Tom Woodham tests the Ford Focus
This Focus works in perfect harmony as both a coupé and a cabriolet. And the extra touches – like a lockable bonnet – strike a chord with David Wilkins

Specifications

Price: £18,822
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 10.3 secs, 37.6 mpg
CO2: 179g/km
Worth considering: Peugeot 307 CC, Renault Megane CC, Volkswagen Eos

Until the Focus came along, I found it very difficult to get excited about Fords. Cast your mind back, if you are old enough, to the Seventies; then, Ford's offering in this bracket, the Escort, was a crude affair compared with the foreign competition. Alfa, for example, had the delightful Alfasud, with its sharp handling and zingy flat-four engine, while Citroë*'s Escort-sized contender, the GS, offered a fabulous hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension system as just one of a host of advanced features. Even Peugeot's more conservative 304 and 305 models impressed with their super-smooth aluminium-alloy engines and independent rear suspension.

Today, the picture looks different. In this category at least, Ford has closed, and perhaps even reversed, the gap in class between itself and some of those old rivals. The company has taken care to invest its cars with a bit of class, in particular by honing the chassis behaviour of models such as the Ka, the Mondeo and the Focus to a very high standard indeed. And while you still won't mistake the cabin of a Ford for that of an Audi, if you poke around a Focus you're more likely to come across some nice detailing than the sort of penny-pinching that was found on old-school blue oval models.

I was reminded of this when our reader Mike Silcock and I decided to have a look around under the bonnet of this week's Focus CC test car and discovered that it had a separate key-operated bonnet lock hiding behind the radiator badge, a feature that I had forgotten Ford had carried over from the first-generation Focus. Not only that but this convertible version had a fancy electrically-powered boot-closing mechanism; both are the sort of touches you'd normally expect to find on something a lot more expensive.

If I'm honest, I didn't much care for our test car's long-tailed styling, or its upholstery; as one of the few people in the country to have driven an early Proton Gen-2, I thought I'd encountered every conceivable variation on the colour beige but the Ford's seats proved me wrong with a particularly bright orangey shade. In most other respects, though, I was impressed – not least by the CC's prices, which are so much lower than those of the broadly comparable Volkswagen Eos.

Now if only Ford could find its way to making an ST version of the CC. As anyone who has driven a Focus ST knows, its five-cylinder Volvo-derived engine not only provides an awful lot of shove but sounds magnificent as well – just the thing for an open-topped car.

Tom Woodham, 32, management consultant, Sheffield
USUAL CARS: PORSCHE BOXSTER S AND SUBARU LEGACY 3.0R SPEC B

My initial reaction was that the car looked a lot bigger, with a huge rear end and very brash yellow seats. It isn't pretty, but it does look a lot better with the roof down. It handled well and was fun to drive on country roads, although even the 2.0-litre could do with a bit more power and the gearbox is crying out for a sixth! For anyone wanting four seats and a retractable hard-top, this is a very competitively priced option. But there were many features that would annoy me in day-to-day use, like having to separately raise the rear windows after putting the roof up. All in all, I didn't feel that I was driving something desirable.

Guy Consitt, 46, compliance officer, Wakefield
USUAL CARS: TOYOTA CRESTA SUPERLUCENT, SUZUKI ALTO

I'm not a fan of mainstream convertibles. Their limited uses for daily transport and the UK's changeable weather make them a strange choice. But the Focus altered my perception. It's an elegant, if not sexy, coupé without the roof down. But once the electric hard-top disappeared, it became a practical but stylish convertible. What sets it apart from the French and German oppositionis that it will seat four adults, and carry their luggage. I even loved the striking orange leather upholstery, although nobody else did. It's not a car that shouts "I am a poseur" – it has more class than that. Yes, I would consider one.

Mike Silcock, 42, engineer, Malham, North Yorkshire
USUAL CARS: SAAB 9-3 AERO, CITROEN PICASSO, SUZUKI SV1000S (MOTORBIKE)

For me, the coupé–cabriolet genre is a contradiction in terms and the result is the worst of both worlds, offering none of the design benefit of a two-door coupé or a ragtop cabriolet. As with all coupé–cabriolets, on side view it is difficult to tell the front from the back due to the unnaturally elongated boot, but with the top down I started to warm to the attractive little Pininfarina- designed body. The front looks purposeful with its chrome fog lights, and the cockpit is easy on the eye and well laid out. On the road the 2.0-litre petrol engine was an uninteresting experience, but hey, who buys one of these for its performance?

The Verdict

If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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