For 2005, the Ford Focus, which was our 2000 Automobile of the Year, ditches its boy-racer curves for a chiseled, upscale design. Sadly, the rousing SVT model is also gone. Another heartbreaker-Europe will soon have a Focus based on Mazda's 3 and Volvo's S40, while we keep the same basic car we've been driving for four years.
With SVT out of the picture, Ford hopes to satisfy its following of leadfoots with the Focus ST. Available only in sedan configuration, the ST employs a 151-horsepower, 2.3-liter engine shared with the Mazda 3 but tuned for more torque at the expense of a little top-end power (Toyota, are you listening here?). Thankfully, "V" wasn't the only fun letter in the SVT; the ST still impresses. It didn't send us through the turns with quite the tenacity of the 3, but at the same time, it provided a much plusher ride. The engine, although satisfyingly powered, put out a note more like a drunken karaoke singer than a church choir, and engine noise was a bit louder than we would like. This annoyance can most likely be avoided by skipping the ST box on the order sheet, but you'll lose the larger engine's additional torque, along with the suspension upgrade.
Much like the exterior, inside the redesigned Focus you'll find that the wildly drawn curves of the previous model have been replaced by a sharper, more refined theme. Like the Corolla, all dashboard controls are large, well placed, and easy to use. However, Ford could take a lesson from Toyota in material quality and panel fits. The blend of rough, hard black plastic and the carbon fiber-esque center console made for the least enjoyable cabin of the group, especially considering that the seats seemed too big for the car and too overstuffed for us to get comfortable. Settling down on these seats feels like falling into a pile of laundry. Mechanically, the newly remodeled Focus is wonderful. If only Ford could give us a little more comfort-for both the eye and body-to wrap around all those moving parts.