Secretly listen to a focus group of 12 Ford Escort owners, and you'll hear how they like most of the car, dislike some of it and loathe foreign car dealers.

Ford Motor Co. has opened a series of sessions known as focus groups to the media for the first time. Ford car owners use them to talk candidly about their vehicles. Normally, only Ford officials sit behind one-way glass and listen to car owners' comments.Ford started the media sessions three weeks ago and has held them in Detroit, Washington, Chicago, Dallas and New York. The final session was March 28 in Los Angeles.

David W. Krupp, Ford's public affairs manager for sales operations, said Ford was so confident about its Escort it invited the media to secretly listen in on the sessions. "Five years ago we wouldn't have. You'd have heard too many complaints," he said.

The 12 New York consumers, chosen at random among new Escort owners, were paid $50 each and served lunch to talk about their cars, Ford officials said.

While they spoke, the news media listened behind the one-way glass. Martin Goldfarb, who runs a consulting firm bearing his name and ran the session in his New York office, told the Escort owners people interested in the car model were listening. When the session ended, he revealed the people behind the glass were reporters.

Initially, the Escort owners were polite. Robert Velasco, an insurance agent, said, "I'm pretty happy with it. I looked at a lot of cars, but I wanted to get an American car."

However, Velasco said his patriotism had its limits. "I want to buy something that's good."

Ford, which owns 25 percent of Mazda Motor Corp. of Hiroshima, Japan, designed the Escort and Mazda engineered the car, which is built in Wayne, Mich. Several car owners said the Mazda link helped persuade them to buy the Escort.

As he kept talking, Velasco managed to discuss a complaint. "I had two blowouts, but I think it was a streak of bad luck."

Derek Witcraft, music director at a church, said he needed a new car because his Mark VII was stolen and liked the Escort since it's based on the Mazda 323. "All Japanese cars have a good reputation for reliability," he said.

Anthony Matti's meeting with a foreign car dealer was not so pleasant. Matti, who runs an office supply business in Queens, said he initially went to a Honda dealer.

Before the saleswoman would give Matti a price, she demanded a $500 deposit. "The woman was nasty," said Matti, who refused to give a deposit and left.