We recently put the SVT Focus through its paces on some winding mountain roads in Southern California. Our route twisted through the San Gabriel Mountains on Angeles Crest Highway and Angeles Forest Highway with the downhill section dropping us off in Palmdale, Calif., about 20 minutes from our final destination; Willow Springs Raceway.
The SVT Focus is a serious driving machine. It has more than a short shifter, signature wheels, a header, a set of springs and badging to justify its status. Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) went inside the engine and also introduced technology never seen on the Focus.
Component changes in the block include new forged-steel connecting rods with 20mm wrist pins and lightweight, cast-aluminum pistons. The new pistons increase compression from 9.6:1 ratio to 10.2:1 in the SVT Focus. A new casting for the aluminum cylinder head has enlarged intake ports for increased flow. The intake valves measure 33.5mm in diameter, 1.5mm larger than those in a standard Zetec. Valve spring rates have also been increased for more revs on the top end.
Beyond these hard parts, others are also responsible for making the 2002 SVT Focus a technological tour de force with a peak power rating of 170 hp: variable intake cam timing, a dual-stage intake manifold, tuned tubular headers with an under body-only catalyst, a dual-mass flywheel, and a six-speed, twin-layshaft Getrag transaxle.
Best of all, the effort produces results you can feel and appreciate behind the wheel. The first thing to strike us was how the engine pulled all the way to 7000 rpm with no signs of fatigue and the engine had useable power at most engine speeds.
Furthermore, the suspension was up to the challenge. Anchored by aggressive 215/45R-17 rubber, the SVT-inspired suspension delivered not just acceptable, but excellent ride quality and outstanding handling. What impressed us most was how hard we could push the car and not experience any sign of understeer. The car would not plough. In tight esses, the suspension was able to react quickly and transition into the next corner. Steering performance and feel were good, which becomes more and more important the closer to the edge you take the Focus.
Braking has been improved with four-wheel discs featuring a front combo of 11.8-inch vented rotors and larger single-piston calipers. The six-speed was smooth with just enough 'clunk' to confirm you're in the right gear. Clutch engagement was seamless-a byproduct of the dual mass flywheel.
Visually, the SVT Focus is distanced from the mass-produced Foci by a tasteful body kit with the biggest departure coming where it counts most, the front fascia. The bumper and spoiler feature round driving lamp openings, darkened headlamp surrounds and turn signals that are unshrouded when compared with conventional Foci.
Inside, custom but customary white-faced gauges are employed with a bucket seat with roots in Europe. The seats and door panels are two-tone-black and blue. The far right section of the gauge pod is home to oil temperature and oil pressure gauges. In regular Foci, this is a blank panel. Our only complaint with the gauges is they are range gauges with no numbers. You don't know what the pressure or temperature is in psi or degrees, just that it's "safe." The seats are Euro-spec and figuring out how to adjust them took some time, but this is merely a familiarity issue. Overall, the interior was functional and outward visibility was excellent.
The hands-down best thing about the SVT Focus, other than its fun-to-drive quotient, is the price: $17,995. That's 18 grand out the door with A/C, cruise control, power everything, a CD stereo and all the high-tech performance most can handle. There are only three options for the SVT Focus-a sunroof, six-disc CD changer and a winter package.
If you're looking for a sport compact with an emphasis on sport and want to stand out from the crowd, but your own "pay for the week" makes driving a performance car seem out of reach, check out the SVT Focus. It packs a punch everywhere but in the wallet.