Safest bet yet for £750 Stake
There are some things money just can't buy - and there are plenty of others that are more than worth having that don't cost very much.
Among them is the Driver Assistance Package on the new Ford Focus, which cynics might suggest is just another way of getting car buyers to shell out £750.
But the hard-nosed world of business reckons it's money so well spent that the Association of Car Fleet Operators has just named the package its Fleet Safety Initiative of the Year and the Focus its car of the year.
This package from Ford is brilliant. It lets you know when you stray out of your lane, has a camera that reads speed limit signs and puts them above the speedometer, turns on the wipers, turns on and off the main beam, lets you know when things are in your blind spot that you may not have seen, puts the brakes on if you are about to crash, and even warns if it detects excessive driver fatigue.
The Focus, of course, already has a fine reputation as a driver's car. It's one you can enjoy any time you have to go on a journey, whether it's for work or pleasure. And with Ford's clever package of electronic gizmos you'll enjoy it even more. In fact this package is so good that insurers should reduce premiums if you buy it, just as they do for good alarms on expensive cars. It's going to save them a fortune in claims.
Naturally, I had to put this all to a scientific test, so I did it courtesy of a sparkling black (well it was metallic paint) Ford Focus Titanium X 1.6 TDCi Stop Start estate. This, of course, has all the bells and whistles you can think of, and quite a few you can't, allied to 50 mpg real world economy in a car that is zippy and feels real value for money.
Those bits of electronic wizardry are genuine driver aids and so much more useful than features like built-in sat nav. If I had the choice of buying something to tell me where to go or spending the same money on devices that tell me I going to crash if I'm not careful it's the safety devices that win the argument. Now we have the technology, why ignore it when it does such a brilliant job? After a few weeks of ownership, I'll guarantee you'll wonder how you managed without it.
The Focus estate has up to 1,500 litres of load space and a ride quality that would be impressive on much bigger cars. It looks like a Mondeo that's downsized and, as downsizing is what we all seem to be doing these days, it's not going to disappoint drivers who want a smaller car that's still big on equipment. Maurice Hardy
We have both a car and motorhome that feature automated manual gearboxes so using the clutch pedal is a bit of a novelty these days.
But even having to make manual gear swaps on the Ford Focus estate was no hardship because the clutch pedal is not stiff and the gear lever moves easily whether you are moving up or down the box.
The good thing about the TDCi engine is that although it's a 1.6 litre with 115 bhp it has plenty of urge and you don't have to work your way round the gearbox too often once you're cruising. At 70 mph, the car settles down to 2,000 rpm in sixth gear and feels happy to stay there all day.
Open the tailgate, not power assisted but not heavy, and there's a well shaped load space with a load cover that runs on rails and doesn't flop about as you use it. A case of putting the focus on detail if ever there was one. Annette Hardy
Car: Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Titanium X Start-Stop estate
Does it fit your ego... 0-62 mph: 11.1 secs Top speed: 109 mph Bhp: 115 Torque: 199 - 210 lb ft
...and your wallet... Price: £22,345 Urban: 55.4 mpg Extra urban: 76.4 mpg Combined: 67.3 mpg CO2 emissions: 109 g/km Insurance Group: 15
Best bits: feels like a big car; drives like a small one; frugal.