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By Jil McIntosh
In 2002, Ford introduced its SVT Focus. It stood for Special Vehicle Team, and referred to the company’s in-house high-performance division. It’s gone with the line’s 2005 redesign, and in its place is the ZX4 ST. It’s not the fire-breathing street racer the 170 horsepower SVT was, but it’s decent, zippy style for the masses: practical, simpler and much easier on the wallet.
Available only as a four-door sedan, ZX4 joins the Focus line-up of 3- and 5-door hatchbacks, regular SES 4-door sedan and 4-door wagon. The regular Foci carry 2.0-litre, 136 horsepower engines, and run from $16,795 to $22,605. The ST uses an exclusive 2.3-litre, 151 horsepower engine and starts at $22,995. With optional perimeter alarm, side impact air bags and 6-CD changer, my tester came to $24,045 before freight. The ST edition also includes 4-wheel discs with ABS, sport-tuned suspension borrowed from the European Focus ST170, 16-inch alloy wheels, air, power windows, locks and dual heated mirrors, heated seats, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The only unavailable option is the 4-speed automatic transmission offered on other models; ST drivers shift a 5-speed standard.
Focus ST is a pleasurable drive, starting with supportive, comfortable cloth bucket seats, clad with ST-exclusive black and red inserts. The red contrast continues on the leather-wrapped wheel; it’s small and solid, and feels exactly right. The shifter does too, moving effortlessly in the gate with just a tap of the fingers. Steering is direct and nimble, giving ST a decidedly more expensive feel as it takes corners and quick manoeuvers in stride.
Alas, it feels like the bean counters stepped in for the restyled interior. There’s a great deal of hard plastic, and latches open with a harsh, cheap feel. The
overhead console looks cut-rate and tacked on, and if you’re shorter and sit a bit closer to the wheel, the CD storage box drops very painfully into your shin. Overall build quality seemed good, except for my tester’s instrument cluster – somehow, it had been installed crooked.
Other nitpicks are wipers that don’t overlap enough, and a strange rear folding seat configuration. The 99 cm trunk opens to 154 cm once you flip the rear seat cushion and fold the seat backs. But while the backs are 60/40, the cushion is a single unit. Unlike most of its competition, Focus can’t carry long cargo on one side and a rear-seat passenger on the other.
Fuel consumption was a reasonable 8.1 litres/100km for me in combined driving. Warranty is 3 years/60,000 km basic with Roadside Assistance, and an additional 5 year/100,000 kms powertrain.
I would have thought the ST package more likely on the tuner-style 3-door, but I like the idea of handling and road feel this nice in a relatively inexpensive, practical sedan. All Ford needs to do is tweak the interior, and more than one buyer will probably wonder if it’s worth the extra $10,000-plus to go European.