Pros: Handling, size, options. Inexpensive.
Cons: Seat belts uncomfortable, blind spots.
This is a review on the Ford Focus ZX3. At the bottom I have included reviews as the years have gone by owning this car, the original review has been unchanged. Although I test drove other Focus models, I purchased the ZX3 and can therefore provide a more indepth review on that model trim. The exact model I purchased was the 2001 Ford Focus ZX3 manual transmission, with the Premium and Power Group Options, ABS brakes, and Side-Impact Airbags.
I’m a first time car buyer and although I wished I had tons of money to throw into a car, I didn’t. I would love to drive around town in a BMW M5 or buy a car that is flashy, sporty, and stylish. Coming back down to the planet Earth, I’m a fresh out of college grad making good but not great money, and slowly realizing that all those “parental talks” about managing money weren’t something said just so my parents could check it off of their list. I’m not poor, but I’m not rich either.
That’s where the Ford Focus fits in. This car is excellent and financially easy on the wallet as well. It has plenty of power and handles like a sports car. Let’s not kid ourselves, for more money you could get a better car, but for under 15k you could not. I’ll review each section as best as I can, so you can get a better idea of exactly what this car offers in case your looking at purchasing one. Plus for all of you out there that are new car buyers, at the end I’ll provide a few tips on car buying.
Ford has called their design of the Focus as “New Edge”. It definitely is at least from a geometric perspective. There are curves that intersect each other, along with large amounts of circles and triangles. From the outside the Focus looks rather odd. I cannot describe the exterior with any amount of justice, but I’ll tell you how it benefits the car. From inside the car you will notice that you can’t see the engine while driving. This allows an entire open and rather large view of the road. The rear tires are positioned really far back towards the trunk area which increases your turning ability. You can take turns much faster without worrying about the car slipping or tipping. I’ve also been a careful driver, but recently I’ve found myself trying to take turns faster just to see how much this little car can handle. So far, no complaints.
The previously mentioned “New Edge” design continues into the car, where you will notice large amounts of circles, and knobs both circular and triangle. Everything is in easy reach. The ashtray (a $15 option that seems to be included in most of their models) is positioned up towards the steering wheel. The radio is located in the center of the car above the air controls, since most people fool around with the radio more than they do with the air conditioning. The power windows, power locks, and speed control are also located within easy reach. The CD Player contains the digital clock, while another digital display located next to the speedometer display the both the overall and trip mileage. There is also a tachometer displaying RPM’s up to 7000 but with no red line for those highway speed racers. The display also contains enough warning lights from low fuel to when you have the cruise control on.
The bucket seats provide tons of comfort and are high enough that it will seems that you are higher off the road compared to other cars. I’m 6ַ”, and I have plenty of head space, plus plenty of leg room. There are two cup-holders but they are positioned rather far down in the center console and only seem to be able to hold small bottles or cups. The inner cup-holder can be removed for easy cleaning, plus by removing them you can fit larger bottles. There are also plenty of places to put extra change and even a snap to put an extra pen or pencil you may need. The car also came with an arm rest in the center, which contains extra storage. At the same time however, I’ve noticed that it’s harder to put on seatbelts since this center console obstructs the seat belt’s snap. The seatbelts are also positioned far behind the driver’s seat, so putting them will require the front passengers to reach far behind them to grab the belt. The rear passengers will find their seatbelts easy to locate. Plus there are three seat belts which offer shoulder straps.
It’s amazing how well this car handles which is both a positive and negative to certain drivers. At the slight touch of the steering wheel the car responds which enables great control over the car. You can easily take corners, swerve to miss stuff on the road, or quickly maneuver around a slow car in the fast lane. Although I enjoy having a rather rapid response to my steering wheel movements I can see how this can be unsettling to some drivers, especially those who normally drive in less traffic and on straight roads. The slightest movement of the steering wheel and the car responds. If you don’t normally drive in situations that warrant rapid movements, then you may find the rapid responses rather annoying or perhaps unsafe.
I would love to continue to glow about this car, but there are a few aspects of this that I felt should have been refined. Although the car has plenty of power, the manual transmission has left a little bit to be desired. Although the stick shift is quick to respond, the gears are a little rough at times to get into, and it doesn’t feel as though you truly have power until after you’ve entered into third gear. If you want to get up to speed quick it is recommend to pass through the first two gears as quickly as possible, and then let it rip in the third gear. Both the fourth and fifth gears provide plenty of power, but from a standstill the third gear is most helpful. I don’t recommend that you follow the “shift light” that is provided (in the shape of an up arrow) since it’s recommends that you are in fifth gear by the time your at 30mph. Although this may provide excellent gas mileage, you will sacrifice power and will find that it takes quite a while to get up to speed. One last negative point about this car, the seat belts are tight. Although they operate perfect for protecting your life (if you pull them violently they catch) overall the belt feels tight against your shoulder. I didn’t notice this until I drove the car long distance.
Not much to report here, except that the bumper on the front of the car comes down far enough that if you park against a high curve or barrier you may find that you scratch the bottom of the bumper. Although the car has 16 inch tires which elevate the car up quite a distance the bottom of the front bumper can easily be scratched. On a positive note the remote device that comes with the car allows you to open both doors easily, activate a panic alarm, and even open the truck with one easy press of a button.
This car packs quite a punch in power but not on the wallet. For under $15,000 you can get a car with rapid response steering, a more than adequate powerful engine, and enough accessories to make your trip comfortable. As is the case with any car there are a few things left to be desired, but for the money you pay the Ford Focus ZX3 is an excellent car for the first time buyer. I would definitely recommend that you at least take it for a test drive.
First Time Car Buying Tips
If your like me you have heard all of the horror stories about buying a new car. The dealer will try to sell you what they have, instead of what you want. The dealer will try to get you to spend more money and sweet talk you into buying a car right away. The truth is, they will. Sort of. But by doing your research you can overcome all of those pressures and make sure that you walk out (or drive out) with the car you want instead of the car they want to sell you.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
This is important not only for the fact that you know both the positives and negatives about each car your looking at, but also the price of not only the overall car but each option and special feature the dealer as to offer. I’d recommend you start by reading as many reviews as you can about the car your interested in. After you’ve narrowed down your list, start by asking for quotes. Be warned though, once you start asking for quotes, dealers will start calling your home phone number not only to respond with your quote but to “give you more information about your dream car.” Although it’s a pain to have your answering machine filled up to the brim with car dealers messages, it’s very important to get these quotes. Not only will they tell you who to visit, but they will enable you to negotiate a price on the car.
It is very very very important that you get a few quotes from online companies. These unorthodox car dealer can normally offer much lower prices than your dealer can, but you can use the information to get a cheaper car from a dealer. Online merchants are excellent, but no matter what you do, you can always expect to receive your car 7 to 14 days after you ordered it. If you want a car now, then you have to go through a dealer. So take the quotes you received from online dealers and use it to your advantage.
When at the dealership somehow tell the salesperson that you’ve done your research. This will automatically place you into the “online buyers” program. They know (for the most part) that they can’t trick you. You have already learned all the tricks, you already have received multiple quotes, you are more prepared than the normal buyer who does all their research without the Internet. I cannot stress this enough, the Internet has made it easier to buy a car, especially for first time buyers. Some dealers will even offer an “internet discount”.
Go to the dealer with all of this information, even if you are only looking to test drive a car. After you have decided that you want this car, remember to pull out and use your research to your advantage. Although some dealers will claim to have a “no haggle”, “no hassle” pricing creed you can still negotiate a better price. By doing your research you will know exactly what the “invoice” and “MSRP” is of each part of the car, and the overall car itself. Make sure you double check this information with the window sticker that the dealer provides. If the dealer is charging more, then something may be wrong. I noticed one car that was more than $1,000 more, and there wasn’t any apparent reason for it, besides for the fact that the dealer wanted $1,000 more.
After you have set a price, the dealer will begin the financing portion. Although you have agreed on a price “for the car”, the dealer will try to add “extras” into the overall price. Be careful because these “extras” can add up and increase your monthly payments. The largest “extra” is the extended warranty. Most cars come with a basic 3 year warranty. The dealer will try to sell you between 2 to 5 years more warranty. This will normally increase your monthly payment by 20 dollars. Although $20 may not seem like much, remember that each month you will pay an extra $20 dollars which can add up. Look closely on your driving habits! If your rough on a car, then you may want to invest on the extended warranty. If your not, then it’s probably no use. BUT, what the dealer doesn’t want you to know, is there are several companies out there that offer extended warranties on your car that you can have put on, AFTER you have purchased the car. The dealer will tell you, “the extended warranty can only be selected now, not later”, this is true of “dealer warranties”. But you can always add on a warranty through a second party. If you want to see for yourself which is best, ask the dealer (or better yet, the finance guy) his opinion about second party warranty dealers. If they give only negative responses, then you know that the dealer is worried about losing some cash. If they give positive and negative responses, then you know that this is a dealer to trust and you will be left to weigh the options (again do your research). If they give just positive responses, then that guy will probably be out of a job soon!
If you buy the car, the last thing I’d recommend is that you take the walk-through very seriously. The dealer will normally give you a check-list to help you inspect the car. Suppress your excitement and take this very seriously. Although it may seem silly to inspect a brand new car, it’s important in case anything breaks. If you broke it, then you pay for it. If it broke on it’s own, then the warranty pays for it. Check everything! Knobs, buttons, levers, cushions, lights, blinkers, the truck, the engine, the horn…make sure you are getting what you paid for. Very rarely in your life will you be spending (or financing) so much money for one singular item.
There are three big investment that people undertake in their lives. Each needs to be approached with tons of research and insight into exactly what you want. They should not be approached with carelessness or quick decisions. Buying a car is one of them (a house, and having children are other in case your wondering)!
If you know what you want then you will love it.
UPDATES! 5,000 Miles
The 5,000 mile mark is important in the life of a Focus. It's the time that the manufacturer has determined that you should get your first service. Just a basic oil change and a new air filter.
By the time my Focus hit 5,000 miles, it really needs service. I have noticed a decrease in acceleration, and overall the car seems to handle worse. Frankly, I think the car needs to be serviced before 5,000 miles, but I'm going on what my manual says.
► A couple more notes about the car at this point. The tight seat-belts are gone. I no longer feel them. They were a pain in the beginning, but not anymore.
► The clutch hasn't gotten any better. It's still rough to get into gears sometimes, especially when traveling uphill. I took the car into the Sierra Nevada's a few months ago, and once when traveling uphill with the engine struggling, I couldn't get the car to downshift. After a while I actually found myself yelling at my car.
► The gas tank is far too small. Just yesterday my gas light came on, so I went to refuel. The car only took 10.5 gallons of gas. I wish it was a little bigger, so I didn't have to go to the fuel pump so often. Granted, it gets excellent gas mileage though.
► Car washing hasn't been fun. I took it once through a machine car wash, and I ended up darting out of it still soaking wet with soap. Apparently some machines can't figure out the shape of the Focus, so they get stuck. In my case, the machine actually ended up pushing against my car. It freaked me out enough, that I drove out of it when it was still trying to wash my car.
Overall the car has held up quite nicely. It does have a few quirks here and there, but for the price, it's still an excellent choice.
10,000 Mile Update:
It only took 14 months for me to get to this point (I have a buddy who passed the 10,000 mark within two months of owning his new car) and so, here’s my update.
► Car continues to run fine. When I had the car serviced they inflated my tires to 26PSI which is low for a Ford Focus ZX3. I had to inflate them some more to get a better ride.
► The shifting is still a little hard in places – but I’ve gotten used to it.
► I went to a non-dealer place for my oil change and they had to get out a book and read it before working on my car. Not a good sign – but everything seems fine.
► I wish they detailed how much gas is left in the car when the light comes on. Scares the heck out of me – but the tank only fills up a little over 10 gallons.
► At this point I’ve noticed slight vibrations starting to occur while idle. Happens on all cars when they get older – but around this time was the first I started to hear it.
► My windows appear to have some water damage done to the solar tint. I had to park outside during the winter so I couldn't avoid this. You have to look closely to see it though.
15,000 Mile Update:
► Had more air filter problems. Apparently the type of air filter used for the ZX3 is not used in a lot of cars so the quick lube place didn’t have any in stock. I was a little upset at this fact especially since they didn’t credit my bill for the cost of the filter they couldn’t replace. I went to AutoZone and found the filter and installed it myself (my first attempt at trying to be a mechanic!)
► With the high cost of gas at this point – this powerful economy car feels great, especially on the wallet.
► The air conditioning takes a lot of power away from the car. I wish I could turn it on without having to be really aware of giving the car extra gas while releasing the clutch to prevent the car from killing.
20,000 Mile Update:
► Once while coming to a stop the car went through the emotions that it was dying – only for it to still be on (must to my dismay at turning the starter hearing a loud grinding noise).
► The car rattles a little bit more now. After each service it feels brand new, but more quickly than before it is returning to its older age.
► The speakers have started to sound worn although I don’t blast the stereo that loud.
► When the air conditioning is on now, the car almost dies each time I move forward from a complete stop.
► The spring on the clutch broke, so now the cruise control doesn’t work anymore. An easy fix I guess, but I fear the dealer will charge me $1.99 for the spring and $199.99 to install it.
30,000 Mile Update:
► The spring was about $7.00 from the dealer. I have yet to install it.
► The check engine light has come on. According to the operating manual it could be bad gas, in need of a new fuel filter, the gas cap was put on incorrectly, or something worse. So far after 3 days it hasn't gone off, so I'll probably need to get it serviced again. Although at 30,000 miles I don't think the dealer automatically did the service the manual suggests at 30,000 miles.
► The air conditioning isn't as cold as it was, but it is still blowing out cold air. It just takes longer for it to get cold now.
► The tires are still in pretty good shape. My belts also look good.
35,000 Mile Update:
► Back at 30,000 my fears came true. The dealer said it would cost around $200 for the labor to install the spring. Something about having to take the whole compartment underneath the steering wheel apart in order to get to the area where the spring needs to go. I opted not to pay. My uncle said he’d fix it for free – but then I moved to Nevada. I miss my cruise control!
► Also back at 30,000 the check engine light came on. It was because of the fuel pump which was recalled (I must have missed the recall notice). They replaced it parts and labor free.
40,000 Mile Update:
► Things are still going good. Air conditioner works, still minor vibration rattle heard while idling, the tires however are wearing down and will need to be replaced very soon – along with some belts but that is pretty standard at this point.
► Although I blast my music almost every time I’m in the car the speakers have so far no shown no signs of age.
► The latch on the middle compartment is now broken.
► Sad that with the current high price of gas it now costs over $25.00 to fill up the car. It used to be below $20.00. :(
45,000 Mile Update:
► First I was told it was the battery since they don't last long in the extreme heat of Las Vegas, but the true culprit at this moment is...the starter. This is the first time this Ford has sat in the parking lot for almost 2 weeks without movement.
► The price of gas to fill this economy car up is to funny to tell.
► I can kick myself! Turns out it wasn't the starter at all - it was the battery. Or so, we thought. Later, at night on Tropicana the car died. Turns out, it is the alternator.
► Well, it was not the alternator. Turns out the battery cables were severly corroded and that's why the car died. Unfortunately, as the car sat outside a Pep Boy's someone stole all 4 rims and tires off the car. We had a heck of a time finding replacements (it was a Sunday) but the car now has new rims (alas ugly) and four new tires.
► If we haven't suffered enough in this 45,000 mile update, the front brakes have problems. The BreakTeam guy said the fault lies with Ford and that they do it on purpose. Apparently by design after a while the metal of the drum will touch the metal of the pad causing a grinding sound. The cost to fix, $275.
► On Thanksgiving the Check Fuel Cap light came on. We continued to drive it and before we could get a new cap put on the Check Engine light is now on. I'm getting pretty tired at this point at all the problems I'm having and wishing everyday I spent the extra money and got the 5 year warranty. Not sure at this point if I would buy another Ford.
50,000 Mile Update:
► After returning home from Thanksgiving we took the car into Pep Boys. They ran a $95 check on the car and determined that there was a small hole in the coil that goes to the gas tank. They patched it up and said this fixed the problem.
► Just days before Christmas, the Check Fuel Cap light came back on again. My wife took it into a different Pep Boys and they ran the $95 check again (for free) and a Smog check, they said they couldn't figure out why the light was on and they just reset it and told me to go from there. Losers!
► New Years Eve and guess what? Yep, the Check Fuel Cap light came back on. Unlike the previous two times where it took several hundred miles for the Check Engine light to come on - it popped on after only a few miles. This time, a different Pep Boys said it was some faulty wiring and for sure they said they fixed it this time. At least the second and third trips to Pep Boys have been free of charge.
► For $5 Pep Boys fixed the burned out brake light we couldn't figure out how to replace.
► There's a little knob on the seatbelts that prevent the buckle from falling below the seat - well, that broke. So now I have to dig for my buckle each time I get in the car.
Update for 3/15/2006:
► The car officially was paid off today! Woohoo!
55,000 Mile Update:
► The CD player is having seizures now. Sometimes when accelerating it skips but not all the time. My wife thinks it is dirty and needs to be cleaned - which would be its first time.
► Some idiot from Utah in a really big truck - so big he can't see objects behind him - backed into our car making a nice sized dent in the passenger door. Thankfully he actually called his insurance and admitted fault.
► The dealer said the tranmission needs to be flushed soon.
56,000 Mile Update:
► While driving one day I heard a weird "whirling" noise coming from my stereo which increased along with the RPM's. Then, when I turned on the lights the car shook violently. I made it to a parking space and when I turned on the lights a second time - the car died. When I started it again - the car had no problems. Took it in, and they said it was a bad battery connection (again). I think the car really needs its 60k mile service - 4,000 miles early.
58,000 Mile Update:
► I learned a lesson today. I took the car TO THE DEALER for the 60k mile service and they basically told me that all the work we had done at Pep Boys before - relating to all the problems we have been having - was patch work. That Pep Boys did work to get us out the door but that it was bound to fail - and that they may have caused more issues that we have to pay for. I'm seething! So $800 later to have the electrical system checked and undo and re-do what was to be done I'm out that money and the money spent at Pep Boys. However, once again I was reminded why I didn't take the car to the Dealer in the first place - we were at Ford Country for over 9 hours!
60,000 – 100,000 Mile Update:
Each and every day my wife looked forward to driving this car. She enjoyed the way the car felt as it maneuver around the city; it moved tight when she wanted it to move tight and it moved wide when she wanted it to move wide.
Bob, as my wife adamantly named the car stood up the test of time.
It has been 12 years now since I (lynus) originally posted this review. And tonight is my last posting. Over the years the car moved us from the San Francisco Bay Area, to the San Joaquin Valley, and to Las Vegas. It carried countless containers on our moves from apartment to apartment – and finally to our home for the past few years. It has remained strong!
In the end we hope above all else that our new Ford Focus (to be purchased) will be as agile, youthful, strong, and protective, as our ZX3 was.
Laura & Eric.