The Focus is the least expensive Ford car and comes in models to fit almost every desire. The 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST is a compact performance sedan that delivers fun and economy, but has a few ergonomic problems. Note that this tested model is top-of-the-Focus car line. Prices: US $17,705 base; as tested, $19,525. Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles.
First let us bow our heads and mourn the passing of the 170-horsepower Focus SVT, last seen on this earth in the Year of Our Lord 2004. This was the model that Car & Driver was smitten with enough to make it a Top 10 choice last year, the fifth consecutive year for the Focus. Why kill the SVT? Perhaps Ford thinks the three engines it has available in Focus models are enough. Whatever, with the Focus we have a lineup of just about every imaginable car configuration, from three-door hatch to station wagon. Our tested ST model, in fact, is the most powerful and second-most-expensive (the wagon costs more). In the absence of the SVT, this is the top-performing Focus. The 150-horsepower ST four-door lacks the styling appeal of the three- and five-door hatchbacks (the three-door hatchback wears the charm bracelet in this family), but it stands out with a wing on its deck and arches over each wheel. Its rear juts up high, like a Toyota Echo. This will not be the model that appeals to the Fast and Furious set. Plenty of aftermarket parts are available for the Focus; the ST comes with unique 16-inch alloy wheels, springs and struts from the '04 Focus SVT, rear disc brakes, and a specially tuned exhaust system that makes this one purr.
In the Driver's Seat
2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST: Dash works well, but center armrest gets in the way when shifting gearsRobert C. Bowden
The 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST comes with special two-tone seats, but our tester added sport leather buckets for an additional $695. These are not power-operated, so you'll have to reach down to the floor in the front of the seat to adjust it. And adjustment once the door is closed becomes almost impossible. A side storage pouch on the door presses against the side of the driver's seat, making it impossible to slide a left hand down to reach adjustment controls there. As long as we're focusing on ergonomic flaws, the arm rest between driver and passenger seat has a problem. If it's lowered, a driver can't make a gear shift without striking the hard plastic arm rest/console. Raise it up and the driver's right elbow will strike the thing during shifts. And you will shift. The 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST comes only with a five-speed manual transmission, coupled to the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that has more torque than the dearly-departed SVT Focus - 154 ft-lbs at 4,250 rpm. Yes, it's easy to chirp the front tires on a shift from first to second. Keep an eye on the tachometer, which is easy to read. And the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, nice and rare at this price level.
On the Road
The main thing that sets the Ford Focus apart from competition is the fun-to-drive factor. This compact car scoots away from stoplights, corners with agility and stops quickly. The clutch is light and easy to engage and gear changes are sure and quick, up or down. Cruise control is standard equipment. Same for air conditioning. But our tester had a special $455 audio setup from Sony that really sets this vehicle apart. Sony created the system with this interior in mind and the in-dash unit can hold six CDs and play your MP3 recordings. They don't brand this one a "Sony Focus" as they did in earlier years, but that's what the ZX4 ST with this optional audio system is. If you enjoy music of any kind, you'll love this, which almost matches the best systems on luxury cars. The 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST doesn't have the top Xenon headlights, but its halogen units did a nice job of lighting not only the area in front of the car, but to each side as well. One option not on our tester and not standard is side air bags. No car today should be purchased without them. On a car of this size, they are critically needed. Dual front bags, anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard.
2005 Ford Focus ZX4 ST: Wing, special wheels, and tuned exhaust note set it apartRobert C. Bowden
In technology and in cars, the United States lags the world. We're the last to get things, from cell phone advancements to new car innovations. In Europe, for instance, the Focus now rides on the same platform as the Mazda 3. I tested a five-door Mazda 3 not long ago, and it's an improvement over this Focus platform. Ford owns Mazda and could use any platform under the corporate banner. But Europe gets more zoom-zoom while the U.S. settles for some styling tweaks on the six-year-old Focus. Now, the Focus is good, mind you. It's just that the Mazda 3 platform will elevate it to another level. And that will have to wait at least another year. The tested Mazda 3 was priced almost exactly as this Focus ZX4 ST, but had side air bags, head curtain bags, Xenon headlights as well as everything in the Focus except the Sony audio system. But it's easy to enjoy time spent in either. The Focus carried me on a 60-mile daily commute in comfort and added some fun coming out of curves on back roads. It's not a lookatme car, but no one called it ugly, either. It uses regular gasoline and returns an estimated 23 city and 32 highway.