If you recognize the names Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo, chances are you've already seen the newly restyled 2005 Ford Focus. Ford is a major sponsor of the popular "American Idol" television talent series, and the Focus, with its "talking car" advertising spots, was presented over and over again to the millions of loyal "Idol" viewers. These fans tuned in not once but twice weekly to watch 12 finalists get narrowed down to two popular singing divas.
But alas, someone finally sang the closing note for the big win, and although the newest "American Idol" is technically Ms. Barrino, we're sure that Ford could legitimately claim that its refreshed Focus is the real winner. What better way to introduce the 2005 model than by allowing it to "talk" directly to its target demographic on a weekly basis?
The 2005 Focus is a car worth talking about. Aside from the rash of early recalls, we have always been pleased with the car's performance since its introduction for the 2000 model year. Our editors have named the Focus to our coveted "Editors' Most Wanted" award list for four of the past five model years. And while the 2005 makeover may have taken away some of the car's puckish charm, the result is a more polished, upscale feel in both the cabin and around the exterior.
The Ford's front and rear treatments have been restyled for a broader appeal, right down to the removal of the lower-case Focus name badge which has been replaced by a bolder, more authoritative font. Additional subtle styling cues such as color-keyed trim pieces and new light fixtures buff up the car's exterior, but the real improvements are on the inside.
Gone is the distinctive diagonal line that once slashed across the Focus' dash, and in its place is sedate, sophisticated styling. Attractively trimmed gauges are easy to read, no matter which Focus model you're driving, and the controls are placed within easy reach for both front-seat occupants. The seats are more supportive than those of our long-term Focus ZX3 hatchback -- an improvement in comfort for both front and rear passengers.
Four models are available in numerous trim levels: the ZX3 (from $13,550) is a two-door hatch, the ZX4 (from $14,150) a four-door sedan, the ZX5 (from $14,850) a four-door hatch and the ZXW (from $17,350) remains a real wagon. The hatchbacks and sedan come in three trim levels -- S, SE and SES -- while the wagon is available in SE and SES trims only.
The entry-level S model gets 15-inch steel wheels with nine-spoke covers, black exterior trim accents, an AM/FM single CD player with speed-sensitive volume control, black-faced gauges and intermittent windshield wipers. The SE adds seven-spoke wheel covers; air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and door locks; keyless entry; variable intermittent wipers; an MP3-compatible stereo; and additional cabin storage bins. A step up to the nicely appointed SES yields 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels on Pirelli all-season rubber, color-keyed body side- and rear-moldings, foglamps, cruise control, an in-dash six-disc CD player, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and gray-faced instrument gauges.
The ZX4 sedan is the only model to also offer the sportier ST treatment (as close as the '05 Focus gets to last year's SVT versions) which provides more power, unique wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS, traction control, color-keyed body trim, rear ground effects, a chrome-tipped exhaust, sport front bucket seats, a black leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob with eye-catching red stitching and a silver instrument cluster with black-faced gauges. The interior treatment is also specialized, with two-tone charcoal surroundings and black fabric with snazzy red inserts.
But Ford didn't stop there. The ST also benefits from key components from the past SVT Focus and European Focus ST170 models, including the same front struts and rear shocks. These struts and shocks are about 50-percent stiffer than the workings used on the SE and SES suspension, and after driving both, we'd cast our vote for the sportier ride and finer handling characteristics of the ST suspension.
Under the hood of most Focus models is a new 136-horsepower, 2.0-liter "Duratec 20" inline four-cylinder engine. This engine comes standard on all S, SE and SES models, except in the green states of California, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and Vermont, where the cars receive the 130-hp, 2.0-liter "Duratec 20E" engine instead. The latter engine meets Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) standards and is also available to buyers in neighboring states, including Arizona, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
This engine replaces both the 110 hp and 130 hp 2.0-liter engines offered for the Focus line since its debut in 2000. The 2.3-liter, four-cylinder Duratec 23, which makes 151 hp and 154 pound-feet of torque, is offered only on the Focus ST sedan, and is available in all 50 states. A sport-tuned exhaust not only heralds the sound of a Focus ST in motion, but also aids in the horsepower increase. A five-speed manual transmission comes standard across the Focus lineup, with a four-speed automatic optional on all models except the ST, where the smooth-shifting manual remains the only choice.
Options worth considering on the '05 Focus include the Weather Package, which bundles heated front seats with heated mirrors, and a Sony audiophile system with over 500 watts of power that plays through an eight-inch subwoofer and four coaxial speakers. What better way to crank Fantasia's new single?
All Focus models are backed by a fully transferable five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty which includes towing and roadside assistance. That's undeniably an attractive deal, heartily topping the 2004 model's three-year/36,000-mile coverage. This, along with a new look, a more comfortable cabin, cleaner engine options and increased horsepower (save for the retired SVT version), should assure that the 2005 Focus has what it takes to win its own place in the spotlight. Or, if not the spotlight, then perhaps your garage. If you're shopping for a small, affordable hatchback, sedan or wagon this year, the Focus should be on your test-drive list.