The round trip of just under 200 miles, with most of the distance travelled on the A1, easily demonstrated factors that have taken the Ford Focus to the top of the best-sellers list for so many months.
Most importantly of all, its drivability on long, open stretches of highway, which you can briefly enjoy on major roads that are not clogged with commuter traffic.
The Focus is an ideal companion on a clear road, offering a perfect driving position, solid build quality, smooth-operating controls and a refined TDCi engine bursting with barely-restrained power and torque. You begin to appreciate how difficult it has been for other car manufacturers to compete in sales terms with the Focus.
But open road cruising is only one part of the driving equation. When my partner and I reached central London the satellite navigation system that had coped with the A1 and North Circular Road began to struggle. My destination was a hotel in Jermyn Street, which is dissected by Duke Street. Traffic signs dictate that you can't just cross Duke Street and carry on up Jermyn Street though.
The sat-nav system thought you could, so very many minutes were spent going around Piccadilly (or Piccadilly-dally as I now call it) Circus trying to find a route across Duke Street.
A tortuous journey home painfully highlighted another characteristic of the Focus. The North Circular was heavily congested. On leaving the hotel for the homeward journey the sat-nav said we had 91 miles to go. An hour later it said 94!
My mood was blackened by the Focus's snappy clutch that has been mentioned by other testers because of its propensity to cause you to stall because of the very narrow biting point.
In heavy traffic it can become your worst enemy in an instant. I stalled three times while still in central London trying to keep gearchanges smooth and the engine as calm as possible in trying conditions.
After an hour of stop-start travel the constant use of the clutch had given me a pain in the leg and I wished I'd landed our long-term Renault Megane for my weekend away – great diesel engine, great drive – and I pity the 20,000 mile a year company car driver that has to deal with this day-after-day. My leg still hurt that night, dammit.
On a brighter note, I've noticed that residual values have risen slightly in the intervening weeks between test reports, up from £4,300 to £4,375 – a consolation for falling UK registrations last month, down more than 15% to 53,992 units. However, it still retains its position as the UK's best-seller.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £53 per month