Lest you think that RFD has switched exclusively to crossovers and press cars, I present my latest acquisition. This Ford Focus has actually been around the household since last winter, when it was cheaper to buy this than fix my fiancee’s ailing Jeep Liberty enough to pass inspection. Now that she’s bought the Ford Flex she really wanted, she’s handed the Focus down to me – mainly to keep it in the family and because my insurance is cheaper than hers.
Why not get rid of it? We’re not going to make any money off this thing. We probably would’ve gotten scrap value for it on a trade-in. But it’s a perfectly good car, for what it is. We know for a fact that it’s been well maintained, because an old friend of mine owns the shop that’s maintained it for years and arranged the sale from the previous owner. Like the Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t look like much but it’s got it where it counts. It runs and drives perfectly. We also have a second set of wheels, swank Saab 9000 alloys with good snow tires, so I can use it as a winter beater to save the BRZ from the salt and potholes. I could also use it to get back into SCCA rallycross, which is has a very active group here in New England. It’s worth more to us than any money we can get for it.
Trim: LX sedan
Transmission: 4-Speed Auto
Engine: 110-hp 2.0 Liter, Inline 4
Drive: Front Wheel Drive
Exterior: Silver Frost Metallic
Interior: Medium Graphite
Purchase Price: Free
Packages & Options
- Manual windows, locks, and mirrors
- Unpainted rear bumper for weight reduction
- Minor dents, dings, and flaking paint
- A huge hole in the AC lines
- Ugly but solid rocker panel replacement due to rust
- Completely rusted out useless trailer hitch
- The Sony CD player I saved from my Crown Vic Police Interceptor
Although its 2.0 liter 4-cylinder motor sounds like the same specs as my BRZ, its meager 110hp pushed through a slushbox transmission means it doesn’t get up to speed very quickly at all. This was the least powerful engine available in the US version of the Focus in 2002. Forget the drag strip. Forget hard acceleration onto a busy highway. You’re going to need a big hole in traffic to achieve orbital insertion.
On the plus side, once it finally does get up to speed, it maintains it extremely well. The Focus is rock solid at 80+mph, and though it takes a while to get there, it has no problem keeping the pace.
Not bad. With narrow tires, discs/drums, and no ABS, it’s not going to stop on a dime. But if you threshold brake properly, it gets the job done adequately for street driving. I have no complaints.
For an economy car, it’s pretty darn good. Seriously. I took my fiancee and her kids out for a Track Night In America pace lap session last summer. Despite the 45mph speed limit (hence our lack of helmets), I was still able to hoof it through a couple of Thompson Speedway’s tighter turns, where 45 is actually pretty fast. There’s a bit of body roll, but this is no Focus SVT – it’s a sedan tuned for comfort. There’s a good amount of feedback through the steering wheel, which is boosted neither too much nor too little. Hooray for old school hydraulic power steering! It’s easy to take a precise line through a turn. I was able to roll over the curbs and rumble strips consistently lap after lap. It’s not the fast way through most of Thompson’s turns, but it made the ride more exciting for the kids.
But the big surprise is the multilink rear suspension – something you expect in a BMW, but not an economy car. We took the Focus to a Boston BMW CCA IceCross last winter, and I was amazed at how well it responded to rally style left foot braking techniques. In fact, I’ve never driven a car that responded so well to them, including the cars I drove at Team O’Neil Rally School where I learned them. It was super simple to hang the back of the car out as much or as little as I wanted, just by putting my right foot down on the gas and using my left foot on the brakes to transfer weight forward and back. The good handling is what wakes up this car – and me – on the daily commute.
It’s no BRZ or Miata, but it’s much better than one would expect from a car of this type, this age, and this cheap. And it’s a whole lot better than my 1995 Mercury Tracer was, which only preceded this Focus by a few years.
This area has advanced so much since 2002 that the Focus is hopelessly outdated. No navigation. No touch screen. No steering wheel controls. No automated climate control. On top of that, this is a base model with no options. No cruise control. No power windows. No power locks. The closest thing to technology this car has is the LCD odometer from a time when people still thought that digital watches were a pretty neat idea.
On the plus side, that also means no MyFordTouch.
I took it on my daily commute for the first time today, and it was downright relaxing compared to my BRZ. I appreciate the BRZ’s excellent handling capabilities and manual transmission on a quiet road where I can enjoy them, but the traffic and clueless drivers on my commute prevent that from ever happening. The Focus just glides along like the appliance it is. The soft suspension may hold back its handling capabilities a bit, but it pays off when soaking up the bumps of the Boston suburbs while still being decent enough in the corners to make me happy. The seats may not electrically adjust in 20 different ways, but they manually adjust enough, are comfortable, and let me maintain a good driving position. There are no frills, but the ergonomics of the car are pretty good, despite Ford’s love-it-or-hate-it New Edge design (I love it on the outside of the Focus but hate it on the inside). It’s a small car, but it’s not cramped at all. It even has a center armrest. This particular car’s AC may not work, but it warms up very quickly, which I’ll very much enjoy this winter. My BRZ takes forever to get up to temperature, leaving me to freeze in the meantime.
It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, despite the sporting pretensions of some versions, the LX sedan is not an enthusiast car, especially with the automatic transmission. I wouldn’t want this to be my only car. If it was, I’d be shopping around for a cheap Miata or something to enjoy in the summer, and on the track.
On the other hand, there’s something fun about having a cheap or free car like this. It’s already a little dinged up, so I really don’t care if I add a few more. I can drive into Boston, leave it unlocked, and nobody’s going to bother with it. (We’ve accidentally tested this theory.) I won’t rallycross my BRZ, but I’d go maximum attack in the Focus, and probably add a skidplate so I could go even more balls to the wall. And if I do break it, it’s cheap to fix, and I still have another car to get me to work.
Bang For The Buck
It’s a free car that works and is street legal. That, alone, is worth maximum points. The fact that this car has other advantages going for it makes it even better. There’s no getting rid of the low powered engine and automatic transmission – it would be cheaper to buy a different car than to swap the drivetrain. But if I wanted to, there are all kinds of cheap upgrades available straight from the Focus parts bin. I could swap a Focus SVT suspension on if I felt like it. More likely I’ll keep it pretty much the way it is.
It needs help in the headlight department. They’re pretty dim, and my commute home will be in complete darkness at the time of year I’ll be using this car for it. I’ll start by polishing the lenses, making sure they’re aligned properly, and possibly upgrading the bulbs. I can replace the headlight housings for dirt cheap if a polish doesn’t help. If that’s not enough, I can add some rally style lighting to help.
But overall, this is a good, solid car. It’s cheap to own, cheap to drive, and everything except the AC works. It seriously flies under the radar, unlike my BRZ, and if someone dings it in a parking lot, who cares? There’s a lot to be said for having a mechanically solid beater like this around.