Fantastically average; I love it, but why?
Battery at 85,000 miles ($82).
Front brake pads at 40,000 and 90,000 miles (replaced myself at $24.99 / set).
Required new spark plug wires at 23,000 miles, again at 46,000 miles, again at 118,000 miles. $20 per set.
Rear license plate lamp (one of two), socket corroded due to water intrusion (bad seal somewhere). Replaced at $11.
Minor exhaust leak from EGR tube separated from header causing noise, fixed with JB weld ($5).
Vacuum tube from PCV valve collapsed, replaced with a piece of washer hose from Ace Hardware, $3.50.
Overall, this car has been reliable basic transportation at remarkably low running costs, exactly what it was supposed to be. We bought it as a knee-jerk replacement for my wife's Oldsmobile, which had been wrecked, and for my beloved '90 300ZX, which was no longer practical when my daughter was born. It has spent much of its life as a short-haul commuter and family-hauler, and it has delivered consistently satisfactory performance.
Consistently satisfactory sums up my overall feelings of this car. Though if I think about this vehicle fondly, my relationship with it can be described on a very utilitarian level, something vague, something akin to my padded toilet seat. Follow me. I like it, it didn't cost much, but it doesn't have a big impact on my day either, and I really don't give it much thought. It works, and you might even like to have one on your commode, but it's not something you brag about owning.
My 2004 Ford Focus LX 2.0 SPI gets excellent fuel mileage when driven lightly, but the mileage suffers tremendously when pushed harder. It developed an exhaust leak at around 60,000 miles that doesn't seem to affect anything, but does make it a bit noisy. I have fixed it several times with JB weld, but the way the engine vibrates and torques, it always eventually breaks my weld again and I have to re-apply. It's a minor inconvenience though.
It does handle very well for an economy-class car, and I received almost 50,000 miles out of my last set of tires. The handling from the independent front / rear suspension is actually confidence inspiring; it can be driven very quickly on twisty roads and it's very nimble around town. The brakes are just adequate with front discs and rear drums, and haul the car down from cruising speed with remarkable rapidity, though pedal feel is rather vague, though never spongy. It lacks an ABS / anti-lock system though, so push with care, because it will lock easily in the wet. There is a constant rumble from the front that seems to be suspension load related, and transmits a high degree of engine vibration through the frame and pervades the whole car. It resonates rather loudly inside the vehicle at all speeds. I can't imagine what is causing this, perhaps a cracked engine mount is all I can come up with; it's just something we've learned to live with.
The car's 2.0L SPI engine delivers adequate performance. It's not quick, but it hauls the fairly light (under 3,000 lb.) vehicle around with plenty of off-line pep, easily spinning the tires a bit off the line even on dry pavement. It's not a drag racer, mind you, but neither was it designed or intended to be, and not what I would expect or want from this car. Midrange passing acceleration is surprisingly decent, which I credit to the 4-speed automatic. The transmission shifts as expected and makes the best of the meager powerplant, though it hunts between 4th and 3rd gear constantly at midrange speeds in order to keep available what torque the little 8 valve motor has to offer. It does offer an overdrive disable switch to correct this, though you're left wanting for a higher ratio at speeds above 60 MPH. Overall, the powertrain feels harsh at high RPM, and somewhat cranky at lower RPM. It's a base-trim combination, however, and we got what we paid for. I would recommend the 2.3 or the newer models' excellent 2.0 DOHC engine over this motor.
The interior is spartan and typically plastic-clad, but the seats are comfortable even on long trips, though it lacks a center armrest. There is no cruise control, power windows, power locks, navigation, or CD-changer. There is a single in-dash CD player with better-than-average sound quality for the model year and trim level. It delivers good volume, pronounced highs, and a good bit of bass response given the 4-speaker base speaker configuration. I do wish the Blue Oval's design team would have had the foresight to include an auxiliary input to accommodate MP3 players or smartphones. That said, there are plenty of places to stash such devices, and the backseat leg and head room is fine for me at around 6'. The trunk is quite cavernous, and the seats fold 60/40 but not flat, and the opening is somewhat small and the lip is high. Put it this way, I've hauled a 46" LCD TV home in the trunk, but it's difficult for my wife to get our Liberty three-wheeled jogging stroller in and out. It does fit though, along with a full load of groceries, the two of us, and our two kids in the rear quite comfortably. I've even sat between the two car seats on rare occasions when we have to have a fifth passenger.
The headlamps provide good night visibility in all weather, and the mirrors and other hardware is well positioned. The switchgear lacks a quality feel (je ne sais quoi), though nothing has broken after 7 years and almost 120,000 miles, so I guess what it lacks in aesthetic feel, it makes up for in durability.
To summarize, I've pulled up small trees and bushes (not joking) and helped a Grand Marquis out of a ditch using a tow rope with this car. I've hauled nine hay bales and 10 50-lb bags of concrete mix in the trunk in this car. I've slogged through a foot of unplowed snow in this car. I neglected to perform even basic maintenance on it for a full year once due to a financial crisis. I've hauled around kids in 100+ degree weather with the A/C on full blast up and down Signal Mountain and its famous 10-degree graded switchbacks. I've hit driving rain and deep puddles in summer squalls and it's never dripped on me or stalled once.
If I think back, I've asked a lot from this car, and it's delivered consistently, without much complaint or even guzzling much fuel, either. It will drive around town all day on a gallon of of 87-octane gas. As long as this car is maintained and you're willing to put up with a few annoyances, it's like any other vehicle from any other manufacturer, you might get a good one, and you might get a lemon. We bought it new in '04 but since you can't do that anymore, you don't know what you're buying if you pick up any old 2004 Focus off eBay or your neighborhood wholesaler.
Having said that, I'd go buy another in a heartbeat, which in fact we did in 2006 with my wife's dearly departed but very, very good 2007 Focus SES hatchback, which we adored. Now that the 2012 Focus is about to launch globally, I would doubtlessly buy a third. Owner loyalty is a key measure of a car's actual merits despite its faults, and that really is something you'd brag about owning, a car you'd buy again. That applies to anything, whether it's a padded toilet seat, or a fantastically average car.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 22nd February, 2011