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Ford Focus ZX3

Ford is on to something. An aftermarket-modified Focus ZX3 hatchback I drove last week made me feel like an Agincourt teenager or his dad.

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Ford is on to something. An aftermarket-modified Focus ZX3 hatchback I drove last week made me feel like an Agincourt teenager or his dad.

I even wore my Motoring 2000 baseball cap backward.

This car is aimed at the children of the well-to-do who choose to satisfy their kids’ whims for a hot, street-credible vehicle.

This niche is dominated by Honda you see slammed (lowered) and modified Civics everywhere.

This Focus has a grabbag of goodies added to a sporty ZX3 hatch, which comes with a 2.0 L twincam 16valve 130 hp Zetec four and five-speed manual transmission.

Eyes are immediately drawn to spidery seven-double-spoke 17inch Momo alloy wheels shod with P215 R17 Pirelli Winter 210 Asimmetrico tires.

Bright red front disc calipers and rear drums (you really want to show these off?) peek between the spokes.

Eibach springs lower the chassis by about 5 cm, for a purposeful look.

Ground-effects body kits front air dam, rocker sill extensions, rear spoiler are usually awful, but this one, by Wings West, actually looked good. The spoiler runs just below the rear window sill and extends into the quarter panels.

The silver body colour with off-centre blue striping across the top of the car also strikes the right note.

Momo supplies most of the interior bits.

Racing bucket seats offer okay comfort and excellent lateral support, but they only adjust fore and aft. They sit so low that you are almost peering over the window sills to see out of the car. With no tilt steering, it makes for an awkward driving position.

But, frankly, it’s what you get in a showroom-stock racing car, which is sort of the point.

The four-point Momo racing-style seatbelts, with two shoulder straps running from the back seat (thereby eliminating it from practical consideration) and individual lap belt portions, are held together by a circular buckle.

With no inertia reels, you have to play around with straps and buckles to adjust these belts, a huge pain in the neck. When you do get yourself strapped in tight, the door had better already be closed, because you won’t be able to reach it otherwise (unless you pull the old “back up and hit the brakes” trick).

Everyone who looked at the car thought these things looked great, especially the Velcro pads on the shoulder straps. But because the straps aren’t wide enough to be legal for racing, they’re a poseur’s affectation.

Momo racing-style pedals with aluminum surfaces and red trim not only add a bit of colour, but also make it easier to heel-and-toe downshift.

Momo also supplies red-trimmed floor mats and a big red-and-silver shift knob ball. The shift linkage isn’t changed, and, with the driver sitting so low, it makes the lever feel too long.

The door pulls and centre stack panel have Folia Tec red plastic film applied to them, but this appears to have been done in a hurry, as there were lots of bubbles and several uneven seams and tears.

The airbag indicator light stayed on in my car, suggesting that someone had plans to change the steering wheel. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, since the stock wheel looks out of place with all the other interior mods.

A Sony Xplode sound system replaces the excellent standard Ford head unit with a wholly goofy multiple tiny-buttoned thing. Animated graphics put on a little light show as you drive down the road.

The sound was terrible thin, reedy and impossible to adjust properly, despite a wide range of options.

A gigantic subwoofer box in the trunk isn’t bolted down, so it slides around in corners.

Ford continues a corporate policy of not using tachometer redlines (a little prize for the first email to give me the only current exception). It’s particularly missed on a sporty car like this. I’m surprised the interior installer didn’t just get out his nail polish.

The engine is stock, but an aftermarket Borla exhaust system adds a bit of aural excitement, as well as a modest chrome-tipped exhaust pipe.

This fettled Focus attracted attention from just about everybody, but especially the right people.

Two young guys who work at a Chrysler dealership drove their Grand Cherokee over to where I was parked to check it out one of them, who owns a street-racer Civic, was particularly impressed.

The Zetec engine is nice in a stock Focus, but, with all the sporting addons, you’d love another 50 hp, at least.

The ride isn’t as harsh as the lower, stiffer springs and high-performance tires would suggest. There isn’t much in the way of vertical wheel travel, though, so larger bumps will cause the car to hop around.

There’s also a bit of torque steer, probably due to changes in front wheel geometry caused by the lowered springs and wider tires.

Apart from the sound system and the dash appliques, the project is well worked out.

From any practical perspective, putting over $14,000 in aftermarket addons on a $16,000 car doesn’t seem to make much sense. But this particular Focus is intended to be a concept a menu, if you like, of what’s possible.

Judging from the reception the car got, I’d say Ford should make these options available in their dealerships.

As equipped, this Focus would still cost way less that Dad’s Explorer, and every teenager Ford can drag into the showroom today might be a Windstar customer a decade from now.

HIGHS

* We be stylin’, dude

* Sets you apart from the crowd

* Tasteful execution

LOWS

* Sound system

* Seatbelts

* Tape appliques

The addons

Here is the list of aftermarket addons and prices, as supplied by Ford:

* Momobrand parts: GT 17in. wheels ($1,500); chrome tire valve stems and anodized caps ($20); Street Racer seats ($1,220); fourpoint harnesses ($275); Superturismo pedals ($35); F16 shift knob and boot ($45); floor mats ($45)

* Folia Tec painted brake calipers and drums ($120); painted handbrake handle ($75); dash and door trim film ($250)

* Eibach springs ($600)

* Pirelli tires ($1,000)

* Borla exhaust ($1,500)

* Wings West rear spoiler ($495); ground effects kit ($995)

* Sony Xplode sound system ($1,050)

* Vinyl decals ($1,400)

* Installation ($3,400)

* Total, installed: $14,025

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.

Email: jim @ jimkenzie.com
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