- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Ford people are eager to tell you that their Focus is the No. 1 selling car in the world.
Not surprising since it comes in a variety of configurations, is large enough inside to be sold overseas as a family car and it's just a really good car. Americans have warmed to it and the press has loved it from Day 1.
The big question is, can they get American youths to buy it.
Originally, Ford's advertising portrayed the Focus as a hip new thing but it was slow to catch on with the critically important crowd in California. After all, just saying it's hip doesn't necessarily make it so. So Ford had a better idea and worked hard at getting it into the hands of folks who shaped youthful opinions, created special packages and editions, and made sure they were seen in all the right places.
They even supported the Focus in the booming import drag-racing scene. After a couple of decent racing seasons the Focus has gained considerable respect from a crowd that's hard to wow.
To stir the passions of the youth market even more, Ford will soon start selling a limited number, 7,500 to be exact, of its in-house hot rod, SVT Focus. The word has been getting out and this car is creating quite a stir on the Internet boards populated by Ford's target market.
To top it off Ford invited members of the motoring press to run it at the Willow Springs motor sports complex near Palmdale, Calif.
Rather than rumble down boring old interstates, Ford routed us from the base camp in Pasadena on the Angeles Crest Scenic Highway. What a road.
The Angeles Crest is a sports-car road. Running through the hills northeast of Los Angeles, it twists and turns in such a way that drivers can exercise their full range of skills on this road. The SVT Focus was up to the challenge. Drive it in third gear to be quick; choose fourth gear and be brave. The car's trick six-speed manual is well suited to the 170-horsepower, 2-liter, Zetec four-cylinder. Ford has delivered a competitive hot hatchback in a segment dominated by Honda.
Without any corporate support (or even awareness) Honda's economy Civic coupe has become the darling of the young go-faster set, allowing easy Integra engine transplants, and a whole variety of expressive body modifications, graphics and ear-threatening sound systems. Honda finally recognized the trend with a superb Si model, but when the new Civic became larger and flabbier, Ford saw a weakness and its SVT team has struck like a lurking killer shark.
The task of building a superb driver's car on the humble Focus underpinnings is made a bit easier when you consider that the Focus is a well-sorted car to begin with. Start with segment-leading steering feel and handling and you really don't have a long way to go to make it truly special.
The SVT engineers concentrated on beefing up the Zetec 2-liter engine, refining the suspension components, tweaking the steering feel and finding the best set of tires possible to make this car perform as desired. They also added discreet aero add-ons to the exterior and supplied a spiffed-up sporting interior to round out the package.
The 2-liter Zetec was designed to provide decent low-end torque. SVT took it one step further and improved the engine's breathing by adapting a dual-stage intake manifold and a set of gorgeous headers (that unfortunately are housed beneath a heat shield on the production cars). The headers do not require a "light off" catalyst to meet emissions, thanks to a special internal coating. This quickly gets the exhaust gases hot enough to activate the single catalyst under the car even in cold-start situations and allows a proper set of low-restriction "tuned" headers to be used.
The dual-stage intake manifold optimizes the intake air for both low-rpm torque generation and high-rpm horsepower with the use of a variable path set of intake runners. Neat technology.
The breather enhancements, variable intake valve timing and some other internal modifications have bumped the output of this engine from 130 horsepower to 170 horsepower, with torque going from 135 foot-pounds to 145 foot-pounds. Decent increases. One result of these modifications, however, is that like every other SVT Ford, the SVT Focus requires premium gasoline.
Vibration and noise from the engine have been minimized with the SVT Focus' dual-mass flywheel. This uses two flywheel sections, one on the engine side, the other on the clutch side and separated by a spring-and-damping system. The SVT Focus is the first front-wheel-drive car in North America to be equipped with this technology.
An efficiently laid-out six-speed manual gearbox is synchronized for smooth shifting. SVT didn't stop with a trick drivetrain, Ford also made sure that braking was more than adequately covered with disc brakes at all four corners.
On the track this car provided very sure braking capability with minimal fade (quite a feat given the amount of track time these cars saw over a two-day period). Anti-lock brakes are standard on the SVT Focus.
The suspension of the SVT Focus wasn't neglected. Stiffer front and rear shocks, 21 mm roll bars front and rear, and retuned shocks give the SVT Focus superb ride and handling.
The SVT team eschews all-season radials in the belief that they cannot reveal the true handling potential of a car. If you need to run this car in snow and ice, snow tires must be installed.
SVT spiffed up the exterior with honeycomb grille inserts, revised front and rear fascias and extended rocker panel trim. The SVT Focus colors are Sonic Blue, Infra-Red, CD Silver, and Pitch Black. The interior is available with either red or black cloth inserts on charcoal trim. The interior has the familiar white gauge backgrounds and the SVT Focus has an oil temperature and oil pressure gauge installed where the coin holder is located on the regular Focus.
It comes equipped with dual remote-control outside mirrors and power windows, door locks and hatch release. Air conditioning, cruise control, floor mats, remote keyless entry and rear-window defroster are standard.
There are only three options.
The first is a Winter Package that includes traction control, heated front seats and an engine-block heater for $395. The second is an Audiophile Package (quite good) that sports a 290-watt six-disc in-dash AM/FM stereo, premium speakers and an 8-inch subwoofer with amplifier for $675. The final option is a power sunroof for $595. All up you can be in a fully equipped SVT Focus for under $20,000. It's easy on the pocketbook and easy on the insurance.
What more can a college student ask for.
Ford has priced it about $1,000 less than the new Civic Si.
One can imagine a turbocharged SVT Focus wagon with six-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential. Now you're getting the juices of family men flowing.
Regardless, look for more SVT models on the Focus platform. It's a good, solid car made just that much better by Ford's in-house hot rodders.

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