I knew what I wanted initially: a small hatchback with good mpg and a manual trans. However, I never expected to like it this much. The old saying that its more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow... this car nails it. Driving around town I find this car more satisfying than my 400hp Mustang. Its reasonably peppy, doesn't have to be revved, and with the addition of a stiffer rear swaybar, the handling is a blast. Tons of room too. On one trip I managed 3 people and a 50" tv. On another, a full dresser. It's got 140k miles on it, so a few things are starting to go, but I'd say its held up incredibly well. Couldn't be happier with my purchase!
Bought this used on 3/31/09 w/58k miles for my eldest son to commute to college. I got it cheap after previous owner bought it damaged the prior fall - it was in a front-end collision; he did most of the repairs himself. Regardless, this car is solid! It's amazingly quick for a 4-banger. That's because it was sold in NY, so it has the 2.3L Duratec PZEV engine that produces 145 HP, as opposed to the weaker 2.0L engines that came with most 03 MY 'Foci'. Around the town gas mileage is OK-to-Very Good (21-24 MPG), but it's great on highway trips (up to 29 MPG). Also, it's very comfortable and fun/different to drive - maybe that's what others refer to as this car's "European" feel.
I really love this car - its fun to drive and very reliable. The only weird thing was that I had to have the (automatic) transmission replaced after only 25K (I bought it with 17K). Nobody - dealer or Ford - seems to know why this happened, but its been running fine ever since.
Just reaching the 140,000 mile mark, car has been very dependable and easy to maintain, and much MUCH cheaper to maintain than the 99 Civic i had before. My Focus has been used as a commuter car, sees a mix of highway and city miles and all four seasons (cold brutal winters) Had a few minor problems along the way, but it never left me stranded or cost a fortune to fix. I would recommend this car, it would be a great vehicle for a student because its reliable and economical.
I bought this affordable car brand new and put 86k miles on it. It really is a great, efficient vehicle but I started encountering problems around 60k. miles. Great car but not extremely reliable after 80k miles.