• Jul 21, 2008
Click above for high-res gallery of the Ford Focus SVT

All the current clamor for the Euro Focus is reminiscent of the happenings nearly a decade ago. Ford's Escort had quite run its course with a third and final design refreshing having hit the streets in 1997. The very next year, an actual small-car contender wearing the Blue Oval launched in Europe. It was capable, well turned out, and wore Ford's sharp New Edge sheetmetal. American customers took one look at the Escort ZX2, which was supposed to fill the shoes of the Escort GT and kick it against the GTI, Civic Si, and others, and decided that it just wouldn't do, decent performance or not. Much like the current U.S.-Focus versus Euro C1 Focus debate, buyers set their gaze across the Atlantic and decreed the grass greener than the warmed over Mazda B platform ZX2.



While the Escort was yanked off the stage with a hook to make room for the Focus in 2000, the ZX2 remained on sale until 2003. The SVT team's masterful reworking of the basic Focus into a real contender for the hot hatch cage match dropped in 2002 and emptied whatever air was left in the final Escort derivative's balloon.



Already established as a phenom in Europe, the Focus hit U.S. streets causing double takes and craning necks, even in base form. The shape was edgy and wedgy, or at least as wedgy as a hatchback can be. Wearing the new "New Edge" idiom, Ford owners no longer had to hang their heads in shame when parking next to a GTI. The SVT version was tarted up with a mean looking bodykit that included new bumper fascias front and rear, 17-inch rims, rocker extensions, and of course, a blattier exhaust tip.



The ZX2 hasn't managed to earn the hushed, reverent tones that people use when speaking of the Focus SVT, and while a regular Focus was marginally outperformed by the ZX2, the SVT was no chump. The 2000cc Zetec went off to Cosworth for finishing school. Cosworth often means "new cylinder head," and that's what it meant for the Zetec. Feeding the newly enlarged ports was a two stage intake, and a header was fitted on the other side to increase exhalation. Variable camshaft timing also aided the Zetec in making the most of its newly found deep-breathing prowess. In the lower end, Cosworth changed the pistons and connecting rods to heavier duty units, while also bumping the compression ratio to 10.2:1 and adding oil squirters for temperature stability with the relatively high level of squeeze. Engine tweaks were good for a substantial 40-hp gain to 170.



Gearchanges were handled by a Getrag unit sporting six ratios, all necessary to keep the newly-peaky Zetec on boil. While Cosworth transformed the standard Focus four-cylinder into a revver with most of its punch delivered north of 5,000 rpm, it also made the engine smoother than the workaday growler it had been. Some complaints about engine revs hanging and dashing hopes of snick-quick gearchanges in the heat of battles have been registered; possibly some emissions-compliance air-bleed weirdness that drives us nutty in many cars.



One of the best things about the Focus SVT was that underneath it all, it was a Focus. The interior was surprisingly adept at swallowing way more than you would think possible, especially with the rear seats folded, and normal sized people fit well, also. A five-door SVT model was even added in 2003 to expand the car's usability. The edgy exterior styling also meandered inside to the dashboard, with joyously simple ergonomics spiced up with some cut-line busyness.

Perhaps the fact that we're still rocking this basic platform in 2008 is a testament to the baked-in goodness that Ford bestowed upon its first generation Focus, and indeed, the SVT won praise back in the day for its structural solidity. That tight bodyshell allowed the suspension to do the twin jobs of absorbing irregularities while also clinging to the tarmac. Not all cars can do both well, trading suppleness for tenacity in the turns, but the SVT struck an everyday comfortable balance. Body roll might be slightly more than desirable, but it's a tradeoff your kidneys will thank you for making.



Nobody bought an SVT by mistake, and it's a vehicle that will command a premium over its lesser brethren. Finding an unmolested example may also be increasingly difficult as SVTs are swimming in sub-$10,000 territory now, making them a starter car for sideways-hat wearing numbskulls who'll roast the clutch right out of its home in the dual-mass flywheel in no time flat. The highest premium will be paid for the 2003/04 Focus SVT with the European Appearance Package. The EAP added full leather seats from Recaro, 15-spoke dark metal wheels, standard HID headlamps and was available in two new colors, Screamin' Yellow and Competition Orange.

If rowing the shifter and peaky power delivery aren't exactly your thing, you could always seek out the ZX4 ST with which Ford followed up the Focus SVT. It's more torquey, a little more relaxed in its demeanor, but no less enjoyable, if slightly less sporty. Take one look at the current Focus, and the first-generation is classic in the way it shifted Ford's small car line away from the moribund Escort and has been eclipsed by a much more strangely styled SVT-less replacement. Besides that, trendsetter Neff wants one.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 68 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      "...Yeah...i'm gonna have to go ahead and...disagree with you on that one..."
      -Lumberg
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've got an '02 just hit 50k today. Only thing I've had to replace were the tires. Got it a few weeks after I turned 16 and plan on keeping it through college. Has been a great car, I love driving it everyday. However, I find it hard to believe that ppl will be drooling over this car 10 years from now, maybe thats just me
        • 6 Years Ago
        People won't be drooling over it in 10 years like they drool over Supras or VR-4s.

        People will be drooling over it in the same way people drool over B13 SE-Rs, or Merkur XR4Tis, or SHO Tauruses. There will be a select group of hardcore enthusiasts and a slightly larger group who will remember the car for all it's neatness - the handling, the understated styling mods, etc.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Absolutely. I've believed for quite some time now that the SVT Focus will be a future classic in the same vein as the original Sentra SE-R: All go and little show, and eventually totally unavailable due to low production numbers.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If this car will be a classic then every car is a classic.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You obviously don't get it. Must be a SRT-4 owner....

        :-)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Used to have a 2002 Focus SVT 3-door. But, it lost a battle to a guy on a cell phone in a SUV. Made the backseat of my car into the front seat.

      I learned my lesson about small cars on heavly populated areas, with stupid people.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It was also available as a four door for one model year. Those are rare.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Mike...the ST also had some of the same suspension components as the SVT and also shared to same brakes.

        It also came with a 151hp 2.3L four banger which made it just as quick as the SVT.

        It didn't handle as tightly as the SVT but it was a pretty good performer.

        Sad that Ford dropped that combo (both the ST and SVT).
        • 6 Years Ago
        No there wasn't. Three doors were available all three years, and five doors in 2003-04. The later four door Focus ST is not the same car at all other than chassis.

        I do so love my silver on red 02 (rarest color combination for 02!). :)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Has anyone driven both the SVT Focus and Contour? The styling and packaging are obviously different, but I'm curious if there's a discernible difference in how they drive.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The only thing the SVT Contour and SVT Focus share in common is that they have the same offset and lug spacing, and you can thus put the larger SVT Focus wheels on an SVT Contour with ease.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It was also decimated by the SRT4, who made the SVT focus seem like a girl's car, in terms of performance.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The SRT4 also made the Focus feel like a properly designed car with a chassis capable of deploying the power in something other than a straight line. I've driven the Neon, it's quick, but it has terribble steering, and it feels like it's built from paper mache. The only ccar in this market segment at the time the SVT was out that felt nearly as good to drive was the Mazdaspeed Protege. That car though had a weird feel to the power steering as if assist was being used to compensate for stiction in the system.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Neon's chassis dynamics wee no match for those of the Focus, regardless of the engine lumped under the bonnet.

        The mk1 Focus was a brilliant car to throw around country lanes with adverse camber, particularly the high-performance versions.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree, but the SVT led by a years, so it had some time to sell. It was more competing with the Civic Si than the SRT4, Mazdaspeed3, Cobalt SS or other massively overpowered small cars.

        The only lasting cool thing about the SVT Focus was that the transmission had two output shafts to save space and squeeze in 6 gears (something I don't know the SRT4 ever got).

        http://www.escortfocus.com/html/ford_focus_svt.html
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nothing says "girl's car" like a Neon badge and a 2ft tall wing.

        I like the SRT4 as well, but take the forced induction off the SRT4 and see what happens.

        This was a hot N/A 4 banger, no doubt about it.

        It was fast, nimble, and had reserved style. It's a much more mature take on the pocket rocket than the SRT4, imo.



        • 6 Years Ago
        It's not all about straight line performance. The SVT Focus is the complete package drivers car the pumped up Neon could never hope to be....
      • 6 Years Ago
      Love my 04 SVTf EAP.

      I've put 79K miles on it and the only unexpected repair was to replace the clutch master cylinder @ 70K. I know some people have had clutch and tranny issues. I think those components may not handle abuse too well. I tend to be gentle on them as another car of mine is a Porche 914 and with that you learn to be gentle and smooth on shifts.

      The SVT Focus is a great enthusiasts daily driver. It never dissapoints me.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I have never owned a SVT focus but a zx3 for 5 years (stillin the fam) and im glad to see the focus of old getting the recognition it deserved...I had had many of my friends praise it on its handling capabilities outta the box.and although my base zetec had 130hp it peppy and fun to drive.

      Becuase of this im counting the days till Ford brings us the up to date euro focus which is a hit over in europe!
        • 6 Years Ago
        My housemate is out of town for the summer and I've been driving his plain ZX3 hatchback occasionally, and I love the precision of the steering. Very fun, and the ride quality is a good balance of ride/vs handling. The shift linkage is pretty sloppy, but it could just be that it's a well used 6 year old car, that isn't particularly well cared for.

        Driving the car really impressed me though.
      • 6 Years Ago
      For those who want to learn more about this car, just head to www.focaljet.com . The forum has everything about the SVT, its trials and tribulations.

      The car being a future classic is a very strong phrase. I still have mine and since it's fully paid for, I will most likely not get rid of it. 227,000 kms and still it goes strong.

      As with the "poor man's Porsche" comment, interesting that it gets compared to a Porsche. What is more funny is that people consider it a toy whereas I drive mine every day, and the fact that some people dream of owning an SVT Focus. What? Dream of owning a Porsche instead. =]
        • 6 Years Ago
        Mine is a 2005.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "I just dream it was a SVT. :)"

        You can also bolt on the SVT suspension to any 2004 or older Focus hatch and enjoy the immediate handling benefits. The parts are surprisingly cheap, IIRC.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I have a ZX3, everyday driver and dream of having the SVT version. When you only pay 13k for a new fully loaded Focus (except no sunroof), I'm not complaining... I just dream it was a SVT. :)
        • 6 Years Ago
        I bolted SVT suspension on my '05 ZX3.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Blake

        You can get one now for under $10k. Just head on to Focaljet. [FJ]
      • 6 Years Ago
      I like to think I was a trendsetter, having taken delivery of the first SVT Focus in the state of Washington (and possibly the NW region according to the dealer). It was my first new car purchase, and worth every penny.

      I had been in love with the SVT Contour and I awaited the arrival of the SVT Focus with bated breath. Only adding to my lust for the car, my good friend had come back from Europe a couple of years prior raving about this amazing rental car he drove called a Focus.

      Once I had my SVT Focus, the fun began. The car was just a hoot to toss around the corners and it got pretty decent gas mileage too. I do wish it had a bit more low-down torque, but overall it was a great car in all ways. Sadly, I had to sell my SVT Focus after only two years as life came to demand five doors instead of three. I miss it every time I see one on the road.
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