THERE were many raised eyebrows, mumbled murmurings and looks of utter disbelief the day Ford announced that the Escort was being discontinued.
But, in its place came the Ford Focus and with 20 years of sales under its belt, it's proved itself to be a very worthy replacement.
In those two decades the car has evolved considerably, but Ford claims its all-new fourth generation car, designed from a clean sheet of paper, is the ‘best ever' and that's quite a bold statement to make.
Taking on board plenty of customer feedback, the latest Focus looks bigger than its predecessor but the growth spurt is rather deceptive with just an 18mm increase in the length and a wheelbase extended by 53mm.
But the interior is roomier as a result and that translates into extra space for passengers. In fact, two six footers can comfortably sit one behind the other without any complaints and back seat passengers now have glass to look through instead of a metal panel.
The new line-up boasts seven variants and is priced from Â£17,930 for the entry-level Style. That's a price-drop of Â£2,300 compared to the outgoing model.
The most popular trim levels of Zetec and ST-Line also get a price-drop and there are new ST-Line X, Titanium, Titanium X and Vignale models priced from £25,450 to complete the initial Focus range.
And the choice of powertrains is equally impressive with a raft of petrol and diesel engines to choose from.
The ever-popular three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine is available with three different outputs 85ps, 100ps and 125ps. And there is an all-new 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine delivering 150ps or 182ps.
Diesel fans are well catered for via a new 1.5-litre EcoBlue engine delivering 95ps or 120ps along with a 2.0-litre 150ps unit. Buyers also get to choose which transmission they want with six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes available.
The new Focus looks stunning from any approach. It has more aggressive styling, but isn't a muscle car so will impress those who want plenty of street cred without scaring away its more traditional and loyal fanbase.
New design cues include a larger, yet instantly recognisable grille sitting between the horizontally biased headlamps, which like the tail lights, are positioned as wide as possible to accentuate the cars width and sporty prowess. Also the ‘FOCUS' badging is positioned in large individual satin letters between the rear lights.
Move inside and there is a clutter-free feel to the Focus. In fact, there are 50 per cent fewer buttons which is a direct result from the customer feedback.
But there is a wealth of on-board technology to explore. The slimmer and lower console looks neater, the dashboard is more forward facing and there is genuinely a more premium feel to the car.
We tried a couple of models on a road route that incorporated busy city centre driving, motorways and country lanes.
First up was the Titanium X model powered by the 1.0-litre 125ps EcoBoost petrol engine (EcoBoost is likely to account for 83 per cent of sales).
This car, which featured a six-speed manual gearbox, was priced at £22,820 but some optional extras bumped it up to £26,495.
It could sprint from 0-62mph in 10.0 seconds, maxed out at 124mph and could deliver a combined 57.6mpg with carbon emissions of 111g/km.
Comfort levels within the car are excellent and it's easy to find a good driving position with ample seat and steering wheel adjustment on offer. The pedals also line up perfectly.
One new feature to the Focus is a head up display and this was a nice addition with ample height, brightness and readout adjustments on offer.
Our car also boasted a Bang & Olufsen 10-speaker, 675-watt sound system (a £350 option), which when pumped up just a few notches will result in people hearing you long before the car turns a corner.
The eight-inch floating touchscreen is nice and clear, and smartphone connection is a simple process via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The new Focus offers an enhanced ride and driving experience thanks to improvements to the suspension and chassis. The car is beautifully balanced when cornering meaning it can be driven enthusiastically into tight bends and the cabin is well insulated against any engine, road surface or wind noise.
Three drive modes called Normal, Eco and Sport alter the way the car handles and are easy to toggle between.
We also sampled the all-new Focus ST-Line model powered by the 1.5-litre 120ps diesel engine, once again mated to a six-speed manual box.
This car was priced at £22,500 (increased to £24,600 with options) and could complete the 0-62mph dash in 10.0 seconds and maxed out at 122mph.
But the truly impressive stats are found in the running costs with combined fuel economy of 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of just 97g/km.
This model featured the sportier styling cues such as a larger rear spoiler, a unique ST-Line upper and lower grille with body-styling and ST-Line wing badges and polished twin tailpipes.
The interior is more dynamic in its styling with a flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching, along with alloy pedals and the car's performance perfectly matches the athletic appearance.
There is sports tuned suspension which feels firmer, but also more confident when pushed hard into bends. And although the performance figures are similar to the more ‘sensible' Titanium X car that we tested, it felt much quicker.
Ford has announced that the Focus will be available with a new FordPass Connect system. This app-based service, that works in tandem with an on-board modem, means the car can be locked, unlocked and even started from a mobile phone.
But it's not all gimmicks as you can use your smartphone to check fuel levels, tyre pressures, find the vehicle's location, look for parking spaces (with prices), get live traffic reports and connect up to 10 devices via Wi-Fi from up to 15 metres from the vehicle.
Drivers of an automatic Focus can even start the car via the app so it begins the defrosting process in winter.
This service is free for two years then costs ranging from Â£89 for the modem and Â£60 for live traffic alerts come into force - if wanted.
The Focus is a vital car for Ford and is more often than not only beaten in the UK sales charts by the Fiesta.
So to keep up with demand from customers looking for more space or height, the company has announced that an estate version of the Focus will arrive in the UK in October/November with an Active Crossover model following in December/January.