Having had a cheap small car (Fiat Punto) as my first car, for my second car I wanted something much more sophisticated with better performance, comfort and handling. I have not been disappointed.
1. Driving experience - the feel of the controls is still the best of any car I've ever driven. The feedback through the steering is brilliant - on an icy or slippery road you can feel the loss of grip straight away, unlike in most cars. The gear change has a solid, mechanical feel, while the brakes, like the steering, have just enough and not too much power assistance.
2. Performance - with the 1.8 litre engine this is not a fast car, but it is perfectly adequate. The engine pulls smoothly from idle up to the rev limit at about 6,500. I've also driven the 1.6, which in comparison felt more lethargic up to about 3,500 revs when it suddenly comes alive. I've read that the 1.6 is just as quick (if not quicker) in a 0-60 test, which I can believe, but generally I would prefer the 1.8.
3. Economy - average about 35mpg, from 32/33 commuting up to 37/38 on longer runs.
4. Ride/handling - this car has a good compromise between the two - the ride is good on faster roads and is OK even on bad roads. It turns in well and always feel stable and well-damped. I've also driven the 3-door Focus Zetec, which in comparison is much more firmly-sprung - great to drive on winding roads with flatter cornering and much sharper turn in, but the pay-off is that the ride can be jarring on fast roads, and also (unlike the 5-door) the car gets unsettled by mid-corner bumps on motorway slip roads and the like.
5. Refinement/comfort - on the motorway the engine is audible and there is some road and wind noise but not too much. Although the dashboard looks cheap, it is perfectly solid and does not squeak or rattle. On bumpy roads there are noticeably more creaks and groans from the 5-door bodyshell, which obviously does not have quite the same structural rigidity as the 3-door (which is also much better looking though obviously less practical). This must be another reason Ford gave the 3-door Zetec its more "sporting" suspension settings. I think the front seats are great - in the Zetec they're more heavily bolstered than in the other models which I much prefer.
6. Equipment - this is the Zetec, which as well as the better front seats, also has 15" alloys. Another reason to recommend the Zetec is that the plastic trim on the dash and doors is a nice silver-effect, and not the awful fake wood-effect found on the Ghia. Surprisingly, standard equipment for this model didn't include air con, ABS or even a CD player. My car has the optional climate pack including air con and Ford's "quickclear" heated windscreen, which seems to divide opinions. Personally I think it works well and is worth having - perhaps if you wear glasses then the heating wires in the windscreen are more of an issue.
When I bought the car I made the dealer change the standard radio/cassette player for a Ford CD unit. It's brilliant - sounds as good as the hi-fi in my living room and better than in any other car I've ever driven.
7. Reliability/running costs - in 4 years of owning this car I'm pleased to say that very little has gone wrong (as above). Except for petrol consumption, the running costs are lower than my old Punto, which I believe is due to the Focus being considerably better engineered and built. Being a Ford, spare parts (when needed) are cheap too. I'm planning on keeping it until it's done at least 100,000 miles and best of all I still enjoy every time I drive it.
This car has its flaws, but they are all minor, whereas its strengths are substantial and enduring.
I would recommend it to anyone.