2004 Ford Focus ZX5

2004 Ford Focus ZX5

More options for even more versatility
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Ford's Focus ZX3 hatchback is one of the pillars of the sport-compact segment. For the 2000 model year, the car gained two doors when the ZX5 joined the Focus family. This five-door enters its fifth season offering even more choices. The result is a vehicle that's more practical, popular and easier to personalize than ever before.

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Like the ZX3, the ZX5 has a well-designed blend of curves and creases, of arching lines and triangular shapes. In other words, it's eye-catching. The addition of Light Tundra paint to its exterior color palette should make the ZX5 even more distinctive. Other changes for 2004 include an across-the-model-line available 2.3-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine, and new steering knuckles and struts for greater handling and performance.

Standard equipment includes an in-dash/6-disc CD changer (with an MP3 player), fog lamps, power locks/windows/mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering wheels, height-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, variable windshield wipers and an anti-theft system. The new Comfort and Premium levels allows ZX5 buyers even more flexibility to bundle options such as a moonroof, leather seats, traction control, antilock brakes and a new perimeter alarm system.

All Focus ZX5s come standard with a 130-horsepower/2.0-liter Zetech DOHC 4-cylinder engine. Its responsiveness was improved for 2003 thanks to a new throttle body, a new cylinder head that allows an increase in spark timing, reduced-load valve springs and a less-restrictive exhaust. The available 2.3-liter four produces 145 horsepower and is certified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV). Transmission choices are a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. Other mechanicals include front MacPherson strut and rear Control Blade trailing-arm suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, 10.1-inch front disc brakes and the aforementioned 16-inch alloy wheels.

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Also available on the ZX5 is a choice of two traction-control systems. AdvanceTrac, Ford's "interactive vehicle dynamics system." This safety-intensive system uses aerospace technology monitors such things as steering-wheel angle, throttle and brake position and the vehicle's directional response, then makes adjustments automatically to help keep the car from spinning out of control. AdvanceTrac is bundled with the optional antilock brakes and 10-inch rear discs (instead of old-tech drums). To be really safe, you'll want the side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. Fortunately, Focus models receive "good" (the highest) ratings in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests.

Base out-the-door price for the ZX5 is $15,035, very competitive in the entry-level hatchback class. Other hatchback competitors in this price range are the Volkswagen Golf, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix and BMW Mini, which means the Focus ZX5 faces very substantial competition. So how does the ZX5 stack up? Driving the ZX5 is addicting. Shifter throws are short and sure, and the ZX5 allows the driver to make full use of the engine's 130 horses and 135 lb.-ft. of torque. The little engine is strong enough to induce substantial torque steer if you rev it up as you pull away from an intersection.

Ford's ZX3 has been popular with young buyers who want to customize and even hot-rod their vehicles. If you can afford it, you could do the same things to the ZX5, plus have the utility of a four-door body style.

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The ZX5 uses standard Ford switchgear, which means that its controls are large and easy to use and to find. Instruments are mounted on a nicely sculpted dashboard that, like the car's exterior, pleases your eyes with its combination of curves and angles. The car's front seats still have a handy "kangaroo pouch" storage/map pocket at the front of the seat-bottom cushion, and the front door panels have large storage pockets. Another nice feature is what looks like a coin tray or small drawer in the dashboard, but when you pull it out you discover it's large and deep enough to hold your sunglasses or cell phone.

The backseat is roomy enough for adult passengers. For maximum cargo capacity, the rear seat-bottom cushions pivot forward and the seatbacks fold flat to create a longer cargo floor, although when pivoted forward, the seat bottoms abbreviate the length of the flat cargo floor. Still, the seats were among the most comfortable we've found in any Ford. The four-door architecture makes the behind-the-back-seat and beneath-the-hatchback cargo areas much easier to use. The cabin is also two decibels quieter this year thanks to sound-deadener sprayed under the unibody and carpet underlay.

The Focus ZX5 moves swiftly and handles smoothly. Its engine is perky, the manual gearbox allowed us to fully explore the drivetrain's potential, and the suspension provides a taut but comfortable ride. The ZX5 has received significant awards and praise since its introduction-and we expect that to continue. (www.fordvehicles.com)

2004 Ford Focus ZX5 rear driving
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