By on May 15, 2015

For decades, compact cars from Dearborn were miserable. Blue Oval enthusiasts in North America looked longingly at the rally-bred Escorts in the UK and Europe, wondering when the promised “world car” would cross the Atlantic.

Improbably, I was one of those guys. I bought a 2000 Focus sedan (ZTS model with the twincam Zetec) with six months and 6000 miles on the odo, and flogged it for seven years and about a dozen recalls. Should have listened to my Dad, who always warned against buying a first-year model.

These days, we have it good, with FiSTs and FoSTs, and a real RS on the horizon. But in those dreary days of the early aughts, the only compact with sporting intentions came with the SVT badge, like this 2004 model. A couple dozen seem to be up for grabs across the web at any given time, so these aren’t particularly unusual or rare. The $6k price tag seems to be the middle of the typical range.

Nonetheless, the SVT Focus is a great hot-hatch bargain, with plenty of potential on track or in autocross. Despite my flawed history with the nameplate, I’d love to see a blue five-door in my driveway.

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46 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 2004 Ford Focus SVT...”


  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Never tried the SVT, but this gen of Focus was a lot of fun to drive even in plebeian trims. Bummer about the first year reliability issues, and when they refreshed it in 2005(?) they installed a truly horrible generic dashboard made of miserable materials. Don’t know why they did that, but it brought the perceived quality of the car down a few grade levels. Didn’t much like the seats either, there was an odd contour where the seatback and bottom cushion met.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      To be fair, the first interior wasn’t much better and has aged horribly. The refreshed interior had too much hard plain plastic across the passenger side though.

      That said you are right that the first gen model was fun in all trims (had a 2007 model for 7 years), albeit very basic and somewhat tinny.

      • 0 avatar
        Exfordtech

        I see such comments about hard plastic in the dashboard over and over. I honestly never touch the dashboard other than to clean it. My personal opinion is that its main features should be that the dashboard is well laid out as far as instruments and controls, it doesn’t crack over time, and that it doesn’t interfere with visibility due to reflections or glare. I really couldn’t care less whether or not it has a hard surface, as I rarely interact with it.

        • 0 avatar
          VaderSS

          I agree on the plastics. They look the same after 8 years as they did when I bought it. I wish I could say the same for other cars I own or have owned.

          The other thing I like is that it does not have the intrusive console that all cars seem to have now, including the 2008+ Focus.

    • 0 avatar
      vtnoah

      I had a 2003 SVT in Red with the HID’s and a couple of extra goodies on it. Threw some sticky tires on her and it was an absolute blast. I even sold it for more than I bought it for. What a wonderful, overlooked car.

    • 0 avatar
      EMedPA

      That interior on the ’05’s was cheap. But the double-DIN radio opening means nearly unlimited choices for an aftermarket stereo, which is a pretty sweet thing. And by 2005 Ford seems to have worked most of the bugs out of the car. I drove an ’05 wagon 155,000 miles from new, and sold it to my wife’s uncle two years ago. He’s still driving it, and it has to have close to 170Kmi on the clock now. A rust-free Focus from 2005-2007 would be a pretty good choice for someone looking for cheap, reliable transportation.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      Back when I bought my last car in 2007, I really, really wanted to like the Focus. I test-drove it twice, and was working with a dealer on a price, but in the end I just couldn’t pull the trigger because the interior was so bad. I wasn’t looking for luxury, but that interior just screamed “cost-cutting!”

    • 0 avatar
      geo

      Ford also “improved” another interesting, pleasant design in the Windstar/Freestar interior with the blandest dash ever known to mankind. What were they thinking?

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        They were thinking that the soccer moms and grandchildren taxi drivers who buy one of these bottom-of-the-market minivans isn’t really going to care one whit about what the dashboard looks like.

        If you wanted a fancy dash, you bought an Odyssey or a Sienna (and paid a lot more for it).

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I had one of the SEs as a rental while my 2000 Accord was being repaired from an accident. Very pleasant if unexciting driver.

      The one thing which REALLY stood out: the turn signals were loud enough to wake the dead!

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        It’s funny you say that. It was a rental SE that had me trade my 2001 Hyundai Elantra (with 20k on it) on a 2001 Focus ZX-3. My Elantra hadn’t given me any problems, but it wasn’t much of a “drivers car”, even with the stick. The 2.0 SPI engine wasn’t great, but the whole chassis of the Focus felt so much better. 0% financing had just shown up too (this was around October of 2001).

        So, in another case of being young and dumb with money, I traded a still pretty new car (with Hyundai depreciation) on another new car. I never regretted it, as the Focus was way more fun than the Elantra.

        The turn signals were different, though not as bad as my Mazda 5 or any recent Ford with the “beep-boop” turn signal noise.

  • avatar
    Flyinace2000

    My first manual car was a 2002 (or 03?) SVT 3 Door SVT Focus. It was a rough drive home but damn what a fun car. Lots of space inside. I was able to move to DC for a summer and all my crap fit in the spacious cabin.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Problem is that ugly interior though. Good gawd that interior. Then with the 1.1 gen they went “modern interpretation of the Ford Topaz”. Brilliant car but I could never own one.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    I never warmed up to the New Edge style jorb.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    They gave them away in contests here. They were load with after-market audio. I entered every week, but never got “the call”. I can’t even find them on the net anymore. Thanks a lot goggle miscensorship.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I had a 2002 ZX3, drove it for 12 years, The clutch master cylinder, thermostat housing, coolant crossover pipe, and one junction in a heater hose were all plastic and had to be replaced every five years. Other than than, it was a good car and the driving enjoyment it returned far outweighed the $50 per year I had to budget for plastic part replacement. ($100 per year if a shop did it for you.)

    I didn’t know you could get an SVT in the five door body style.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I remember liking these cars when they were new. Fun and peppy. I had one pass through my hands just last year and it was awful. The ravages of time.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Their rocker panels are all completely rotted out at this point on these. I remember going to a dealership once to check out a 2005 ST that they had on their lot (2.3L engine, 5spd). The price sounded very fetching. I got there and what a horror show. Huge rotted out holes in the rockers, and they had it parked out front, at a main line dealership! So I tried out a ZX3 they had for close to $9000 with 32k miles (a terrible deal). Well this one had a knock in the front suspension that was most likely a ball joint (metallic clunk when taking off or braking). A family friend had some sort of weird fluke where the 07 Focus they bought with an automatic had perpetual issues with the transmission crapping out. Probably just a bad rebuild that kept getting rebuilt improperly, I haven’t really heard of rampant transmission issues in Foci before (pre-Powershift debacle).

      My only other experience with the 1st gen Focus was my family renting one to drive to NYC once. The car had some sort of brake drag issue so it struggled to break 20 mpg, and there was a burning smell the whole way. We headed out at night and were driving through a blizzard, so just getting another car from National was not an option. The only other thing I remember about it was that the seats were really oddly shaped and uncomfortable.

      Everyone went nuts for the suspension setup in this car when it came out, it was definitely a standout at the time, especially in the context of the jellybean Escort that it replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      There are three things that typically need to be replaced in these cars when they get between 80,000 and 120,000 miles. The first, and most important, is the top engine mount. When this fails, the car vibrates and buzzes. It’s a very easy fix, less than an hour’s work, You’ll need to get one from Ford, the aftermarket ones are not worth the boxes they come in. The second one is the rear shock mounts, and you might as well get the shocks while you’re at it, that’s about their lifespan as well. Makers of quality shocks also make quality shock mounts, I got mine from KYB. The third item, and probably the one that gtemnykh was hearing, are the front swaybar links. You can get replacements from Ford, or if you’re not using the car in speed events and can stand a few extra ounces of unsprung weight, Moog makes a heavy duty set that will outlast the car you install it on, and probably your next car too.

      These cars were built during the peak of Jac Nasser’s cost cutting campaign, and they suffered a bit for it. I have no regrets about buying the one I did, even if my wife hated it. Things don’t rust around here, but the sun does take its toll. On my car, the paint was still glossy and the interior had held up well, but some of the plastic pieces were starting to break. Since I have no tolerance for automotive entropy, it was time to get a new car.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Ah, swaybar end links were my second guess.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          I’m fairly certain that Mazda/Ford used the same basic design in the Mazda 3 and the 5. The early 5’s (2006-2008) still had issues with shocks, swaybar links (front and rear) and other suspension bits. I’m sure the extra weight of the 5 body didn’t help.

          Our 08 5 doesn’t have much mileage on it(45k), but it’s had rear sway links twice; once under warranty and once by me, as well as new rear shocks.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Another item is the timing belt for the awful 2.0 SPI engine (LX and SE sedan models). That engine was a carryover from the Escort, and was corse, slow and an interferance design.

        One should avoid it at all costs and find a Zetec model instead (standard on the hatchbacks). An engine better matched to the excellent handling and sporty nature of the car itself. Generally very reliable engine as well.

  • avatar
    bachewy

    I also bought a 2000 model. For that model year it made Motor Trend’s car of the year in that category so I figured it must be great.

    Overall I liked the car a lot. BUT, it had 13 recalls. Also, since they brought that body over from Europe and put the heavier US engine in it, the front springs weren’t tall/strong enough. The fix – they welded another ring onto the front springs and covered that with a rubber sleeve. That weld failed on many cars with Ford claiming it only occurred in the Northern US where roads were salted too much. B.S. I did get Ford to replace my front springs for free at 70k miles.

    I also had problems with rear window regulators failing (barely ever rolled those rear windows down!) and had to have the ignition cylinder in the steering column replaced twice. Oh yeah, the throttle stuck wide open one week after I bought the car. Instead of panicking, crashing, and suing Ford for a gazillion dollars I turned the car off and checked under the hood. There was a flaw in the throttle cable bracket on the intake. I simply bent it into a workable shape and never had unintended acceleration again.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I had the next best thing to a SVT – a ZX5 with the Zetec engine, a 5 speed stick, intake, exhaust, and the SVT suspension package. With good summer tires, it was a hoot to drive!

    • 0 avatar
      banjopanther

      Yes! I had a 2001 zx3 (jackpot gold) with lowered suspension, cold air intake, short shifter, exhaust, sticky tires…. Not fast enginewise but you could throw it into a corner with enough g’s to scare the crap out of your passenger. Traded it in last year on a Focus ST.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        And yourself. Some guy in a 3000GT did not want to let me pass him once in my still new Focus ZX3. There was a good bend in the road and, stupid as I was, I just kept into it. I knew I couldn’t beat him in the straight but I had confidence in the chassis. Too much probably. I kept in the power and had a touch of opposite steering at the end, but the little Focus hung on. With the OEM Firestones! Boy, was that guy pissed when he caught up to me.

        Don’t do what I did kids. Ugh, how did I survive my 20’s, driving-wise?

  • avatar
    gsf12man

    I have an ’03 ZX3 SVT in my garage. A great hot hatch, and what the hell? I like the interior, too. Next up will be an ST if it’s not a 2.3L Mustang, but I’m in no hurry.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I could never, ever bring myself to like this car, just because of its shape and styling.

    I could definitely say that this is the car that made me hate Euro-style hatchbacks.

    I’m actually okay with a hatchback – provided it’s an ’89 Trans Am or ’87 IROC Camaro.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    I have one with 122,000 miles on it. Love the New Edge look…it still looks fresh today. The interior is mint, with it never having been in a garage – I don’t know where the claims of horrible interior are coming from. Mine is a ’03 five-door with every option (including the cold weather package with block heater…)

    I refreshed the suspension last year with a Ford Racing (which is what came on it new) setup – new struts/springs all around for $279 – such a deal. Still one of the best suspensions around – Grassroots Motorsports just bought one for a project car and are using it for autocross. The support community for these is just great, too…for a car that only had 14,000+ produced.

    Mine has some mods and a tune that give it some more power and lots more flexibility. SVT did great things on the suspension, Cosworth did great things with the engine, and I think Ford lost money on every one, what with the extent and expense of the improvements over the regular Focus.

    If I remember correctly, Mr. Baruth has some fond memories of track driving an SVT Focus in competition.

  • avatar
    crbmtb

    As another long-term (10 years; ~160,000 miles) owner, these were/are fantastic cars. Once you got over the “little” things that fail (thermostat housing leaks; exhaust shield brackets breaking; intake mainifold runner controller; etc.), they are great. And at the end of the day, the parts don’t cost a small fortune. The cloth/leather interior wore well too!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I never got into these, except for the special wheels you got with this trim. Other than that, never had much feels for the Focus. The current one is miles better, clearly.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Well, yeah, the current car is better. But it had to start somewhere. We’re lucky the Focus survived the recall and issue laden first years and Ford’s inattention to the car to focus(no pun intended) on profitable SUV’s.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Yeah I remember how rickety the later ones were. Up through 2011 or whatever before they brought back the Euro one.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          I’d call the 2008+ cars the best of the bunch. Finally seemed to have tackled the last of the build quality issues, interior updated to decent spec. 2008s have a garish chrome fender trim that was dropped after a year. Of course it was poor consolation compared to the 2nd gen Euro focus on the C1 platform that was being sold overseas. I actually prefer the euro second gen to the current 3rd gen cars that we see now (2012+)

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    I did own one of this series, and loved it. Light, well handling, economical, reliable. Sure it was built of hard plastics but the price was so cheap the the utility was so great. I think it was the best small car I ever owned when you consider how well it performed for the money. And that asym dash was just so modern, took some getting used to but in the end I loved it. Yes it went back for recalls but none took long and none bothered me.

  • avatar
    Exfordtech

    I could never see an SVT as a daily driver, the ride is just too punishing on northeast potholed roads. Great handler no doubt, but not my cup of tea.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I had an 01 ZX3 with a 5spd. It wasn’t fast, but it was fun. Mine only suffered but a few maladies . The drivers seat frame broke(I’m not small but….) and the antenna lead corroded, causing terrible reception at one point. All fixed under warranty. I bought summer only tires and it made the car that much better. I always wanted an SVT version, but could never justify buying the same basic car.
    I liked the styling, in and out, and I put about 45k on it without many issues. One of my favorite cars that I’ve owned.

  • avatar
    daviel

    I had a 2004 SVT. Great car. It maxed out governed at 130 that I reached on Texas farm to market roads where I could pass everybody. Scared some, too. The stick transmission began giving trouble at 130,000 and I gave up on the car. I see the fiesta as today’s equivalent. Current focus is too big. I’d buy a hot fiesta because of my SVT. I still feel guilty for not buying a transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      My mods (including Tom Lesperance’s tune as mentioned below) gave some power increase, but a lot of area under the curve. Moved the power peak from 7k to 6.4k-7k, which let it reach vmax in sixth rather than at the rev limiter in 5th (130 MPH). Mine would do a true 140.

      BTW…not governed to 130…that was drag- and fuel-cutoff-limited.

  • avatar
    raph

    Ford’s first car with VVT I believe, this was SVT’s attempt to crack the import hot hatch market and capture youth buyers according to Coletti but the little SVT didn’t sell in the numbers they had hoped for since the youths they were targeting essentially didn’t have money and we’re more apt to purchase them second hand.

  • avatar
    VaderSS

    I have an ’07 ST. It has the SVT damping and sway-bars with softer springs and a torquey 2.3L Duratec. I went to a 1mm larger rear bar, and summer tires as soon as I bought it. It really made it quite the corner carver. I purchased it brand-new for $14k.

    I just recently put SVT 5-spoke wheels on it and Michelin Pilot Super Sports on which made the handling really put a smile on my face. I also put a larger exhaust on and a short-ram intake to replace the restrictive “lifetime” filter, as well as getting Tom’s tuning to put everything back in balance. That brought the performance up to my desired levels and I plan to run it until the wheels fall off…

    It is both a perfect daily driver and a weekend toy. I’ve not had a single thing go wrong with it in 8 years.

  • avatar
    iMatt

    …okay

  • avatar

    I’ve driven all the Mk1 Foci except the three door and rate it highly for driving quality and utility. The only problem was that the seats were a bit hard and flat. I rather love the styling inside and out. I didn’t mind the plastic at all. Soft touch plastic is over-rated. The Mk1 is one if the all time great affordable cars. It benefitted hugely from its “inclusive design” (Google it) and had first rate ergonomics.

  • avatar
    theonewhogotaway

    Had a 2000 SX3 manual and was problem-free enough to make me replace it with a 2005 SX5 auto, which was also problem free. Not sure what the reliability issues allegedly were, but mine did not have them. As far as build quality, the car the 2000 SX3 replaced for me was an E28 528e manual. Yes, build quality was not BMW-like, but the handling and tossability of those cars with the 5sp transmission was right up there.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    SRT-4 spanks this.

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