During our week driving this silver Saleen N2O Focus, something completely unexpected happened: We liked it.
Why is this so unexpected?Well, because we thought we would hate it. And after so many years of doing this for a living, we can usually predict such things. Not this time. This one threw us a curve ball.
Our initial negativity was due to the car's outlandish bodywork and weak stance. Nothing turns us off more. Most of what you pay for when you buy a Saleen N2O Focus is that bodywork, and it's just not our taste even if it is rallyesque. Saleen calls it a race-inspired aero package that consists of Saleen-designed front and rear fasciae, side skirts, fender flares, a hood scoop and a Saleen twin air-foil rear wing. We dig the hood scoop and the center-exiting two-pipe exhaust. You can keep the rest. If you like the way it looks, you probably think Paris Hilton needs bigger boobs. We're ass men.
What really bugs, however, is the car's lame stance. The 17x7-inch TSW Revo wheels, which are six-spoke cast-aluminum pieces, just aren't wide enough to fill the car's now radically flared wheel wells. We've never seen a rally car with stance like that, and we hope we never will. It looks like Schwarzenegger's torso walking around on Christina Aguilera's legs. We're told 2005 models wear unique wheels designed by Saleen.
Wrapped around those wheels are Pirelli tires measuring 215/45ZR-17. Our test car wore optional and supersticky R-compound Pirelli Corsas, which certainly add to the car's performance and are a steal for the $475 they add to the Saleen's $25,999 MSRP.
Another option worn by our test car is a front brake package. For $1,365, 13-inch vented front rotors with Saleen black enamel four-piston calipers replace the stuff Ford bolted on at its Mexican plant. Every Saleen N2O Focus keeps its Ford-installed rear drum brakes.
Our test car was also optioned out with an Alpine in-dash stereo/DVD, which adds another $2,744 to the car's sticker. We're told it sounds great. Too bad we never figured out how to use it.
Thankfully our silver tester was without the optional Saleen extreme rainbow paint, which costs another $16,000, and can cause blindness in small children. Tallied up, our test car carried an MSRP of $30,583, which is quite a load of cash for a breathed-on Focus ZX3 PZEV.
OK, let's get to the good stuff, which is underneath, inside and under the hood.
Included in the purchase price is an excellent suspension package engineered by the folks at Saleen. Like the Saleen Mustang for which the company is famous, the PZEV Focus is delivered to the Saleen facility in Irvine, where it's transformed into a Saleen. Part of that transformation is the installation of all-new suspension bits the company calls the Saleen Racecraft System. It includes stiffer dampers and coil springs all around, larger 1.25-inch front and 0.98-inch rear anti-roll bars with urethane pivot bushings and a front strut tower brace.
Although we've ridden in Saleen Mustangs with the compliance of cinder blocks, that was years ago. Things have improved to the point of being impressive. This car rides as well as a stock SVT Focus, which, if you haven't heard, Ford has killed, yet mightily outhandles the factory hot rod.
Circling the skidpad, our tester worked its front Pirellis like it hated them, but recorded a very stout 0.97g. Then it tackled the slalom at 73.1 mph, exhibiting good balance, quick reflexes and awesome stability.
Those numbers not only stomp our Project SVT Focus, which managed 0.89g and 71.5 mph stock, but they're also better than we managed in both the EVO MR and WRX STi we tested last month.
Such grip requires good seats, and Saleen delivers. A perfectly shaped set of Momo chairs is part of the package, as is a Saleen shift knob, white face gauges, a short-throw shifter and custom floor mats.
The Saleen's braking performance is also strong, despite those silly rear drum brakes and a lack of ABS. It stops from 80 mph in 194 feet and from 60 mph in only 108 feet. For perspective, our SVT stops from 60 mph in 120 feet, and the EVO MR stops from 80 mph in 200 ft. Again, the Pirelli Corsa tires are helping here, but numbers are numbers. Heat did become an issue after several stops, but pedal modulation before everything overheated was very good.
For power, the Saleen N2O Focus relies on a dead stock 2.3-liter DOHC four that Ford calls the PZEV and rates at 152 hp at 5750 rpm and 155 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. Then Saleen installs a direct-port 75-hp wet nitrous system from Nitrous Pro Flow with a 10-pound bottle mounted in the cargo hold. Hence the name of the car.
But there's a catch. Although all the nitrous hardware is installed, it's not hooked up, and the bottle is empty. Saleen delivers the car "nitrous ready." And here's the catch. Once you hook it up, which Saleen says will take about an hour, your engine warranty is void. Too bad, because it works. Check out the acceleration numbers.
In an attempt to keep the car's engine in one piece, the nitrous system is engineered to kick in at wide-open throttle above 3000 rpm only, and shuts down just before redline in an attempt to keep the engine from getting spray without enough fuel.
Without the spray this car is slow. Its engine is smooth and surprisingly torquey around town, but it's slow. Even slamming through the Saleen's five-speed manual (a four-speed automatic is optional) like Dick Landy doesn't help. Nitrous off we recorded a zero-to-60 time of 8.2 seconds and a quarter-mile pass of 16.1 at 84.3 mph. Juice on, things improved righteously, however. Our best time was a 14.6-second pass at 95.6 mph. Zero to 60 improved almost two full seconds to 6.3. Saleen says the car, which only weighs 2,620 pounds, should run a 14.0 quarter mile with the nitrous hooked up, but we couldn't manage it, even with a fresh clutch.
Another change for 2005 is a switch to a 2.0-liter engine, which Ford rates at only 138 hp, but Saleen says its exhaust and unique reflash of the car's ECU gets the power back up to the 152 hp of the 2.3 liter in our test car.
Overall, this car performs well-very well-but it's expensive. For the money we'd rather the consumer get more substantial engine mods with a good warranty and more complete brake system instead of the custom floor mats, the standard Saleen key fob and an Eagle One detail kit. But that's just us.
Steve Saleen has produced more than 8,000 complete and EPA-certified vehicles since 1984, more than any other specialty manufacturer. So he's no dummy. He knows what the people want.
Hey, we liked it.
2004 Saleen N2O FocusBase Price: $25,999 EngineType: Inline four, aluminum block and headValvetrain: DOHC, four valves per cylinderDisplacement: 2261ccBore x Stroke: 3.44 in x 3.70 inCompression Ratio: 9.7:1Claimed Crank Hp: 151 hp @ 5750 rpmClaimed Crank Torque: 154 lb-ft @ 4250 rpmMeasured Wheel Hp: 133 hp @ 5800 rpmMeasured Wheel Torque: 139 lb-ft @ 4200 rpmMeasured Wheel Hp (NOS): 198 hp @ 5500 rpmMeasured Wheel Torque (NOS): 226 lb-ft @ 3600 rpmRedline: 6000 rpm
DrivetrainLayout: Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
TransmissionGear Ratios 1st Gear: 3.417:12nd Gear: 2.136:13rd Gear: 1.448:14th Gear: 1.128:15th Gear: 0.767:1Final drive: 3.410:1Differential: Open
SuspensionFront: Saleen N2 Racecraft struts, 1.25-inch anti-roll bar, urethane bushingsRear: Saleen N2 Racecraft shocks, .98-inch anti-roll bar, urethane bushings,
BrakesFront:13-inch vented and slotted discs, four-piston calipersRear: Stock drums
Wheels and TiresWheels: 16x7-inch TSW RevosTires: 215/40R-17 Pirelli P Zero Corsa
PerformanceAcceleration:Nitrous off Nitrous on0-30 mph:2.8 sec.2.6 sec.0-60 mph:8.2 sec.6.3 sec.Quarter-Mile Time:16.1 sec.14.6 sec.Quarter-Mile Speed:84.3 mph 95.6 mphHandlingLateral Grip (200-ft. skidpad): .97gSlalom Speed (700-ft. slalom): 73.1 mph
Braking80-0 stopping distance: 194 ft.70-0 stopping distance: 148 ft.60-0 stopping distance: 108 ft.