2004 Ford Focus SVT
2004 Ford Focus SVT four-door. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase; photos courtesy Ford Motor Company

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Enthusiasts who also like practical cars face a dilemma that goes something like this: “Where can I find a car that’s fun to drive, but also offers four doors and a trunk that’ll hold more than a box of tissues?”

The Ford Focus was praised from its 1999 introduction as an affordable compact with commendable on-road manners. In 2002, however, Ford added an SVT-tuned model in the vein of Volkswagen’s GTI, in that its appearance differed little from that of regular Focii, but offered performance that was well beyond that of its lesser siblings.

The most significant changes lay under the car’s skin: a 170-horsepower engine based on the Zetec four-banger used in lesser Focus hatchbacks. Smooth and strong, it is a peaky unit that makes most of its power above 3,000 r.p.m. The extra power is a good complement to a beautifully balanced suspension that makes the SVT great fun in the twisties.

2002 Ford Focus SVT
2002 Ford Focus SVT
2002 Ford Focus SVT. Click image to enlarge

As you might expect, the SVT’s extra power resulted in commensurate increases in fuel consumption. Subject one to commuter duty and expect it to burn about 11 L/100 km, while highway cruising should use between 8.5 and 9.5 L/100 km, depending on what year the data is from (earlier versions received poorer fuel consumption ratings).

In Canada, the SVT Focus got a full complement of safety features, including side airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control. Crash testing revealed a generally safe little car, but not without faults.

While neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) specifically tested the SVT for crashworthiness, both conducted a full complement of tests on the rest of the Focus lineup. The results were generally good, but not perfect.

In NHTSA frontal impact tests, the Focus hatchback earned four stars each for driver and front passenger protection. In side impacts, the car earned a four-star rating for front-seat occupant protection, but just one star in the rear seat portion of the test. Likewise, the IIHS found the Focus held up well in its frontal offset crash test, and gave the Focus a “good” rating for its performance, but side impact results were less encouraging and earned cars without side airbags (which were standard on the SVT) a “poor” rating.

The Focus’ reliability has been strictly average overall, but finding published data that deals specifically with the SVT is hard to find thanks to its relatively low sales. A number of technical service bulletins have been issued to address problems with the SVT Focus. Many of these can be found here.

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