The worry for Ford ’s rivals is that, even when equipped with the more basic torsion-beam rear axle, a strong case could still be made for the Focus being the best-handling car in its class.

As it stands, with the ST-Line’s fully independent rear axle and our test car’s optional three-mode adaptive dampers, in dynamic terms this is as sophisticated as the fourth-generation model gets, and it feels that way.

In the fourth-generation Focus, Ford’s managed to improve the car’s functionality without compromising dynamic appeal. Indeed, it’s as good to drive as it’s ever been

The ride is taut but supple with it, and superbly well controlled when asked to moderate quick-fire inputs. Meaningful traces of suspension float or any acquaintance with the bump-stops require a level of commitment at odds with the only moderately sporting brief, and until that point the vertical movements are metered out in clinical fashion.

Anybody coming from the more laid-back confines of a Volkswagen Golf might find the suspension of this sports chassis a fraction immediate on A- and B-roads, but for Autocar readers a fine balance has been struck. After the relative disappointment of the previous iteration – fidget-prone suspension and abrupt damping being the guilty parties – this new Focus goes a long way to reaffirming the brilliance of the 1998 original, albeit without the same communicative steering.

Such a finely tuned set-up will be lost on many owners – though nobody could fail to notice how fluid this car’s motorway gait is with the dampers in their most relaxed setting – but there is genuine dynamic satisfaction in abundance for the rest of us.

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This is no more evident than in the way the Ford Focus replicates the cornering stability of cars with longer wheelbases, covering ground in effortless fashion, but can then entertain like little else in this class. Turn in on a trailing brake and the chassis will pivot with surprising grace before any yaw is gathered up by the electrically assisted (overly so, we’d say) but quick and accurate steering.

Milder direction changes are otherwise a satisfyingly crisp affair, and the Focus is never anything less than an enjoyable steer.

In conditions far from ideal on Millbrook’s tortuously undulating Hill Route – patches of damp and temperatures only a mite above freezing – our Focus demonstrated the kind of composure you would expect from the best-handling car in its class. Body movements were marshalled well enough with the adaptive dampers in their default mid-way setting, though upping the rates in Sport mode introduced an additional veneer of composure.

The Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres developed appreciable grip, though there were few surprises when it ran out – without the benefit of a limited-slip differential, the Focus edged benignly into understeer most of the time. The ESP software can’t be fully disabled, however, which is perhaps because this chassis will oversteer with surprising enthusiasm should you provoke it.