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New Car Review: 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Ford

As part of Ford's ``Year of the Car'' program for 2005, the sporty Focus has gotten a makeover. Mid-product cycle styling freshenings are common in the industry, but, although the styling is indeed freshened, the most important changes to the `05 Focus are not visible. The model lineup has been changed, and new engines are found under the hoods of all 2005 Focuses. Or is that Foci?

Regardless of the plural, the Focus is still offered in four body styles - ZX3 three-door hatchback, ZX4 four-door sedan, ZX5 five-door hatchback, and ZXW wagon. There are three basic trim levels - S, SE, and SES - offered with all body styles, and a performance-oriented ST sedan.

The new Focus's lines are toned down from the ``New Edge'' look that it has had since its inception to show kinship with Ford's new flagship Five Hundred sedan. Interiors have been reworked as well. But the exterior and interior changes are minor compared to those under the hood. The old ``Zetec'' line of engines is gone, replaced by three different ``Duratec'' twincam four-cylinder engines. Two are of 2.0-liter capacity, with 136 horsepower, six more than the old Zetec. One of those, for California emissions states (CA, NY, MA, VT, ME), qualifies a Focus in which it is found as a Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV). The ZX4 ST has a 2.3-liter variant with 151 horses.

Anyone with an interest in sport-compact performance will have noticed that the Focus SVT was not mentioned. It used a tuned version of the Zetec engine with 170 horsepower, and that engine is no longer used in the Focus. The ST replaces the SVT, and if the numbers - 151 hp vs. 170 - look bleak - never believe numbers only. The ST may have less horsepower, but it has more torque at lower engines speeds - 154 lb-ft at 4250 rpm vs. 145 lb-ft at 5500 rpm. Acceleration is not off by much compared to the late SVT, and the ST is a more well-rounded, less narrowly-focused car. Its suspension combines the stock springs with the SVT's shocks, for a ride that is firmer than stock but not uncomfortably so, and enjoyable handling.

The recent week I spent with a Focus ST followed one in a less compromising sports sedan. In the real world, the Focus was more useful, more comfortable, and at least as much fun. The medium-hot performance sport-compact class is intensely competitive, and the Focus ST compares well with anything in it.

APPEARANCE: The 2005 Focus's makeover is evolutionary, not revolutionary. It may not even be readily apparent at a glance, but the front and rear sheetmetal are new. In front, the hood slopes less, and the grille and headlights are less pointed and larger. The front bumper fascia has also been redesigned. Most models have chrome trim surrounding the grille; the ST does not. ZX4 sedans have new, more triangular taillights and a restyle bumper at the rear. The external changes make the `05 Focus look more mature.

COMFORT:Interior changes are more apparent than those on the exterior, and also move Focus styling toward the mainstream without losing space, comfort, or character. Gone is the rounded design and ``integrated control panel'' in the dash, replaced by a more rectangular look and a standard layout of the audio and climate systems. Instruments, controls, and accessories are well-placed and easy to see and use. The ST is a premium sport-compact and its trim is appropriate to that status, with faux carbon fiber around the central controls and aluminized material surrounding the instruments. The steering wheel is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach, and has a thick leather rim with grips at ten and two. Its black leather and red stitching match the finish of the optional and highly-recommended leather sport seats, which have enough bolstering for lateral support while still being easy to get into and out of. They provide a level of comfort at the top of the class. Rear seat room is good for the size of the car, with space for three children or medium-sized adults. Although the ZX4 sedan and ZX3 and ZX5 hatchbacks have essentially the same interior layout and space, the four doors of the ZX4 and ZX5 make passenger access easier. A 60/40 split folding rear seat and large trunk add to the Focus's versatility.

SAFETY: Occupant-sensing technology automatically turns the front passenger airbag on or off depending on occupant weight. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes are standard on the ST, and stop it well.

ROADABILITY: All Focus models are front-wheel drive cars with a fully-independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink design Ford calls ``Control Blade'' in the rear. The standard suspension tuning is soft, but with good damping, for a smooth and well-controlled ride and good handling, but with noticeable body lean in hard cornering. The late SVT was sports-sedan stiff, great for performance driving but maybe not so great on a long, bumpy highway trip for anyone over 30. The ST strikes a near-perfect balance. The result is a car that great fun to drive, with handling that is probably 95 percent as good as that of the SVT and more comfort. Sometimes compromises are for the best.

PERFORMANCE: Like the Focus ST's suspension, its engine is more moderately-tuned than that of the SVT. And that works in the driver's favor in everyday life, with more torque at lower engine speeds for more effortless acceleration. Top-end power is not as useable as a good midrange, and the ST's 2.3-liter dohc, 16-valve four-cylinder engine shines in the midrange. A classic snarly exhaust note and very good linkage to the five-speed gearbox add to the ST's sporty character. On the practical side are lower emissions levels and slightly improved fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2005 Ford Focus has grown up a bit, but it hasn't lost its youthful enthusiasm.

2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST

Base Price			$ 17,705
Price As Tested		        $ 20,375
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			151 @ 5750 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			154 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		102.9 in. / 168.5 in.
Curb Weight			2685 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    	17.8
Fuel Capacity			14 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/50 HR16 Pirelli P6
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent Control Blade multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 32 / 25
0 to 60 mph				7.9  sec

Power moonroof			        $ 625
Audiophile stereo			$ 455
Side-impact airbags			$ 350
Leather sport bucket seats		$ 695
Destination & delivery		        $ 545