It must be more than two years since I have driven Ford's lower-medium fleet contender so it was a pleasant surprise for me to step aboard and re-acquaint myself with the car's finer points – of which there are many.
The Focus may now be five years old but it still looks as sharp and chic as the day it was first launched. And the general driving experience is still up there with the best, despite the rivals having launched a plethora of newer models in the meantime.
The last Focus I drove, as I recall, was a TDdi model, which means the car did not have a common rail diesel unit. You'd be amazed at the difference one little letter can make, for this TDCi unit (a common rail one) is more powerful, smoother and more economical than its old-style brother.
You can still buy the old units – a Focus 1.8 TDdi offering 90bhp will set you back £14,750, against £15,500 for the TDCi 100bhp and £16,100 for the car on test here, the Focus TDCi 115bhp. You'll save cash all right, but you won't like all that rattling and coarseness.
The engine in our car runs pretty smoothly and will buzz you right up to lose-your-licence land with the minimum of fuss. In fact, the engine is so smooth that on several occasions I have had to rapidly ease off on the throttle when, looking at the speedo, I have discovered I am travelling at illegal speeds without realising.
And fitted with the optional 17-inch alloys on low profile tyres, this car is a star on the bends, too. However, I have a problem. And it doesn't seem to be resolving itself...
Our Focus suffers from the twin faults of a sharp clutch and a bad case of turbo lag.
Stick your foot on the accelerator and it seems to take a second before the information that you need some 'welly' gets to the pistons. If you happen to whip your foot off the clutch during that second, disaster ensues and the car stalls. It has happened to me several times – once when I was halfway across a main road after pulling out from a side turning.
Call me a bad driver if you like, but I'm the most experienced one on the Fleet News test team – by virtue of passing my driving test (first time) in 1969 – and several other testers have complained too.
On the plus side, the Focus is proving a frugal little performer, despite all that oomph – our last tester managed over 51mpg during his month with the car.
Me, old Mr Lead Foot, won't get anywhere near that figure but the little display on the dash that recalibrates itself every mile or so is currently indicating around 45mpg – not bad in my book.
One other complaint while I'm at it – the car's cabin is embellished with bits of rather curious shiny plastic, which is not wearing well. There are several annoying scratches around the ignition key and the handbrake and there is a major scrape right across the dash on the passenger side. As this car is only a few months old, this easily-marked material does not bode well for its long-term residual value.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £53 per month