- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Hatchbacks continue to make a comeback in this country. Just look at the new 2002 Ford Focus ZX5.

It's a hatchback with five doors counting the tailgate and joins the Focus ZX3, which has, you guessed it, three doors.

Left out of the model offerings when the Focus was first introduced to American buyers in the 2000 model year, the ZX5 has been sold all along in Europe, where hatchbacks have long been popular.

"The ZX5 offers the contemporary, European, edgy design of the ZX3 model with the added convenience" of rear side doors that provide easier access to the rear seat, the company said in explaining its decision to add the ZX5 to the lineup this year.

It's also no secret that competing small cars such as the new Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix have arrived on the market in five-door hatchback styling.

The new Focus ZX5 comes with a good amount of standard equipment, including power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, fog lamps and a six-disc CD player in the dashboard a first-time offering for Focus this year.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $16,355, which is $2,915 more than the starting price for a base, 2002 Focus sedan.

But it compares to the $16,900 starting price for a 2003 Vibe, $16,840 for a 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser and $15,155 for a 2003 Matrix.

The ZX5 comes with the up-level, 2-liter, double-overhead cam, Zetec Focus engine, which produces 130 horsepower and 135 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm.

It's enough to move the 2,600-pound ZX5 in a sprightly manner in city and highway travel, though riders can hear the engine nearly all the time. And in pedal-to-the-metal driving, the engine can convey a strained, buzzy sound.

Note the ZX5 power plant compares with 150 horses generated by the 2.4-liter four in the PT Cruiser and as much as 180 horsepower in up-level, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engines in the Vibe and Matrix.

The test ZX5 had the optional, four-speed automatic transmission and shift points were noticeable at times.

Still, fuel economy is rated at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, and the ZX5 requires only regular unleaded gas.

The test car handled nimbly in city traffic and was easy to maneuver in tight quarters. In fact, the turning circle for the Focus is just 34.3 feet, compared with 36.7 feet for the Vibe.

Even with the additional rear doors, the ZX5 has the same overall length of 168.1 inches that all Focus models do.

I appreciated the small windows at the back corners of the ZX5 cargo area, which provided good visibility as I backed out of parking spaces.

The power rack-and-pinion steering had a decent feel, but the brakes in the tester made a worrisome grinding sound.

In addition, as the car weight transferred to the front of the test ZX5 during some driving maneuvers, I heard a creaking noise from the front suspension.

Still, the ride was quite pleasant, with just some mild vibrations. At times, there also was a bit of a bounce as the car traveled on rough pavement.

The ZX5 continues with the original Focus front-drive layout with independent front suspension using MacPherson struts and the independent rear having a multilink design.

The ZX5 wears standard 16-inch tires.

Friends who rode with me were surprised at the amount of headroom in the ZX5 an ample 39.3 inches in front and 38.7 inches in the back seat.

Remember, though, that Focus was among the first small cars on the market designed with a taller roof line, which allows for a more upright, higher riding position than has been the norm in traditional small cars.

Nothing has changed in the intervening years, and the ZX5 comes with the same 56.3-inch height of the other Focus models.

Front and rear legroom is also noteworthy. In fact, with the front seats up a ways, I could even extend my legs and cross my ankles while sitting in the back seat.

I did have to be aware of the mechanism that allows front seats to travel forward and back on their tracks, as this intruded on the rear-seat foot area.

All three rear-seat riders in the ZX5 have soft resting spots, and each has a three-point safety belt, too.

But Ford has yet to add head restraints for back-seat riders, even though many competitors have them to protect back-seat riders from whiplash injuries during rear-end crashes.

Of course, without rear head restraints, visibility out the back window is unobscured. Their absence also makes putting down the rear seat backs for additional cargo space much easier. In most vehicles, rear head restraints must be removed before the additional cargo room is accessed.

Note that the ZX5 rear seats split one-third and two-thirds so cargo and rear-seat passengers can be accommodated at the same time.

Rear-door windows are sizable and go down nearly all the way.

Focus has been a sales leader since its introduction and ranked as the best-selling domestic-branded small car in the United States last year.

In fact, Focus was the 10th best-selling vehicle car or truck for all of calendar 2001 with sales of 264,414.

Note that 2002 promises a new Focus model: a high-performance SVT Focus with SVT engine enhancements that boost its four-cylinder engine output to 170 horsepower and 145 foot-pounds of torque. It also has a six-speed manual gearbox.

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