Ford ZX2 offers sporty styling, responsive handling, brisk acceleration, and everyday comfort and practicality for one or two people. Its back seat and trunk are fully usable. Yet the ZX2 is easy on fuel, and costs less than some base-level sedans.
ZX2 has a new front end this year, more aggressive, less cute, yet still in keeping with its overall character. Gone is the smooth, grille-less look, replaced by a dark horizontal slash between the headlights, punctuated by new amber turn signals. A bigger under-bumper air intake is stretched wide by new round fog lights that seem to pull at its outer edges.
Fifteen-inch wheels are standard on all 2003 models, replacing last year's 14-inch wheels. Handsome machined aluminum rims are available on Premium models. Deluxe and Premium models now come with a single-CD player.
ZX2 isn't the newest sport compact on the market, but enhanced value for the 2003 models adds to its attractiveness.
Ford ZX2 was designed as a true sport coupe, not a sedan with two doors. It still looks lean, clean, light, and agile, though the design is getting dated.
The overall shape is fluid, organic. Yet sharply defined features at the front and rear add character. The swooping roofline suggests both airiness and intimacy, while blacked-out center pillars keep the profile clean. All glass is flush-mounted, a sophisticated touch. A gently undulating beltline caps flat-sided flanks. The overall effect is contemporary, yet timeless, gently echoing some of the classic sport coupes of the 1960s.
Styling in this class gets old quick, however, and younger buyers may find the ZX2's subtle lines dated and conservative next to the newest, aggressively styled coupes from the Pacific Rim.
A roomy, attractive cabin makes the ZX2 comfortable for long trips. A sporty instrument cluster peeks out from a wedge-shaped dash that sweeps attractively into the door panels. Interior fabrics and materials are of higher quality than in some other cars in this class, although the inside door handles are on the dainty side.
Seats are upgraded for 2003, and feature diamond-stitched inserts. We found the seats in previous models firm and supportive. The driver's seat adjusts for height, a feature shorter drivers might appreciate. The tilt steering column on Deluxe and Premium models is useful if you don't fit the average-size norm.
Rear seats are surprisingly comfortable, which is something you'd never guess from the ZX2's swooping roofline. There's enough headroom and legroom for a 5-foot, 10-inch adult, although tall drivers will use up a lot of that leg space when they push their own seat back. Heater ducts for the rear seat area add comfort in the winter. Getting in and getting out is a squeeze. Coupes are not the best choice if carrying people in back is a frequent occurrence, however.
Three cup holders with liners, and a center console with multiple storage areas add convenience. Hooks on the floor hold the floor mats in place. ZX2 is nicely trimmed, but it is an economy car so not every bolt and screw is covered with a piece of trim, as it would be in a more up-market coupe.
It pays to read the owner's manual to fully understand the air conditioning system. In all but two modes, the system senses when the outside temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and switches on automatically. Then it shuts off under hard acceleration to improve performance. At other times, it cycles on and off constantly. This can be a little annoying for more sensitive drivers, who may feel a subtle bump through the throttle as the compressor engages. Selecting the Vent or Floor mode turns the air conditioning off.
The 11.8-cubic foot trunk is a bit shallow, but it's sizable by compact coupe standards. The rear seat is split 60/40 and can be folded forward to make room for longer items.
Ford ZX2 offers good throttle response and lively acceleration. Weighing in at just under 2,500 pounds, the 130-horsepower ZX2 accelerates from 0-60 mph in slightly less than 8 seconds. That measures up well against other leading compacts, including the Honda Civic. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 26/33 mpg. Torque is improved slightly for 2003, from 127 to 135 pound-feet.
The engine is pleasant and willing at all times, with plenty of extra punch for tight passing situations on two-lane highways. Yet the power band is flexible, providing torque and tractability at lower revs in heavy traffic. There's even enough grunt to break the front tires loose from a standing start. ZX2 is not a powerful sports car, however. A little planning is required when passing on uphill grades, especially at high altitudes, and the Zetec engine starts sounding busy at higher revs. It lacks the smoothness and refinement of a Honda.
The five-speed gearbox shifts smoothly through gear ratios that seem well suited to the engine's torque characteristics. Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the pedals, which are arranged reasonably well for heel-and-toe downshifting.
Steering is precise and handling is responsive. Ride quality is firm, but smooth. The suspension is damped well enough for soaking up potholes and irregular pavement, but still keeps the driver in touch with the road. The ZX2 is nicely balanced, although healthy understeer at the limit makes it easy and safe to drive. It is stable at high speeds, even in gusty side winds. Body lean is controlled well in corners.
ZX2's independent front suspension uses MacPherson struts, a tough, durable setup, though not as sophisticated as double wishbones. The rear suspension is Ford's Quadralink. Front and rear anti-roll bars are standard to reduce body lean in corners. Ford engineers tuned the ZX2 suspension, steering and brakes for sporty handling and a relatively firm, controlled ride.
Stopping is no problem with the ZX2's front discs and rear drums. We recommend the optional $400 anti-lock braking system, which helps the driver to maintain steering control during an emergency stop.
Sporty, quick and fun to drive, the Ford ZX2 is a good choice for young, single people who want a two-door coupe. Roomy rear seats and generous cargo space make the ZX2 practical for going out on the town or packing up for a cross-country haul. Its performance does not measure up to its aggressive appearance, but the ZX2 is cute and offers a good value.
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