- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

One doesn't have to be a millionaire to own a car that is fun to drive.

The Ford Focus ZX3 cost less than $13,000 and is a blast to drive. We're not telling you it is AstonMartin or even a Jaguar, but the fun value per dollar is as high as any car on the market. Even the appearance of the Focus is enjoyable. Its shape is different from just about any car on the market. The test car was a bright, bright yellow that will attract attention from other drivers and, unfortunately, from the black and whites.

The Focus unlike a majority of today's cars takes a new styling road. Unlike the current industry styling featuring soft, round curves, Ford's `New Edge' styling features sharp lines and creases. It takes a while to become accustomed to the new look, but it finally gets to you.

The ZX3, like the entire Focus line, was designed in Europe and it has become one of the world's top-selling cars. While designed and built in Europe, North American models are manufactured in Ford's plants in Wayne, Mich., and Hermosillo, Mexico.

A nice feature of the Focus' styling is that it stands out in a crowd. You'll never lose it in a crowded parking lot - particularly if it finished with the Egg York Clear Coat.

I drove the ZRX on my favorite back roads and it took the tight curves like it was on rails, and its 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve Zetec four-cylinder engine provided plenty of power for the little fellow and its acceleration was excellent.

It provides 130 hp at 5300 rpm. Peak torque is 135 ft/lbs at 4500 rpm. The Focus is available in three body styles - a sporty three-door, four-door sedan and wagon - and a choice of five series. The ZX3 is a three-door version and as we said earlier its appearance is a blast. Not only is the styling bold but it offers added benefits. It allowed designers to provide more than adequate interior room. Ford claims the car's design started on the inside aimed at a new generation of customers, taller than ever before. The Focus' cabin provides more cabin space, interior comfort and roominess.

The car's high roofline, raised seating positions, tall, wide doors and long wheelbase work together to provide more overall passenger room than any major competitor.

Seating positions are more upright, which results in more than 43 inches of front leg room and more than 37 inches in rear leg room - more than three inches additional front leg room and almost one-half inch more rear leg room than the competition.

I disagree with Ford's contention that the Focus will seat five comfortably. Four is a truer figure. A third passenger in the rear seat is going to find it slightly crowded.

The 2.0-liter engine was mated to a smooth five-speed manual transmission. It is a perfect fit for the ZX3. It allows the driver to make the most of the engine's power. I also found it to be an extremely smooth unit. There is also an all-new electronically controlled automatic transmission. The test car averaged better than 28 mpg on combined driving on city streets and highways with most of the mileage coming out-of-town. The EPA rates the ZX3 at 25 mpg City and 33 mpg Highway.

Ford claims the Focus' independent multi-link rear suspension is a major reason for the car's excellent handling and ride.

The car's low-friction rack-and-pinion steering with power assistance that earned high praise from this driver and the stiff body structure made the ride more comfortable on all road surfaces. The interior of the test ZX3 was roomy as said earlier. It is also well done. The seats which are height adjustable and comfortable could use additional support. The rear bench seat can be folded down to provide additional storage room.

I found the instrument panel located directly in front of the driver easy to read - especially because it is guarded against reflections. The instrument panel includes a speedo, tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Lights provide other warning signals.

The most important controls are located on two stalks off the adjustable steering column. The column is adjustable up and down and front and back. Fit and finish appeared to be first rate - equal to that on cars imported from Asia and Europe.

It is hard not be impressed by the Focus ZX3. Its styling could make it a cult classic and its performance, ride and handling are hard to beat. Try it and I think you'll like it.


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