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Ford Focus Wagon (2000)

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

MODEL:  Ford Focus Wagon
ENGINE:  2.0-liter inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 107 hp @ 5,000 rpm/ 122 lbs.-ft @ 3,750 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 103.0 in.
L X W X H: 178.2 x 66.9 x 57.0 in.
LIST PRICE: $15,795 (base)

Ford has been working on developing a "World Car" for a long time. The Sierra, sold in the US as the Merkur and Sierra, was a try, but it was too big for some of the emerging countries and, of course, didn't have left-hand drive.

Most recently the Escort was to be the World Car, one that Ford could sell in all corners of the globe and one that would have appeal in all these areas. While the Escort was a fine compact car, it simply wasn't the all conquering World Car that Ford had hopes for.

Ford of Europe built its own version of the World Car, sold in the US as the Contour and Mystique, but it, too, was imperfect. Too small for American tastes and too large for some cultures, the Contour never did well, although I always felt it was a good car and a nice size.

The latest iteration in the Ford World Car Challenge is the Focus, smaller on the outside than an Escort, but bigger on the inside than a Contour. Focus has styling that's not unlike the new Mercury Cougar, with hard edge styling and crisp shear lines. The Focus is aerodynamic and has its "egg shape" to move it through the air efficiently, but it also has these strong fold lines that define the shape of the car and give it character. There are too many generic egg-shaped cars anyway.

Our tester is the Focus wagon. I've been anxious to drive the Focus and the wagon is what was available, so I jumped at the chance to drive it. Also, we had some pre-Christmas hauling to do and the wagon half of the Focus was ideal for both Christmas presents and other large objects that had to be moved from area to area.

Let's go with the styling first. Focus is definitely not an Escort, which had rounded a bit in later years but was still basically a square car. The change is somewhat like what VW did from the early Rabbit to today's Golf. Sitting in the driver's seat, you can't see the front of the hood because of the downslope. This can be disconcerting at first, but you soon learn where the front of the car is so there aren't major problems. In a couple of later cars that I drove, I also noted that the extreme front end isn't visible from the driver's seat.

Interior room is good for a compact car. I'll accept the claims that there's more interior room than the Contour. In any case, there was adequate legroom both front and rear. "Adequate" means that I wouldn't put basketball players back there, but there was enough room for normal people.

Behind the rear seat was a nice cargo area. Station wagons were the precursor to minivans, so they're quite practical. There wasn't as much room as I had hoped for, but we were able to carry everything we needed.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that drove the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. The engine was noisy when we asked it to work hard, but it wasn't much noisier than any other car in its class under normal operating conditions. I was also satisfied with the power. Focus is a small car, and was able to keep up with the larger cars on the highway. There were a few instances where we lacked for power, but these were few and far between. Part of the problem could have been personal preference, rather than any fault of the car.

Focus offers unique styling that separates it from all the other small cars on the highway. There's nothing worse than driving one car and seeing the same car, but with a different manufacturer's label on it, coming at you from the other direction. It also has good interior room and decent power for a small car. Will it be Ford's World Car? Ford is going to try to make it one, but only the eventual sales results will answer the question.