New this year, Ford's Focus ZX5 echoes the sportiness of its three-door ZX3, but with a couple more doors. Surprisingly, the ZX5 is the same length, width, and height as the ZX3, but weighs 49 lb more. During the test-drive week, I was under the delusion the ZX5 was larger than its sibling. Apparently, I was mistaken.

Both the ZX3 and ZX5 are powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC Zetec in-line four-cylinder engine. It delivers 130 hp at 5,300 rpm and 135 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, plenty of get-up-and-go. Thankfully, the engine was mated to a five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed automatic is available as well), which shifts easily with no stickiness. The clutch sits fairly low to the floor and engages with little effort.

The ZX5 rides on an independent, MacPherson-strut front suspension with coil springs and a 20-mm stabilizer bar. According to Ford engineers, this setup reduces body lean while cornering. I would have to agree. When navigating the ZX5 through some twisty roads, it stayed the course easily. A control-blade multilink independent-rear suspension carries one upper and two lower arms and separate dampers. The trailing arms provide longitudinal control to help resist braking torque and rear-end lift, as well as absorb impacts from rough roads. Control arms regulate lateral movement and work with the power rack-and-pinion steering to keep the ZX5 on the straight and narrow. A stiff unibody structure with rigid mounting points for the suspension contributes to the car's light weight as well as soaking up jarring road impacts.

Our test vehicle was equipped with AdvanceTrac (a $1,625 option). This traction-control system uses electronic sensors and computerized control of the brakes to keep the car on the road during wet and icy road conditions. This system, together with ABS, certainly worked for me. When driving on rain-soaked roads one evening, I narrowly missed hitting a car that decided to run a red light. The ZX5 stopped on a dime, and I credit AdvanceTrac and ABS, together with the watchful eye of a guardian angel, for avoiding an accident.

In the same vein, all Focuses carry the Personal Safety System that adjusts deployment of air bags depending on crash severity to protect front passengers. It includes an electronic crash-severity sensor, restraint-control module, dual-stage driver and front-passenger air bags, driver's seat position sensor, and seat-belt energy-management retractors, pretensioners, and usage sensors. Our test vehicle also carried optional side impact air bags for an extra $350.

The ZX5 comes stocked with standard equipment including 16-in. aluminum wheels; fog lamps; six-disc in-dash CD player; remote-keyless entry; power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; antitheft system; and cruise control. Large storage pockets on driver and front-passenger doors hold plenty of CDs, which is a good thing because the center console will only hold a pair of sunglasses. Brushed metal accents around the stereo and climate controls give it a sleek, European look. The back seat, according to my passengers, has plenty of head and leg room. And the hatch area is roomy at 18.6 ft3.

The one place I fault the ZX5 is with its rearview mirror. It's a bit small and I had a hard time adjusting it correctly to see out the back window. Other than that, there were no problems with blind spots when changing lanes, as I relied mainly on the side-view mirrors.

Fuel economy is 33 highway/25 city for the five-speed manual with the Zetec engine and, according to my figures, seems correct. Base price for the ZX5 is $15,615. Add on option and destination charges and it jumps to $18,080. Give me a larger rearview mirror and I'd have no problem buying a ZX5.