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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 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.