Home » Cheap And Cheerful Stickshift Fords: 1999 Escort SE vs 2007 Focus ZX3

Cheap And Cheerful Stickshift Fords: 1999 Escort SE vs 2007 Focus ZX3

Sbsd 3 6 2024

Welcome back! Today is all about something that doesn’t exist anymore: inexpensive compact cars from Ford. We’ve got two generations of them to look at, and even better, they’re both five-speed manuals that run and drive. See? I throw you guys a bone once in a while.

Speaking of which, our sad-puppy choices from yesterday went over like a lead balloon. The majority of you picked the Civic, but I get the feeling it was under duress. You all do realize that this is purely speculative, right? I’m not going to actually make you buy or drive any of these. (David won’t let me.)

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That said, I think the Honda is the right choice here. What has been done to it can all be undone fairly easily, and even if you leave it looking like a pizza delivery driver’s tip-money project, it’ll still drive like a golden-age Honda, and that’s a wonderful thing.

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So let’s move on and look at a couple of cheap but functional Ford economy cars from up near Seattle. These used to be the perfect college grad’s first new car; now they’re on their umpteenth owners and closing in on 200,000 miles, but still out there fighting the good fight. Let’s take a look.


1999 Ford Escort SE – $1,999

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Shoreline, WA

Odometer reading: 191,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well


Our European readers are probably looking at this car, with some mixture of confusion and pity, and thinking, “That’s a Ford Escort?” Yep, that’s a Ford Escort – American-style. It may look like a “catfish” Ford Taurus that someone left in the dryer too long, but it’s actually a pretty good little car under the blobby styling. Our Escort was heavily based on the Mazda BG platform, which underpinned the 323/Familia/Protege. Though Mazda had long since stopped using it, Ford’s version soldiered on all the way until 2003, well into Focus production.

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The platform was old by 1999, but the engine was positively paleolithic. The sporty ZX2 coupe got Ford’s twin-cam Zetec engine, but the basic sedan and wagon soldiered on with the old CVH, as found under the hoods of US-model Escorts since the very beginning. This one has been punched out to a full 2 liters, and puts out 110 horsepower. It may be an old design, but it’s efficient and reliable – despite having a belt-driven camshaft. (Good grief.) The seller says this car “must be driven to be appreciated,” so I guess it runs just fine.

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You can’t expect luxury appointments from a Ford Escort, no matter which side of the Atlantic it was built on. Hard plastic, cheap upholstery, and manual controls are the order of the day here. But I owned an Escort of the generation prior to this for three years, and I never wished for anything fancier. The seats are comfortable, everything works, and this one looks like it’s been well cared for.


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Outside, it’s – well – it is what it is. The refrigerator-white paint isn’t helping it much, nor are the Wal-Mart wheel covers. But it’s not too banged up, and it’s rust-free. I’ve long thought that plain white economy cars like this could benefit from a partial wrap in a racing livery. Martini or Alitalia seem like obvious choices, but I prefer to think farther afield; I want to paint this car up like a Tamiya Frog RC buggy. Yes, that means the lower third would be pink. Like it says on the Frog’s rear wing: “No Guts, No Glory!”

2007 Ford Focus ZX3 – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Lakewood, WA


Odometer reading: 171,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well, but power steering is going out

This Focus probably looks a little funny to European readers too. Our Focus looked the same as the European version early on, but diverged in 2004 when the second-generation Focus came out in Europe. We kept going with the first-generation platform, first with a mild facelift, and then with all-new sheetmetal. This is the last year of the post-facelift car, making it the last year that we were offered a three-door hatchback Focus here.

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This car is powered by a 2 liter version of the Ford Duratec/Mazda MZR four-cylinder, a really nice and robust twin-cam engine that is a lot less thrashy than the CVH and Zetec engines of old. More powerful, too – it sends 136 horsepower to the front wheels, in this case through a five-speed manual. I had a Focus ZX3 with this engine and an automatic for a while, and it was plenty powerful for zipping through LA traffic. I always thought it would be a fun little car with a stick.


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This is the basic S model, with crank windows and manual door locks. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. The seller says the driver’s seat has been replaced, and if the rest of the interior is anything to go by, it must have been bad. This car is pretty grubby inside. It looks almost like there is water damage on the passenger seat; hopefully it isn’t smelly in there.

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It runs and drives fine, but the seller has been advised that the power steering is going out and needs new lines. They’ve been quoted $700 to fix it, but I bet someone who’s handy could do it cheaper. I replaced the high-pressure power steering line on a Nissan Pathfinder in an apartment complex carport once; it’s not that hard.

I still don’t understand why Ford canceled all their small cars. They were actually pretty good, as long as you avoided that silly PowerShift gearbox. No such worries here – these two have three pedals on the floor and a lever between the seats, as the small car gods intended, and plenty of life left in them. Which one seems like the better deal to you?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
1 month ago

I will always and forever vote for any focus that comes up. I had an ’03 ZX5 (auto). It was a fun little car to toss around, it could fit the whole family in a pinch, and if it were just a couple of us, we could toss the boy’s wheelchair in the back without folding it up. (with the whole fam, we needed to do that).

It was a great car. I miss it sometimes.

Pappa P
Pappa P
1 month ago

Definitely the flood Focus. The sohc Escort can burn in hell.
As others said, I would go to the scrapper for seats and carpet.
Then I would toss my detailer 100 bucks and get the thing back looking pretty decent.

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