Ford Focus ZX4 ST Review

P.J. McCombs
by P.J. McCombs

Eight years ago, when giant SUV's roamed this fair country virtually unchallenged, The Blue Oval slipped the Ford Focus into the American market. Now that gas prices have U.S. consumers thinking small, you'd think that FoMoCo would be battling Fits, Versas and Yari with an updated version of their Eurobox. Nope. As far as Ford’s engineers and PR department are concerned, the Focus has fallen off the face of the earth. Which might just work in your favor.

A quick reminder: the budget-minded Focus has always ranked among the roomiest, nimblest and sharpest-steering cars in its class. What’s more, the class has grown fatter during the Focus’, uh, golden years. And the Focus range includes a “sport” model priced within reach of poverty-stricken pistonheads: the $17,040 ZX4 ST.

From the curb, the Focus communicates a certain small-car geek chic. Once conspicuously gawky, its tall roof and bluff bodysides fit right in with 2007’s Stay-Puft Sentras, Spectras and Corollas. A 2005 freshening took the squint out of the Focus’s face, with wider, brighter headlamps and a puckered-up grille. The ST looks, um, cute.

Alas, “cute” turns to “crusty” upon popping the Focus’ doors. Perhaps feeling the effects a few (hundred) drunken choruses of “Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” Ford’s stylists trimmed the ST’s cabin in a black-lunged pastiche of hard, hollow plastics. Who knew there were that many shades of black? Even stranger: the colors and many of the textures don’t quite match from panel to panel. Buttons and bin lids feel tenuously affixed.

Fortunately, Ford blessed the ST with a fabulously foamy set of seats from which to survey the cabin’s car-nage. Unfortunately, these comfy thrones sit high off the floor, affording a loathsome “perched on a beach ball” sensation. Other ergonomic gripes: the swing-down center armrest is a shameless elbow-banger, the tach lacks a redline indicator and the entire pedal assembly jiggles when your Merrell snags the clutch.

Speaking of clutching, clutch you must (a pose-o-matic slushbox is not offered). Pity, then, that the five-speed manual lacks gearhead-grade tactility. The springy, long-travel clutch and numb, floppy shifter serve as constant reminders that you’re flying economy class.

The ST’s engine offers something of an upgrade. Though there are only 151 horses in its 2.3-liter stable, the ST’s Mazda-sourced four is a sweetheart. The mini-mill delivers sparkling throttle response, a dainty exhaust snort and a smooth, remarkably even flow of torque. Sixty miles per hour arrives after a brisk canter, in 7.9 unstressed seconds. According to the EPA, the little Focus that could burns a gallon of gas in 23 (city) or 32 (highway) miles.

Of course, all of this powertrain palaver misses the point of the Focus, and in particular, the ST: handling. Nudge its fat little leather-wrapped steering wheel off-center, and— Holy path control, Batman! This little Focus really turns! Yes Boy Wonder, we can revel in a mechanism that’s as sharp as the dashboard’s mold flashing. Course corrections Batman? Forget ‘em chum. With this helm, your first order is always the right one.

Ford could have specced teeth-chattering springs and shocks to drive home the ST’s sport-compact message. In fact, its long-travel suspenders are mild and resilient over the bumps. Combined with the booster-seat driving position, which (literally and figuratively) distances the driver from the contact patches, this supple tuning lends the ST a more mature, mass-market flavor than econoboxes aimed at Vin Diesel devotees. The all-season 205/50R-16 Pirellis, meanwhile, leave a thin margin for adrenal exuberance between speed limit and adhesion limit.

But if the ST’s flesh, er, rubber is weak, the spirit is willing. Dive into a corner on a trailing throttle and try not to smile. The Ford’s pudgy tail feints outward as the front tires scrabble for grip. Gathering it up is as easy as making the monthly payments. Just remember to brace yourself against the door panel– those comfy chairs have all the lateral support of a Barcalounger.

Does all of this make the Focus a competitive product, a viable alternative to the Camcordima? Not to Joe or Jane Average. In a typical dealer-lot once-over, they’ll survey the Focus’ cabin’s Tyco plastics, its spotty ergonomics and its weak features list— head-curtain air bags, an MP3 jack, and rear-seat headrests are all conspicuously absent— and make a “Bold Move” toward their nearest transplant retailer.

Let them flee. While occupying the humble end of the thrill scale, the ST represents a rare victory for enthusiasts. It supplies most of the qualities we crave in a budget ride, while flunking enough mainstream requirements to generate fire-sale prices. As of this writing, Ford offers a $2500 factory bribe on 2007 models. Make them an offer. You’ll find that purchasing an ST is like buying a car at Sam’s Club, only cheaper.

P.J. McCombs
P.J. McCombs

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  • Selracer Selracer on Apr 05, 2007

    The F-150 is built in Dearborn NOT mexico.

  • VaderSS VaderSS on Apr 05, 2007

    F-Series trucks are built in Cuatitlan, Mexico; Dearborn, Michigan; Claycomo, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia; and Valencia, Venezuela. It was also built in Oakville, Ontario until its closure. A quick look at car ad VIN numbers showed most being built in Dearborn, Norfolk, and Claycomo. I have no idea what the actual numbers are. My Focus was built in Wayne, Michigan, but the engine is Mexican built. From what I understand F-150s have a lot of Mexican parts, no matter where they are built. It's just part of the new world order... The whole "Buy American" mentality is almost impossible to actually achieve these days.

  • Argistat If China invades Taiwan (becoming even more likely thanks to DT's isolationist rants) , then the US is completely screwed. If someone tried to list all the manufactured items and manufacturing equipment that contain semiconductor chips, the list would be so long you'd never complete it. Finally a real effort to help bring this into the US.
  • SCE to AUX What a boondoggle.I'd rather have 40 sandwich shops opened to hire those 200 workers, and it wouldn't cost $300 million. They could include chips with every meal."The company is targeting 4.2 GWh worth of lithium-ion battery packs annually by 2026."For reference, Tesla's Gigafactory One has been at over 37 GWh annually for years, not counting its energy modules (another 14 GWh).
  • JMII Checking Cars-N-Bids the price of Rivians has dropped significantly. These things went from 100k down to 60k on the used market. I assumed it was because they finally shipped enough units as I've seen a few on the roads around me.I had a guy at the local boat ramp asked if I liked my Rivian. I told him what I was driving was in fact a Hyundai Santa Cruz. To me which he asked how I liked my EV. I responded, nope this is a turbo 4. He looked very confused - granted it was dark 'o clock in the morning so maybe his coffee hadn't kicked in yet because a Rivian and SC look very different. Both have a futuristic lighting setup so maybe that is why (again it was dark).
  • Lou_BC ****Cracked engine blocks 2.7 litre turbo 4 banger. *****"GM has issued a new Customer Satisfaction Program. The Customer Satisfaction Program was released in February of 2024 and is tagged as N232415060, Block Main Oil Gallery Hot Core Pin Casting Defect. This particular Customer Satisfaction Program only applies to units of the Chevy Silverado 1500 produced for the 2023 model year. It’s currently unclear exactly how many units are affected, however, the Customer Satisfaction Program also applies to units of the 2023 Chevy Colorado, as GM Authority covered previously."
  • Duke Woolworth The advantage of EVs is the luxurious quiet, even in the cheapest/smallest ones. Passengers can speak in normal volume, and the quiet is less stressful. And no oil changes.