Review 2003 Ford SVT Focus: Pocket Rocket and would be Honda Killer

Honda Killer

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

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Full Specs and an Audio Interview With John Coletti Manager SVT.


A performance sedan, to most American automakers, is medium to large in size, and, ideally, has a large V8 in front, driving the rear wheels. That was the classic muscle car formula back in the 1960s, anyway. In a newer idiom, a tuned V6 drives the front wheels, but the car is still on the large side. Domestic makes have been notably absent from the sport-compact segment that is popular not only in Europe and Asia, but with a growing number of young Americans. Ford is an exception. While it still very successfully makes the Mustang, the last of the 1960s-era muscle cars, it also builds the Focus. The Focus is offered not only in four-door sedan and wagon body styles, it is also available as a three- or five-door hatchback, like some of the most popular sport-compact performance cars. It is, after all, a ``world car,'' designed to compete in more or less the same form in Europe, Asia, and America. And, from the beginning, it has been a sporty yet inexpensive car popular with young and young-at-heart buyers. Ford upped the Focus performance quotient in 2002 with the introduction of the SVT model, the first American car to make inroads into the small performance car category. SVT is Ford's in-house tuner department, and has made the high-performance Mustang SVT Cobra and F150-based SVT Lightning pickup for the past few years. The SVT Focus follows in the mold of those factory hot rods. With a little help from Cosworth Technology, the standard Focus ``Zetec'' 2.0-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine's 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque are increased to 170 hp and 145 lb-ft. The transmission is a Getrag- developed six-speed. The suspension is tuned for better cornering, and the brake and wheel sizes are increased. Subtly-changed bodywork distinguishes an SVT Focus from a regular ZX3 or ZX5, as, new for 2003, a model based on the four-doors-plus hatch ZX5 is available. I've just spent a week with a three-door SVT Focus, and it's been a blast. This is a very civilized small car, with great comfort and a surprising amount of interior space. It's just like the ZX3, only more so, and is exceptionally competitive with any small performance car from anywhere in the world, with plenty of power and poise. Expect the five-door variant to be the same, but with increased interior access for passengers or cargo. In either trim, the Ford SVT Focus has all of the contemporary styling cues, inside and out, and serious performance to back the up. APPEARANCE: The SVT Focus takes an understated European approach to contemporary sport compact styling, with no lurid graphics or giant wings. Stealth is good. At a glance, it appears to be just another Focus hatchback. Look closer to see the flat ``air dam'' front fascia, with inset foglamps, and smoked headlight coverings at the front. Flared rocker panels are found at the sides of the three-door model, but not the five-door. Both have a ``diffuser- look'' rear fascia, an oversize exhaust tip, and a small ducktail spoiler at the rear edge of the roof. COMFORT: Like the regular ZX3 or ZX5, the SVT Focus has a remarkable amount of interior for its small size. Four normal people will fit, more easily in the five-door, with its better rear-seat access. The SVT interior is of the same basic design as that of a ZX3 or ZX5, but upgraded. It's made for driving, with the correct position easily attainable by drivers of any size. The supportive front sports seats have a grippy cloth center section and leather-trimmed side bolsters, the steering wheel has a thick, contoured, comfortably graspable rim and is adjustable for both tilt and reach. The pedals have contemporary aluminum and rubber trim; more importantly, they are correctly placed for easy heel-and-toe shifting. Shift action is slick and smooth. The instrument panel features black-on-silver instruments with SVT badging. The rear seat has the same cloth as the front, but vinyl replaces leather. It is split 60/40 for extra cargo ability, but the trunk area, protected from view by an integrated cover, is larger than that of some other popular hatchbacks. SAFETY: The SVT Focus has Ford's ``Personal Safety System''(tm), which includes an electronic crash severity sensor, dual-stage front air bags, and front safety belt sensors and energy management retractors. ROADABILITY: SVT has increased the spring rates 10 percent at the front and 20 percent at the rear compared to the standard Focus, retuned the shocks for better roll damping, and increased the diameter of the front stabilizer bar. The result is agile handling with good turn-in and grip, and good ride comfort even with 215/45 WR17 tires. Only the most hard-core enthusiast or serious autocrosser would want to stiffen it further. PERFORMANCE: Tuning 1A: The 2.0-liter Zetec block gets improved gas flow, stiffer valve springs, variable valve timing on the intake camshaft, and a dual-stage intake manifold. Lightweight, high-compression pistons further increase power, while forged steel connecting rods help ensure engine integrity. The result is peak 170 hp at 7,000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, but raw specs don't even begin to tell the story. This little gem has major torque, unlike many of its competitors. It's good right off idle and very, very strong in the midrange, right where it is most useful in any sort of driving from city traffic to competition. That, and the smooth six-speed gearbox, mean that the SVT Focus is easy and fun to drive just about anywhere. As a bonus, fuel economy is good and emissions are low. CONCLUSIONS: Ford's SVT tuning wizards have taken the already enjoyable Focus hatchback and made into a true pocket rocket, with no loss of civilized comfort or everyday usability. SPECIFICATIONS 2003 Ford SVT Focus Base Price $ 17,995 (2002, includes destination, 2003 not available) Price As Tested $ 18,670 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 170 @ 7,000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 145 @ 5,500 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 103.0 in. / 168.1 in. Curb Weight 2,750 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.2 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P 215/45 WR17 Continental Conti Sport Contact Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 25 / 22 0 to 60 mph est 7.3 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Audiophile stereo - includes 290-watt amp, 6 cd in-dash changer, 8-inch subwoofer $ 675

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