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Ford Focus 1.8 TDCi Ghia - 4,164 miles



FORD'S stylish Focus isn't as good as at launch four years ago. It's an illusion, of course, because the model deserves its position as Britain's long-term best-seller.

The replacement for the Escort wowed us with its machined look and the sharp lines have become Ford's design autograph. The press launch that followed the motor show debut confirmed that on the road, Focus lived up to expectations.

For Ford, the problem is that the world has moved on with the Renault Megane (now Europe's top-seller) outdoing Focus in terms of C-sector head-turning ability. I don't like Megane's overtly shaped rear, but it's a car that never melts into the background of on-road metal.

Meanwhile, we have become accustomed to the look of Focus, which has a fascia that never bores. An important factor for people spending hours a day on the road. It handles sharply when given a chance, rides suavely and Ford's 1.8-litre TDCi has plenty of fizz.

As with all cars, there are 'what a pity' asides to be made, like the cheap-looking Ghia badge on the side, which for years has been out of step with what the derivative's image is supposed to be about. Then there are the seats, which fail to provide the right amount of support to keep long-distance drivers feeling fresh.

Our latest long-term Focus is a £20,000 car once you have filled it with fuel from empty. The list price is £16,100 but that climbs to £19,965 with the extras that were showered on to our test car.

What's that, £20,000 for a Ford? Maybe a decade ago, this would have been the shocked response to a Scorpio listed for that sort of money. Of course, no-one in their right mind will pay full whack for a Focus and this can help to make the prospect of running one until 2006 seem much more attractive.

One thing's for sure: whatever the figures say, Focus will continue to give more driving pleasure than most and next year's replacement will surely be even better to look at, and to drive.

Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £78 per month

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