Many will point to Alan Mulally and the “mortgage years” as the period during which Ford initiated its product renaissance. In my opinion, it started years before that—1998, to be exact—with the debut of the Mk1 Focus. The replacement for the decent-but-not-great Escort, the Focus charmed the automotive press, offering sophistication and refinement that had previously been exclusive to more expensive compact offerings. Volkswagen, at the time still building Jettas and Golfs on a chassis featuring a twist-beam rear suspension, took notice too, and decided to hire away some Ford suspension engineers to help them develop the rear multi-link setup found on Mk5 and newer compact Vee-Dubs.
In the U.S., those who normally disparaged anything domestic went to great lengths to downplay the excellent compact’s European heritage. “Just another F.O.R.D.,” they’d say. “Yeah, it has a neat suspension. So does the Neon.”