The second or third car I've ever driven was a 2005 Focus, and its brilliant steering and handling spoiled me to pretty much any economy car made since -- and a lot of others. Weighting, feedback and response is simply exceptional, and opting for the boxy wagon costs you none of that.
The Focus wagon has 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 74 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. This translates to a huge amount of space. I've moved twice in this car and appreciated the volume very much.
My average fuel economy is in the low 30s when I measure it manually, and an aftermarket trip computer reports 40+ mpg on the highway and mid-20s in town.
Front seat support & comfort
The first-generation Focus has great seats -- cushy, well-bolstered, and high off the floor.
Price or payments
The first-generation Focus saw steadily increasing discounts over the years, topping out with my 2007. The Focus SE -- mid-level overall, but the cheapest wagon -- includes standard a/c; power windows, locks and mirrors; and a roof rack on the wagon. On the wagon, that was a sticker price of $16,790; my car adds the $225 Convenience Group (cruise control and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel) and the $350 Safety Package (antilock brakes and side airbags), bringing its original sticker to $17,365. (This car did not include the $475 SE Sport Group package, which would have brought alloy wheels, a tachometer, fog lights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.)The first owner presumably got generous rebates, and I paid $6,900 four years later.
To be clear, I don't have a problem with the way my car looks, especially from the front. But especially when painted in this shade of Tannish Blah...forgive me, "Pueblo Gold," and when wearing the Walmart wheel covers the used car dealer installed, styling was clearly never the priority in sculpting this car. It never turned me off for a second, and I'd honestly rather have a sensible-looking car anyway, but I fully acknowledge there's a reason that most Focus buyers headed for the sedan or hatchback.
Materials & workmanship
The Focus has a lot of sophistication in its ride and handling, but that's missing from the cabin. The "light pebble" beige cloth seats are nicely trimmed, but the cabin is pretty basic otherwise. The design is ho-hum and the plastics are cheap. A CD bin next to the driver's left knee occasionally pops itself open even when it's empty and will probably need to be taped shut at some point.
Engine noise, wind noise, road noise -- it's all oldish-economy-car standard.
Reliability & durability
The Focus had a terrible launch from a reliability perspective, but selling the car with relatively few changes over the next eight years meant lots of time to iron things out. I've had only a few very minor reliability issues with the car in the last three years, though it was diagnosed with bad engine mounts when I got it -- repaired by the dealer for free.
It's notable that because you can buy a much newer used Focus than you can most other small cars, it's going to have that much more life in it. A Civic may have better reliability ratings for the same year, but you're not getting a 2007 Civic for the price of a 2007 Focus.
Driving position & visibility
You sit high in the Focus and, especially in the wagon, have a great view in all directions.