When I first purchased this car, I wasn't as excited about owning it, even though I spent about two months finding the right one. It just grew on me, and I love this car, but with good reasons.
I fell in love with the Focus from watching the WRC (World Rally Championship) and reading the articles about it in magazines like Car and Driver. I used to just despise this car, but with time and reading, I just couldn't deny what everyone was saying.
I never really thought I'd wind up buying this car, but after I finally test drove one back in February (2005, same year I'm writing this) I was sold. The car just gives the driver confidence. The steering is precise and responsive. The body rolls a little, but the car never loses its feet (great multi-link rear suspension). It's also a relatively light car (weighing just under 2800lbs), giving it very agile behavior.
This is not a car you drag around in. Getting a good roll-out on this car is hard, and the gearing is just too tall to get the car in the powerband where it needs to be. Take it to an autocross or a track, and the gearing seems to make more sense. This car was made to be driven around corners, and it does it well. It lacks a limited-slip differential, but with out an abundant amount of torque, it's not necessarily missed. Not to mention the grip in the car is phenomenal, and when running on high performance tires, the car is glued to the road.
I think one of my favorite things about this car is the way it responds when pushed to the limit. The car rarely has understeer - mostly when pushed hard through low speed corners - but simply let off the gas to reacquire the line you were looking for. Though high speed sweepers the car is neutral and pushed hard enough, the rear end will step out in an easy control drift. I've never seen a front-wheel drive car that could be pushed into oversteer so easily and intentionally.
If you have the option when looking for a Focus SVT, try to purchase 2003 or newer. Based on Consumer Reports (2005), the 2003 and 2004 models received almost perfect reliability ratings. And if you're wanting the car to actually drive it the way it was built and intended, I'd track down the European Appearance Package with the Dark Argent alloy wheels - but most importantly - the deep bucket Recaro seats. The Recaros offer much better side-bolstering than the standard SVT's seat, and the all black interior looks a little more upscale.
This car is a great all around car. It has excellent trunk space with the fold down rear seats (I can fit two bikes at least in the back of my Focus) and good fuel economy. It also offers an awesome chassis and suspension that can be used for the weekend track runs or autocrosses, without sacrificing everyday driveability.
Drive it, you'll most likely want to buy it. Also with Ford's bad resale value, you can pick up a used Focus SVT for cheap. Do some research and find average values, and you'll save a lot of money.