Scan for the name Ford Focus in your mental filing system and it's likely that a picture of the hatchback will pop up first.
Sure, Ford has been selling a sedan model right from the first generation, but it had the kind of design that really flew beneath the radar. The Focus has always offered an enjoyable drive, but for some reason the company always chose to hide the sedan version's talent beneath a Simon-the-salesman body shell.
That's surely why I found myself nodding my head in approval during the walk-around when this third-generation 2.0 TDCi four-door was delivered to our office. With its sloping roofline, taillights that sweep boldly into the rear fenders and short-but-shapely boot lid, I would even argue that it's more of a looker than the fussily-styled hatch.
It's hardly a revelation on the inside though, the dashboard sporting a rather generic design and those central phone buttons remind me of the cheap Nokia I had eight years ago. On the upside, it still imparts the feeling that Ford spent more on the surface materials than the Koreans and Japanese do, although it can't quite match that Richie Rich ambience and touchy-feely elegance you'd enjoy in a Golf.
Ford has also been a little stingy on the equipment front. Look, I'm sure most of us can live without things like dual zone climate control, automatic headlights and leather seat trim but I'd feel a bit short-changed if laying out R285 300 for a non-premium-brand car without these niceties.
I would imagine that Ford is trying to prevent the bill from shocking you like a five-star dinner in Clifton as this model does have two rather expensive pieces of equipment beneath the surface - a powerful turbodiesel engine and a sophisticated twin-clutch Powershift gearbox.
In theory these would mean an excellent combination of performance, economy and comfort - just what I needed for a trip to the Harrismith area that I'd planned during this test period.
With three adults packed in and the spacious 421 litre boot crammed with all the necessary supplies and implements for a Bulls Party in the bush, the Focus was a peach on the highway, ticking over quietly at around 120km/h. It sipped 6.3 litres per 100km over the 600km journey, which is reasonable but not particularly impressive for a diesel.
On the short stint off the highway, the updated 2-litre turbodiesel engine, with 120kW and 340Nm on tap, pulled briskly when called on to overtake and the gearbox, whether on the open road or in town, provided instant and smooth cog swops.
I found that regardless of whether you're accelerating briskly or cruising gently, it works best in the default 'D' position - there is a sportier 'S' mode but it holds the gears for too long after you've let some pressure off the throttle.
This Focus also shows a slight lack of finesse when pulling off from a standstill. There is a bit of lag and if you really stomp the pedal, you actually get a bit of torque steer once the turbo's spooling.
Talking of the steering, this is one area where I believe the Focus stands above its rivals. Not only is the car as agile and grippy as the best in this class, but the steering also offers brilliant feedback and gives you a true feel of what's going on at the front wheels.
Thanks to Ford's fully independent Control Blade multilink rear suspension, it gives a comfy ride too - regardless of the surface.
Our road trip also included a small stretch of harsh dirt road and we were all impressed by the way the suspension soaked up the bumps and how the NVH engineering kept the cabin quiet (well, as serene as it could have been with us in the car).
This Focus has a quiet and refined overall feel and is perfectly cut out for long-distance journeys - even if it isn't exactly the epitome of practicality. Although our back seat passenger never complained about a lack of legroom (albeit he did treat it like a bed for much of the journey back), sitting behind my driving position afterwards, I did notice that it has a bit less legroom than the bigger cars in this price bracket.
Another small nit-pick is that Ford didn't finish painting the inside part of the boot lid top - I'd expect more attention to detail at this level.
Which brings us back to the price. Yes, this sedan is unique in its class by offering the only 'biggish' diesel engine that you can get with an automatic shifter and it's also the most powerful among the C-segment herd but R280K is a lot of money for a Focus, and especially one that's lacking in standard kit.
It still appears to be the best option amongst its peers though.
2.0 TDCi Trend Powershift - R285 320
Chevrolet Cruze 2.0D LT (110kW) - R277 300
Toyota Corolla 2.0 D-4D Advanced (93kW) - R261 800
VW Jetta 1.6 TDI Comfortline DSG (77kW) - R274 000
VW Jetta 2.0 TDI Highline (103kW) - R297 200
Volvo S40 D2 DRIVe (84kW) - R294 500