- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Capturing a youthful buyer for that cherished first-car purchase is more important than you might think.

To automotive marketing executives it is extremely important. If you bring a first-time buyer to your brand early, they are more likely to stay with your brand for many years, if not a lifetime.

Not forgetting the fuel-economy factor, this is a major reason vehicle manufacturers put some much importance on their lower priced, economy cars.

Many times this buying habit is passed on from one generation to the next. So, it is quite possible to capture many future buyers with just one, all important, sale. This is particularly true in the automobile business.

There is another reason for going after the younger buyer, which can be summed up by this well-known saying. "You can sell a young man's car to an old man, but you cannot sell an old man's car to a young man."

Understanding this phenomenon, companies can grab the attention of far more potential customers.

The Ford Focus is a prime example of this undertaking. For Ford, this car is not only important for a youthful domestic market, it is also extremely important in the move toward global vehicles. The Focus is quite successful in Europe where large vehicles are more the exception than the rule.

With a large number of 18- to 25-year-old buyers going to Honda Civics, Mitsubishi's Eclipse and Acura coupes, Ford needed a vehicle that would match these entries. The Focus offers unique styling, comfortable accommodations and economical driving.

The interior is a combination of modern ideas and a certain avant-garde look that makes you feel as though you have gone just a tad bit off the beaten path. The dash and instrument panel is a combination of curves and swoopy lines that lends a sense of adventure, yet offers up all switches and controls in a manner that makes them easy to manipulate.

The seats are firm and supportive, but comfortable. The rear seat offers up room for two, three in a pinch. But, I found the rear seat in the three-door just too confining for anyone but, youngsters.

The power from the 2-liter Zetec four-cylinder engine is about the norm for the economical class. The ZX3 Focus engine produces a respectable 130 horsepower and 135 foot-pounds of torque, which is right in line with the competition. This engine, along with the sound insulation keeps noise and vibration from intruding into the passenger compartment.

Keep in mind this isn't a luxury car, so you are not going to be isolated from the outside world. The cornering attributes are admirable, thanks to MacPherson struts in front and multilinks with coil springs coupled with anti-roll bars front and rear. This design couples excellent cornering ability with reasonable ride comfort.

There are a number of excellent choices in the compact class yet, the Focus offers a large number of features that combine to make this Ford worthy of a good look. Style is an important feature that youthful buyers look for in a new vehicle and the Focus offers that in a total package.

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