2003 Ford Focus SVT
Extra doors extend SVT appeal
By Paul and Anita Lienert / Special to The Detroit News/1-02-03
2003 Ford Focus SVT
When we tested Ford Motor Co.’s hot new Focus SVT last summer, we found few flaws in a fun car designed by the company’s Special Vehicle Team. While the Focus SVT was designed to lure young buyers attracted to hot imports like the Honda Civic Si, the small hatchback had much broader appeal, with its biggest limitation being the three-door design.
With the arrival of a new five-door edition for 2003, the Focus SVT adds functionality for families or singles who typically travel with friends.
Features that made the original so entertaining — the hot twin-cam 2.0-liter engine, the racing-style cockpit and more — are carried over in the five-door, which has a base price of $19,600. Our test vehicle had a bottom line of $22,230, including such options as high-intensity-discharge headlamps ($450), moon-roof ($595), cold-weather package ($395) and audiophile stereo ($675).
He: I’m mildly perturbed that we bought a little Volkswagen station wagon before we had a chance to test the Focus SVT five-door. I love your Jetta, honey, but it’s not nearly as much fun to drive as the SVT for about the same money. Ford harnesses 170 horses to a slick Getrag six-speed gearbox, then packages it in one of the most nimble chassis in the class. You’d swear you were piloting a small German sport sedan when you’re behind the wheel.
She: You probably shouldn’t use the words “German” and “pilot” around our son, the military historian. But I have to admit the Focus SVT is growing on me. It’s certainly entertaining. Ford spent a lot of attention inside the car, adding enthusiast touches like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, racing-style pedals and leather-trimmed bucket seats. And the Focus already comes with a very distinctive-looking instrument panel. I’m just a little surprised they didn’t spend more time dressing up the outside. For the extra $4,000 you have to pay over a standard Focus ZX5, it’s difficult to tell you’re driving something special, outside of the telltale SVT logos and a few discreet cosmetic touches.
He: As the SVT folks like to say, it’s what’s under the skin that counts. We’re talking some pretty serious hardware for under $20,000 — stiffer springs and shocks, lower suspension, beefier brakes, fatter stabilizer bars and low-profile 17-inch Continental ContiSport tires. Thank goodness, with all this cold weather and snow, our test vehicle was equipped with the optional Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tires in the same size and aspect ratio. They were really terrific on the slippery pavement, especially with the traction-control system that comes bundled with the cold-weather package.
She: We were also impressed last summer with the roominess of the Focus three-door. And now, with the addition of the two rear doors, this latest SVT makes a lot more sense for buyers with small kids — even for 20-somethings like our own sons who frequently pile several friends into the car with them.
He: If I have a beef with the SVT, it’s the mediocre fuel economy. While the standard Focus returns up to 36 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA, the SVT delivers a mere 21 m.p.g. driving in city and 25 on the highway. Geez, a 4,000-pound Crown Victoria with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine, returns 26 m.p.g. in highway driving. What gives?
She: I’m still a little miffed that you can’t get some basic amenities like lighted vanity mirrors and a cassette player on the Focus SVT. But I am impressed with the standard safety features, which include antilock brakes and side air bags. I could live without some of the options on our test car, like the moon-roof and the high-intensity headlamps, but I was happy to have the heated seats. And that fancy stereo really kicks out some serious sound.
He: The bottom line is that our complaints, for the most part, are minor, while our praise is lavish. For performance buffs on a budget, the Focus SVT five-door is a top pick.
Likes: Zippy engine and slick Getrag six-speed gearbox. Nimble chassis provides sports-car-like handling. Optional Michelin Pilot Alpin snow tires perfect for Michigan winters. Cabin is a performance buff’s delight, with cool leather-trimmed seats, racing-style pedals. Safety features include ABS, side air bags and optional traction control. Standard CD player. Terrific $675 audio system. Four-door configuration makes it easier for your friends to get in and out of the rear seats. Difficult to find a more entertaining and practical package for $22,000.
Dislikes: Priced out of reach for many younger buyers. Base sticker is $4,000 more than Focus ZX5. Not much visual differentiation on the outside from standard Focus. No lighted vanity mirrors (Anita). Middling fuel economy.
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger hatchback.
Price: Base, $19,600; as tested, $22,230 (inc. $515 destination charge).
Engine: 2.0-liter I-4; 170-hp; 145 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan*: $1,430 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Mexico
Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, a Detroit-based automotive information services company.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....