Ford, Road Test Reviews

2006 Ford Focus SES with GFX Package – Road Test

Should I trade in my SUV for an economy car, Iain Shankland,

The Ford Focus has been around since 2000, coming out as a 2001 model. It’s had a minor re-working over the past few years, but by and large it’s still pretty much the same Focus that arrived in 2000. For some reason Ford has left us with the first-generation model here in North America while Europe has moved on to a second-generation that I think is much better looking. Anyone that’s been to a Champ Car race over the past couple of years would have seen a V-8 version of the Focus running around the track between events … I’m sure though that most people would have been happier if Ford had just stuffed a V-6 into the engine bay and sold it to the general population instead of showing us a one-off that we’ll never get the option of purchasing.

Back in 2001 I leased a Focus for 3 years and it was a great little car. I don’t remember any other car that I’ve owned that made so many people come up to me and talk about the car (might have had something to do with the fact my lease was a “Fun in the Sun” yellow station wagon). Everyone wanted to know how I liked it and if I’d recommend it. Without a doubt, I helped shift more than a few Focus’ (or is that Foci?) for Ford. When the lease was up, the only thing that stopped me from getting another Focus was power – I wanted more horsepower. Unfortunately, that option wasn’t available, so I had to move on to another manufacturer. Too bad, but them’s the breaks.

First Impressions
Jumping into the Focus, I found it quite familiar. Things weren’t as funky as the Focus I had – everything is more squared-off, as opposed to the swoops and curves of the original version back in Y2K+1. I liked the original version, but the new one makes it look more grown-up – more like the competition – instead of standing out from the crowd. The driver’s seat was very comfortable and easy to set up. The side bolsters hug you and make you feel at one with rest of the car. It has a nice grippy cloth fabric and is height adjustable, but has no lumbar adjustment. 

The steering is tilt and telescopic with the cruise control buttons on the wheel. As with most vehicles in today’s marketplace, there are audio system controls on the steering wheel – well “sort of” in the case of the Focus. It’s the exact same steering wheel as the 2001 model year, but they’ve added a “growth” out of the wheel just behind the left side of the airbag. The “growth” looks like an MP3 player that someone at the factory has been given and told to stick it onto something in the car near the steering wheel somewhere, and the person has looked at the wheel, got some crazy glue and put it…. right….there. Using the gadget, you get the feeling the glue hasn’t quite set yet – I was sure it was going to break off. Come on Ford!! What would an all-new steering wheel have cost if you’d pulled it out of the corporate parts bin?! Otherwise, the steering wheel is a perfect size and is very comfortable in the hands.

The stereo and heating/air conditioning controls are easy to use, but I found that when I was driving at night, whenever I tried to adjust the volume on the stereo – nothing would happen. Very weird, until I discovered you can’t adjust the volume on the stereo if you’re using the cigarette lighter as the knob!! In the dark it’s quite hard to tell the difference when you’ve got you’re eyes on the road. The funny thing is they aren’t even similar in shape or size – it’s just the cigarette lighter is perfectly placed when reaching for the stereo. My wife did the same thing, so at least I’m not the only fool out there.

Throttle response was pretty good for the Focus. I think a huge benefit is the fact it was a manual transmission. Apart from the fact a manual is so much more fun to drive than a slushbox, it really makes the car come alive. There was also a nice raspy noise coming out of the exhaust that encouraged maximum velocity at all times. It wasn’t like the noises you hear out of those cars the younger crowd are using – where they’ve stuffed a coffee can onto the end of the muffler – it was a good sound, made you feel like you were driving a rally car. The clutch is very light and easy to modulate, and the shifter works well in tandem. I sometimes felt a little bit of a problem between first and second gear, but no problems with any of the others. If Ford are using the same gearbox as they used back in 2001 (and I have no reason to think otherwise), then that’s just inherit with the box, because I always had the same problem with my Focus – especially when it was cold out. Once you get used to it though it wasn’t a problem and didn’t detract from the “fun to drive” aspect of the car.

Even though the 4-cylinder only has 136 hp, thanks to the manual transmission, you can really get the car spooled up. On the up hill test it flew, with the “change-me-now!” shift light glowing. If you followed the little orange light and shifted when it told you to, there would be good chance you’d be in 5th gear at a stand-still on a 12% grade with cyclists passing you. I realize the light is there for fuel economy, but it’s pointless if you’re actually trying to go somewhere. Even shifting from 2nd to 3rd brought an almost immediate feeling that you’d applied the parking brake. What I’d like to know is – do people actually use the light as their reference point to shift? I’d imagine people that would do that would be better served purchasing an automatic and save themselves a lot of stress.

The sound system in the test vehicle was the optional system at $348 [$495 Cdn] and looked similar to the one that was installed in the Ford Fusion that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. It’s an in-dash 6-disc CD/ MP3 unit that…. well, it’s very good. It’s crystal-clear, but interestingly the unit has a maximum sound level that isn’t very loud. At full volume the quality was there, and it was loud – but not loud enough to make your ears bleed. You could still carry on a conversation while the volume was at maximum. The only way to skip to the next track on a CD is to use the glued-on MP3 thingy. I couldn’t find a button that would do it on the actual head unit and looking at the manual – there was nothing there to indicate that I’d lost my abilities to figure out stereo systems. As a side-point, the ZX3 gets a different sound system by Audiophile and Sony.

The Focus’ back seat area is fairly large and accommodating, with the seat back angle making it very comfortable, and it splits 60/40 for added versatility. There’s plenty of leg, knee and foot space, with hip, shoulder and headroom also being quite generous. Having a flat floor, 3 people would fit in the rear with reasonable comfort. The hatch/trunk area is generous with a low floor, and offers much more room than it appears to have. Additionally, the rear door is very light and easy to close.

The Focus comes in a myriad of variations and options in both the U.S. and Canada – with two 4-cylinder engines and 4 body styles to choose from, the ZX5 being available in 2 trim levels – S and SES in the U.S., but only in the SES trim in Canada. Standard features include: height adjustable front seats, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, an AM/FM single-disc in-dash stereo system that reads MP3 encoded CD‘s, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Traction Control, 15” Alloy wheels, keyless entry, Air, and SecuriLock anti theft system.

The base engine is a 2.0 litre inline 4, with an optional 2.3 litre inline 4 (available only on the ZX4 ST), both featuring 16 valve dual overhead cams. The 2.0 cylinder delivers 136 hp / 133 lb.-ft torque, and you get the choice between a 5-speed standard or an automatic transmission. Stepping up to the 2.3 litre gives you 151 hp / 154 lb.-ft torque and a 5-speed manual transmission only. Towing capacity is 1,000 lbs.

The Sonic Blue test vehicle came with the optional GFX package ($695 Cdn) – Street Appearance Package 1
$1,295 U.S. (includes the moonroof) – a power moonroof ($1,000 Cdn), side impact air bags ($350 U.S./ $500 Cdn) and the aforementioned stereo system ($695 U.S. / $495 Cdn) that added to the base price of $16,485 ($21,799 Cdn). The SES comes with the winter package, which includes heated seats, heated side mirrors and all-speed traction control. The GFX package makes the car look far sportier than the base model, and I think it really makes a huge difference in the looks department. The front chin spoiler makes it look a lot like the Focus rally cars, but is not over-done and gaudy. You get quite a lot for the money: color-keyed front and rear fascia, fog lamps, side marker lamps, molded black radiator grill, lower air deflector on the front and a molded black rear diffuser, bright exhaust tip and a high-mounted rear wing. If you go with the 4-door version (ZX4) there’s a unique looking rear wing on the trunk, with the GFX Package costing a reasonable $1,127 U.S. [$1,395 Cdn].

On the safety side, as mentioned earlier, comes with dual-stage air bags, ABS, all-speed Traction Control, and an engine immobilizer. The front seat-mounted side impact air bags are optional.

I liked the Focus a lot, it’s responsive and it’s loads fun to drive … if you get the manual transmission. It’s roomy, very competitively priced and still very different from all the other cars in its segment, although its fuel economy is so-so. With the GFX package, it’s a sporty and great looking car. The seats are terrific – comfortable and grippy when you throw it through the twisty back roads like a rally driver. One thing that I love about it is that you can get it in a hatchback – there are just not enough of these versatile cars out there at the moment. Kudos to Ford for giving people the option of personalizing their car simply, and with the great options and packages available.

Fully transferable five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty which includes towing and roadside assistance.

Pricing for the 2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES with GFX package
As tested: $ 19,815 [$24,589 Cdn]
Base price for the ZX5 SES starts at: $16,485 [$21,799 Cdn]

Fuel Consumption: [Regular]
The 2.0 is rated at 27 mpg City [8.7 L/100 kms] and 37 mpg Highway [6.4 L/100 kms]
I averaged 24 mpg [9.8 L/100km] in combined driving.

A great drivers car – perfectly matched engine/transmission and suspension
Excellent fit and finish
Looks great – I’ll have mine in “Screaming Yellow” please (thank goodness someone’s offering interesting colors these days!)
Very comfortable drivers seat

No V-6 option – or – why not the 2.3 engine?!
Fuel economy isn’t as good as expected

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
Yes, it was a blast to drive, it’s relatively cheap to buy and you can personalize it without too much money.

Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
“Surprisingly comfortable, with good legroom.” “The seat back angle is perfect and very comfortable.”

Immediate Competition:
Acura RSX, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra5, Mazda3, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix, VW Golf/Rabbit/Beetle

By The Numbers…
Horsepower: 136 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 133 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

10 – Quality
8 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
8 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
8 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)

10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls

8 – Drool Factor
9 – Fit & Finish

8 – Engine
8 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
8 – Bang for the $$
7 – Fuel Economy

130 Total / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

Also Published at: PaddockTalk