I have recently purchased the Ford Focus XR5 or ST as it is in Europe/UK.
I bought this car after much deliberation, needing something that was practical enough for day to day use, and would still be a bit interesting to drive without being tiresome in traffic.
With this criteria in mind, I decided that a decent size naturally aspirated or otherwise turbo engine was most likely required. I tested the 350z, which was a bit cramped, then tried a Vauxhall/Holden VXR, which I found a little underwhelming. Sure the power was there, but it was conspicuously turbocharged and noticeably ran out of pull after 5000rpm. I also found the four cylinder note (although it was not bad) a bit "farty". It was after this that I decided a four cylinder was not the way to go.
Not wanting a Skyline, Audi S4, BMW or other six cylinder available, it was almost an accident that I came across the Focus.
Suffice to say it ticked all the right boxes, the engine sounds refined at low revs and has the most lovely 5 cylinder growl when you get stuck into it. It revs out across the range with power seeming to build in a linear fashion with the revs.
The interior is not bad, although I would only have bought one with leather since it lifts the car a few notches on the luxury and aesthetic scale. It is practical, handles well and has a range of inexpensive options to increase power should you feel the need.
After a wait to find the right car, I purchased a 2007 LS model in black with leather. Although I have only had it a week, I am not disappointed a bit with my choice.
I can see that I will probably modify it a bit to get reliable and safe 300hp/400+nm. From my reading, this should only need an intercooler upgrade and ECU flash (approx $2200AUD for both). Once that is done, I can't imagine wanting for anything else in a daily driver.
If you're in the market for something practical, but with a lot of character, good power and good road oriented handling, try the Focus XR5/ST.