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Ford Focus SE Wagon (2001)

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Are station wagons making a comeback? Currently, sport- utility vehicles have the wagon niche here, but wagons never left in Europe, where narrow roads, scarce parking, and high fuel prices make American-style SUVs a rarity. With ever more crowded roads in the U.S., and escalating gasoline prices, wagons look to be on the way back here, too.

There are a small but growing number of wagons currently being sold here. Unfortunately, most are relatively expensive. Ford's Focus wagon is one of the few priced under $20,000, but a low price is not all that it has in its favor. It's conveniently small, but not too small to be really useful, economical in operation, and offers distinctive styling and European-inspired vehicle dynamics. The Focus has replaced both the Contour and Escort in Ford's U.S. lineup. Aimed at young or young-at-heart buyers, it is offered in sedan, wagon, and hatchback body styles, so there are models to appeal to many varied needs and tastes. All versions share a common chassis, with the same wheelbase, and the design is very space- efficient. The LX and SE sedans fulfill the small family car niche. The ZTS sedan and ZX3 hatchback are the sport models, with the SE Wagon the sporty utility model.

I've been driving a new Focus SE Wagon for the past week, during the height of the holiday shopping and traffic season. The Focus has been very convenient, with good acceleration and brakes to deal with fitful traffic, and a comfortable and roomy interior in which to wait and occasionally move on crowded roads. Its convenient size allows it to fit into small parking spaces, and it holds plenty of people and packages. This small wagon packs as much utility as does any small SUV or crossover, with better fuel economy and a lower price. And it's certainly not a frumpy old station wagon in style.

APPEARANCE: The Focus Wagon is definitely an antidote for boring styling, and it's the most traditional-looking Focus. Its European-influenced "New Edge" styling is unmistakable, combining curved and angular forms. The hood is sloped steeply to a small, semi-elliptical intake between two large, triangular headlights. Another, larger, intake is set into the front bumper fascia. Stylized fender flares, called a "clinched flange" design by Ford, are another notable Focus styling feature. The high beltline crease emphasizes the passenger cabin, which slopes gently towards the rear for improved aerodynamic efficiency. The liftgate window has the Ford family look, with a small overhanging brow at the top and a curved lower edge.

COMFORT: Inside, the Focus Wagon is comfortable and functional, with more room than might be expected. The synthetic materials used are plain; the design is not. It's as bold and different as the exterior of the car, with a variety of geometric shapes. Despite the styling, the Focus is very friendly. The instruments are easy to see and all controls are easy to use. The windows and mirrors are power- operated, and a control panel mounted centrally in the dash holds the audio system and climate controls. The control buttons are not the generic Ford ones, but are just as large, well-marked, and easy to use. Useful storage is found in the door pockets and glove box. A fold- down front center armrest does double duty as a small console box. The manually-adjustable front bucket seats are better than expected for its class, and the rear bench seatback is split 60/40. It's larger than expected, and will hold three kids in reasonable comfort. Adults will be a little cozier, but should still appreciate the headroom - and the wagon has the lowest roofline of any Focus. The rear seat cushion flips up in one piece, allowing both parts of the seat back to fold flat for long loads. The liftgate is light and well-balanced, and liftover height is far lower than in any SUV or minivan. The Focus Wagon is a versatile, useful, and comfortable vehicle.

SAFETY: All Focus models have a rigid central safety cell around the passenger compartment, with front and rear crush zones and side impact protection. All occupants have three-point harnesses. Dual depowered front air bags can be supplemented by optional side air bags.

ROADABILITY: The Focus Wagon's rigid body structure allows its fully-independent suspension to be tuned softly, but with good damping, for a comfortable ride and good handling. It's not as sporty as the ZTS, but it works just fine for its mission as a small all-around vehicle with good space and comfort for its size and price. It feels like a sedan with a little extra weight in the rear. Steering effort is light, for easy low-speed maneuverability, but not too light for good control at highway speeds. The Focus's aerodynamic looks don't deceive, as it is stable and poised in strong, gusty crosswinds.

PERFORMANCE: The standard engine in the Focus is a 110- horsepower, 2.0-liter single overhead cam four-cylinder, but the SE Wagon comes with the same twin-cam 2.0-liter "Zetec" four as the sporty ZTS sedan and ZX3 hatchback. Its 130 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque give good acceleration, with reasonable fuel economy. The wagon is the heaviest of the Focus body styles, but, at around 2700 lbs, it's considerably lighter than any small SUV or crossover, aiding performance and economy. The Zetec's low- and mid-range torque is strong enough for the four-speed automatic transmission to do a good job in everyday driving. The available five-speed manual transmission should improve performance, but balance that against the convenience of an automatic in traffic.

CONCLUSIONS: The Ford Focus Wagon combines radical styling and functional space.

2001 Ford Focus SE Wagon

Base Price              $ 16,235
Price As Tested         $ 17,795
Engine Type             dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline
Engine Size             2.0 liters / 121cu. in.
Horsepower              130 @ 5300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)          135 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission            4-speed electronically-automatic,
                          5-speed manual available
Wheelbase / Length      103.0 in. / 178.2 in.
Curb Weight             2717 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower   21
Fuel Capacity           13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement        unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                   P195/60 R15 Firestone Firehawk GTA
Brakes, front/rear      vented disc / drum, antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear  independent MacPherson strut / 
                          independent multilink
Drivetrain              front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      25 / 31 / 26
0 to 60 mph            (est) 11 sec
Towing Capacity        1,000 lbs.

Comfort Group - includes: tilt steering column, speed control,
  front courtesy and map lights    $ 345
Antilock brakes                    $ 400
Side-impact airbags                $ 350
Destination & Delivery             $ 465