Upon its debut in 2000, the Ford Focus made a name for itself among economy cars with its superior chassis tuning, which provides a much better than expected driving experience, and its rather tall body, which creates a roomy interior. Five years later, these key character traits remain, although competition has diminished the advantage. For the 2005 model year, the Focus received a minor styling makeover, inside and out, giving it a slightly more subdued, mature look. It also got an important upgrade in the form of Mazda-sourced 2.0-liter and 2.3-liter four-cylinder engines. While the car's styling was simplified, its nomenclature became more confusing. ZX3, ZX4, ZX5, and ZXW refer to the Focus's four body styles--two-door hatchback, four-door sedan, four-door hatch, and station wagon, respectively. S, SE, SES, and ST denote progressive trim levels. The ST is not only the top-spec, most expensive version, but it's also the performance-themed model, with a more powerful engine, firmer suspension, standard four-wheel disc brakes, and sportier trim.
Despite the recent tweaks, which softened the creases in the sheetmetal and gave the lights a less severe look, the Focus design has stayed true to its original, Euro-styled form. The two- and four-door hatchbacks have an abruptly ending rear section that encloses a lot of cargo space in a small overall package. Either one would be a particularly advantageous choice for on-street parkers, people with a small garage, or anyone else for whom parking space is at a premium. Buyers who want a more traditional design likely will gravitate toward the conventionally shaped sedan or the station wagon--a rare body style among small cars.
The Focus interior is similar to that of most other Fords today: There are lots of straight lines and flat surfaces and a Volkswagen -inspired execution overall. The materials, however, generally fall considerably short of those used by VW. Leather upholstery is available for those looking to splurge, and the ST even offers a neat leather-and-suede two-tone seating option. Unfortunately, the seats under that fancy material are still too soft to offer real support on long trips. In all models, the high seating position makes the view from inside the Focus surprisingly good. The back seat is a hospitable place to stash two adults, something that cannot be said of competitors such as the Chevy Cobalt or Saturn Ion. The two- and four-door hatchbacks offer extra cargo-carrying versatility thanks to their wide-opening hatches and seats that fold down to make one large cargo area; the latter feature is also included in the wagon. Focus sedans add their own measure of versatility with forward-folding rear seatbacks and a trunk-to-cabin pass-through, which allows long cargo to stretch from inside the trunk into the rear seat area.
Anti-lock brakes and traction control are optional on all trim levels but the ST, which offers both as standard. Stability control is not available. Seat-mounted side airbags are optional on all trim levels, but curtain airbags are not offered.