Driving new Focus less laborious love
For me, owning a 2000 Ford Focus ZX3 has been all about loving the driving part so much that I tolerate the mechanical worries about Ford's wonderful problem child.
But it appears that Focus owners will be finding more to love and less to worry about.
It seems highly likely that the 2004 model will soon receive a spot on the coveted "recommended" list of Consumer Reports magazine.
Meanwhile, the 2003 Focus now ranks right behind the Honda Civic on the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, said Brian Walters, the senior director of vehicle research.
While that is dandy for new Focus buyers, one consumer advocate thinks early owners deserve an extension on their warranty.
Since its introduction in 1999 as a 2000 model, the Focus has been almost universally praised by automotive writers for its excellent handling, interior package and price.
First, it was recognized by automotive journalists in Europe as the Car of the Year. Then, a group of 50 automotive journalists in the United States and Canada - including me - named it the North American Car of the Year.
But the problem is that it takes a while to learn about reliability, and after the Focus had been on the road a while, the 2000 and 2001 models began having troubles.
The 2000 and 2001 Focus had a series of safety recalls as well as owner complaints concerning stalling and ignition problems that prevented the key from being used.
Consumer Reports testers praised the Focus' handling but said they could not recommend the Focus because of mechanical problems.
Even Ford officials have readily acknowledged they made serious errors in the first couple of years and they swore, cross their little corporate hearts, that improvements were being made.
Now, it seems those improvements have taken place, according to two independent sources.
One is Consumer Reports magazine, which is published by Consumers Union and conducts its own frequency-of-repair sur....