Ann Arbor - Choosing this magazine's Automobile of the Year is a bit like a brief but very satisfying love affair: Our writers and the car spend enough time together to become besotted but not enough to discover the little foibles that will make or break the relationship in the longer term. A solid year's motoring is the only way to tell if this affair has legs or whether the character flaws will drive us apart.
Over the course of 31,708 miles, we can honestly say that all of our initial attractions to the Ford Focus remained. Age did not dim the car's beauty or luster, as the more poetic might put it. The less poetic would say that at the end of the test, we still admired the Focus's exceptional blend of road manners, willing engine, smooth-shifting transmission, interior space and comfort, and value for money--traits that led us to give the car our top award for 2000. But--and there always seems to be a but in every relationship--some quality-control issues made us wonder how stable the relationship would be in the more distant future.
The Focus won us over with a willingness to rack up the miles that belied its economy-car price. One of the best features of the Focus is its intelligent packaging, with a tall driving position, loads of headroom, and a remarkable amount of rear-seat and trunk room for a car in this class. In its time with us, former motor gopher Ryan Wiswesser drove to Cape Cod and back, 1800 miles in three days; contributor Ronald Ahrens racked up 1500 miles to Georgia and back, again in three days; and founder/editor emeritus David E. Davis, Jr., put in 3300 miles in less than a week on his way to Jackson, Wyoming. All three found the car comfortable, its road and wind noise subdued, its passing power plentiful. David E. said, partway through his stint: "The car has been brilliant all this way. Performance isn't going to cause any brain injuries, but the car is beautifully balanced, harmonious. Everything works with everything else. It's seamlessly pleasing."
All of our drivers were pleased with the car's supple ride, its eager 2.0-liter Zetec four-cylinder engine, and steering and handling that were both intuitive and rewarding. Even the sound system and headlights got pluses in the logbook. Here, we discovered, is an American small car that actually competes solidly against the European and Japanese opposition. (We can't think of many domestic cars, save Chevy's Corvette and Chrysler's PT Cruiser, that deserve such an accolade.) It warms our hearts that not only are the Focus sedan and wagon selling well, but the import-tuner crowd has embraced the car in three-door, ZX3 form.