I just read all the pages too. In spite of it all, I'll probably go buy a 2013 SE hatchback during this upcoming week.
I had a 99 Contour SVT which was just wrecked by another driver and need a new car. I was going to get rid of the SVT anyway. I have had a base model 2012 focus sedan for two weeks as a rental and have driven just about just about every small hatchback there is out there over the past several months.
Even with drum brakes, the rental focus is fun to drive. When it starts to understeer in a hard turn, I just lift off the throttle and the rear end comes right around. I'm used to a much stiffer cSVT, but the focus should scoot pretty well with some good sticky tires and maybe a cold air intake.
So, do you guys with a manual transmission find that it is easy to heel-and-toe downshift? I'm going to drive the 5 speed tomorrow or monday but would love some feedback on pedal placement for heel/toe downshifting from anyone who has lived with it for a while.
Be safe out there.