear, the engine revs at a comfortable 2600 rpm. Fuel consumption is not class leading, but it is still thrifty: City 10.6 L/100 km (27 mpg), and Highway 6.9 L/100 km (41 mpg). The engine accepts Regular Unleaded gas.

The standard five-speed manual transmission offers well-defined, easy shifts with a nice, big, grippy shift knob. Clutch pedal effort is light, and clutch take-up is smooth. The brakes, front disc/rear drum with ABS, are well up to the task of stopping this fairly lightweight (1184 kg) hatchback.

I was impressed with the visibility, especially to the right rear when changing lanes, and through the large rear window – which, by the way, includes a rear wiper with an intermittent wiping setting, and a washer and defroster.

2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES
Click image to enlarge

In terms of safety, the NHTSA has only tested the two-door hatchback (without side airbags) which received five stars for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in a 35 mph frontal collision. However, in side impact tests, it only received three stars for the front passenger and four stars for the rear passenger with a warning that the rear passenger suffered head injuries. See www.safercar.gov for more details.

In IIHS frontal offset crash tests of the Focus sedan, it received a Good rating, but a Poor rating in side impact tests. See www.iihs.org for more details.

In terms of reliability, the Focus has improved over the years. The 2006 model is Recommended by Consumer Reports and predicted reliability is ‘Average’.


Competitors

While the Focus ZX5 is a competent all-around sporty hatchback, a brief look at its competitors reveals that many offer more horsepower and equivalent or more standard features for the same or lower price. For example, the new 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T offers 172 horsepower for about the same price and offers some features the Focus doesn’t such as curtain airbags and stability control. The Mazda3 Sport GT has 160 horsepower and equivalent features for a lower price. The Pontiac Vibe GT and Toyota Matrix XRS have 164 horsepower for about the same price. And the Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback and the Kia Spectra5 Sport have comparable horsepower and a better warranty, but are cheaper than the ZX5.

I liked the Focus ZX5, but if I was looking for a compact, four-door hatchback between 20 and 25 thousand dollars, I’d do some serious comparison shopping first.


Verdict

The 2006 Ford Focus ZX5 offers great handling and ride, and a practical four-door hatchback bodystyle, but some of its newer competitors offer more horsepower and newer features for a comparable price.

Pricing: 2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications for the 2006 Ford Focus ZX5


Crash test results

Related stories on Autos

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Competitors

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Dodge Caliber R/T

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Kia Spectra5 Sport
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Mazda3 Sport GT
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Pontiac Vibe GT
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Toyota Matrix XRS


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