REMEMBER those promises you made to yourself as a teenager?
Simple things like insisting you'd have a job that would let you travel the world while making you rich, retiring to a beach home by age 35 and always driving something with a Porsche or Ferrari badge on the bonnet?
When reality set in for me I modified my automotive promises somewhat. No exotic supercars (just yet) but at least I guaranteed I'd never own anything with an automatic gearbox or wagon body, and I'd not opt for a mass market brand like Ford or Toyota when I could shop for cooler marques on the used market, like an old Jaguar, air-cooled VW or Saab (don't judge me).
Who cares if such things are old, unreliable and totally impractical, I was never going to be a sheep.
Twenty years on and it's clear I don't stick to my promises. Over that period I've owned a Ford and a couple of Toyotas, bought five cars with auto gearboxes and am now on my seventh wagon. Oops.
As we mature - or at least get older - a bit of wisdom inevitably creeps in. And so it is with cars. Around 15 years ago, when the Ford Focus badge was a newbie on the market, it was near the top of my Most Banal Cars list. My place of work at the time used them as fleet cars and I begrudgingly drove one most days, appalled by the small Ford's beigeness, but secretly respecting its abilities, comfort and reliability.
Today, in my dotage, the Focus just looks like bloody good sense to me, and having tested the latest LZ Focus in Sport trim, I'm in little doubt it's one of the most convincing small cars on our market.
Attractive, well-equipped, punchy engine, comfortable and an agile thing to punt along your favourite back roads. As a dad of two these days, it would probably fit into my life perfectly. My teenage self would be appalled.
The revised Focus range arrived in Australia a few months ago, the line-up (bar the sporting ST and incoming RS rocket ship) all powered by Ford's 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine.
Voice activated SYNC2 connectivity also arrived as standard, as did sat nav and rear view camera for the whole range. Interestingly, Ford Australia has ditched a diesel variant from the Focus range (poor sales) and dropped the entry-level Ambiente model to focus on better specced cars.
Cheapest entry into a Focus Hatch these days is the Trend at $23,390, while I tested the mid-range Sport (Titanium is the range topper) which appeals more to the likes of me still after some verve from their family cars.
It includes Sports suspension, a body styling kit, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloys and cabin treats such as dual zone climate control, sports seats and leather steering wheel. This model retails for $26,490 before on-roads, with an auto transmission adding a very fair $1000 extra to the bill.
The eagle-eyed will notice the new Focus exterior style which reflects the One Ford global design language, meaning it embraces the characteristics of the current Fiesta and Mondeo range. No bad thing as although the styling is quite safe in its execution, it is edgy enough and there's a nice dose of sportiness with this model's front and rear extensions, side skirts and quite sizeable rear spoiler.
The cabin features some interesting angles - not least the sharply curved dash top - and the layout is very user-friendly. In this Sport model the leather steering wheel is nice in the hands, the charcoal black sports seats firm but look hard-wearing, and the 8-inch colour touchscreen takes care of the bulk of the controls, leaving the centre console far cleaner than the Focus of old.
Rear space is as expected for a small passenger car, with ample headroom for six-footers, and fair leg space if the front seat occupants don't get greedy. Boot space is a not great 316-litres (a VW Golf for example gives you 380-litres), but on the whole the Focus should serve most small families well as an everyday proposition.
Where the Focus really impresses is its all-round drive. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo is a flexible little thing, sitting happily and quietly on motorway journeys, or offering plenty of low-down kick when zipping through town or pulling out of junctions. There's a decent note to the four-cylinder too if you open it up and play in the higher rev range.
It's not a quick car per say (that's reserved for the Focus ST and arriving-soon RS version), but for most applications offers ample shove. Perhaps the Sport name is a tad misleading as there's no extra performance from this model over the entry-level Focus, and although the auto gearbox (a standard torque converter version which replaces the last Focus' twin-clutch auto) is very well matched to the motor, a Sport model as this would really benefit from some paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The Focus absorbs bumps and imperfections well, is a peaceful cruiser that feels very well built, and with the Sports suspension as here it is a satisfying thing to throw around back roads. Nicely balanced with a good dose of fun, it should please the more enthusiastic driver who still enjoys a nicely sorted chassis mated to a responsive drivetrain.
So despite my reservations for such cars in my formative years, I'll admit that living with a Focus these days would be very easy to do.
It's a cracking all-rounder that has progressed markedly with its mid-life revamp, and deserves its place as Ford's global best seller.
Model: Ford Focus Sport Hatch.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatchback.
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost turbo generating maximum power of 132kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 240Nm @ 1600rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (as tested). Six-speed manual is standard.
Consumption: 6.2-litres/100km (combined).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $27,490 (Sport automatic).
What matters most
What we liked: Good looking, feels well built and reflects this with a comfortable quiet ride, decent shove from the engine, agility in corners, infotainment.
What we'd like to see: Steering wheel paddles with the auto gearbox, better fuel economy, less firm seats.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/100,000km warranty, services are every 12 months/15,000km with capped-price servicing.