It wasn't so long ago Ford that ruled the small car roost with its Laser perched atop the sales charts ahead of popular cars like the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Pulsar and the Mazda 323.
In more recent times the company has lost its way when it comes to small cars, preferring to focus on the larger Falcon and Territory. Along the way small Fords have dropped off the shopping lists of most small car buyers. That's changed with the introduction of fresh new European-designed models like the Focus and Fiesta, but it's been a long, hard slog back.
The first Ford Focus got lost in the frenzy of the BA Falcon launch, which was a do-or-die model that could easily have spelt the end of the local Ford operation had it failed. It took a new Focus model to get any attention, but Ford gritted its teeth and did the sort of promotion necessary to kick-start showroom traffic.
The new Focus launched in 2005 delivered European driving dynamics in a sophisticated, but still value-for-money package.
The LS Focus was a more rounded car than the first model Ford unveiled here in 2002. That first model, the LR, was acclaimed for its sportiness, but the LS won more plaudits for its sophisticated feel, roominess and improved interior.
There were two body versions, a five-door hatch and a four-door sedan, with two levels of trim, the CL and LX, in each. In addition there was a sporty Zetec hatch and a luxury Ghia sedan.
Ford's designers moved away from the soft rounded forms that characterized the previous Focus, and gave the LS a sharper, more chiseled look. The body was wider, the wheelbase longer, and overall the LS Focus was a little stiffer.
One engine was offered across the LS range, it was a 2.0-litre that generated 107 kW at 6000 revs and 185 Nm at 4500 revs at its performance peaks. A five-speed manual gearbox was standard on all models except the Ghia that had a four-speed auto, but the auto was optional on the other models.
The CL range-starter had air-conditioning and dual front airbags, but not ABS anti-lock brakes, they came part of an extra-cost safety pack along with side airbags.
For a more geared ride there was the LX that had cruise, alloys, ABS brakes and side airbags. The sporty Zetec hatch had all of that, plus 17-inch alloys, a groovy body kit and sports suspension. If you wanted a smoother ride there was the Ghia sedan, which boasted dual climate-controlled air, six-CD sound, and leather seats.
ON THE LOT
For a CL pay $13,500-$15,000, add $2000 for the safer LX in either sedan or hatch form. The Zetec hatch and Ghia sedan can each be had for $18,000-$20,000.
IN THE SHOP
Owners are generally happy with the reliability of their cars, which on average have now done around 75,000 km. There are no general faults that are showing up on a regular basis. They should be aware of brake wear, as they should on all European-designed cars.
It’s worth paying close attention to the build quality of cars under consideration. While the Focus was designed in Europe, those coming to Australia were built in South Africa and the build quality was variable.
Check paint quality, panel gaps and general fit and finish. Also check for a service record that shows regular maintenance has been carried out. It’s worth noting that the LS Focus has a timing chain, not a belt, and doesn’t need any maintenance until you’ve racked up 240,000 km.
ON THE ROAD
Slide behind the wheel of the LS and you are instantly aware of the extra cabin space, it's wider in the front and anyone sitting in the rear would notice the extra legroom.
Look around you and you would have seen the new dash that was much better laid-out with controls placed more logically and within easier reach of the driver. On the downside the plastics were rather hard and had an industrial feel. The seats were also flat and could be unsupportive, particularly when driven hard.
The 2.0-litre engine was responsive and the throttle was very light, and needed careful application to avoid unintentionally exceeding the speed limit in a moment of inattention.
IN A CRASH
A stiffer body on an agile, responsive chassis platform is a fine beginning for a safe package; add front and side airbags and it became even better. Front and side airbags, and ABS braking, were all standard on all models except the CL. They were added to the CL in 2008. ANCAP rated the Focus at four stars, five with side airbags.
AT THE PUMP
Road testers at the time of launch were generally positive about the fuel-economy of the Focus, the average reported at 8.7-9.2 L/100 km. A more recent drive of a Zetec hatch had the better return of 7.1 L/ 100 km in average driving around town.
Tim Bainbridge has done 45,000 km since buying his 2006 CL Focus and says it's a great car. His only beef is that the air-conditioning struggles on very hot days.
Jayden Gebbie has racked up 105,000 km in his 2006 Focus, and apart from an oil burning issue in the first 10-15,000 km there have been no other faults. His criticisms are of the level of road noise, the flat and hard seats and the lack of a light in the rear of the cabin.
Lee James is generally happy with his 2007 LX hatch, which was bought for its extra safety features. He likes the handling, the nippy performance around town, the interior roominess and boot space, fuel economy, cost of servicing and its value-for-money, but he's not so enamored with the paint quality, the hard plastics on the interior, and some areas where he believes Ford skimped on material, and the spacer-saver spare wheel. He's also unimpressed at having to replace the water pump at 30,000 km.
. Modern looks
. Roomy cabin
. Torquey engine
. Comfy ride
. good level of safety
ALSO CHECK THESE
. VW JETTA - 2006-2007
Widely acclaimed for its style, comfort, performance and fuel- efficiency the Golf-with-a boot has carved out quite a niche for itself. Rates highly in almost all areas, from build quality to safety, practicality, roominess and comfort, performance and handling. Choice of petrol and diesel engines. Servicing costs tend to be higher than others in the same class, and can suffer annoying reliability problems. Pay $21,000-$27,000.
. MAZDA3 - 2004-2008
Attractive, well-built small sedan or hatch with great on-road manners. Good choice of family-oriented models and sportier cars, the Mazda3 is a premium model in the small to medium class, falls down a little in value-for-money terms and isn't the most economical in the class. Pay $13,500-$24,000.
. HYUNDAI ELANTRA - 2003-2007
Well-built, comfortable, spacious, with a long list of standard features, the Hyundai Elantra was good value-for-money with low running and service costs. On the downside the chassis felt vague and unresponsive, the engine lacking in torque. Pay $9500-$18,000.
THE BOTTOM LINE
. Safe, sound, solid package that rides, handles and goes well and has room for a small family.