Ford Focus Econetic

The setup

Ordinarily I drive a mark 2 Skoda Octavia estate (07 plate, 2.0 TDI) which I rate extremely highly and may just be the perfect family car. According to Wikipedia, “Auto Express awarded to the second-generation Octavia the gold medal in their prestigious Driver Power top 100, stating that it is “the UK’s most satisfying car to own in 2007” and that it “has bettered every other car on sale in the UK”.

Of course this isn’t a review of my Skoda, but of the latest generation Ford Focus that I had for a week whilst the Skoda was in the garage for a new turbo (it’s done over 100k miles, but that’s still a bit early frankly). However the Octavia bears special mention because that’s what the Ford is up against in my affections and it’s a gold standard as far as I’m concerned. How does Ford’s finest fare?

The lovely people at St Albans Car and Van Hire gave us a silver 1.6 Focus Econetic, which is the super-eco version of the line-up. I say gave, but there were no favours here and we paid the going price. I find the technological push for frugality absolutely fascinating and I think that the car industry is going through a huge change in this decade, more so than any other in living memory, so I was fascinated to see what the Econetic version could do. I’m going to undermine my own limited review by linking to the What Car version, because it’s got the juicy details on the spec of the car, and it’s a great review regardless. The key facts however are: 1.6 litre diesel developing 104bhp with stop/start tech and only 88g/km emissions. There are various other tweaks to eek out the economy (eekonomy?) such as optimised gearing, active aero flap in the front grille etc.

Initial impressions

Credit where it’s due – it’s a sexy car. However I reserve a special distaste for silver cars and the people that buy them. Take a look in any car park these days and you’ll notice that it’s almost entirely monochrome, with silver especially popular amongst the imagination-challenged masses. Take the same look at a classic car rally and marvel at the wondrous palette! Rant over. It’s not Ford’s fault, though they do have form here – “any colour as long as it’s black”?

Ford Focus interior

Looks on the outside don’t entirely translate to the inside, which to me feels a touch cramped and surprisingly cheap to the touch. Hard plastics in the areas that you touch the most, rather than softer, more luxurious finishes. Various bits of trim were also coming away, though maybe that’s just hire cars for you. Still, the interior’s not bad and it wouldn’t especially stop me buying the car.

Eco awesome?

The engine and drivetrain is perhaps the most interesting part of this particular model. I’m the biggest fan of stop / start systems, which in this case automatically switches off the engine when at rest with the handbrake on and the clutch up. Imagine your favourite crowded city centre with centuries old road layout and traffic crawling through it. Now imagine the same but with all the engines switched off whilst the cars aren’t going anywhere. Breathe in the sweet, pure air! I rather suspect that in ten years, when perhaps the majority of cars on the road will sport this technology, the difference will be tangible and wonderful.

In the Focus it really does work seamlessly, with the engine firing up quickly when you depress the clutch,  which means that by the time you’ve got the hand brake off and are bringing the clutch back up again, everything’s ready to go. No fear of being left on the line. This is nitpicking of the highest order, but the one thing I did notice is that the diesel engine does a little Postman Pat’s van shudder as it dies and when it sparks into life. That’s physics for you, as rotating masses slow down and stop, but if they could make it disappear then the whole experience would be impressively refined.

I’m sure they can work on that slight shudder, but overall the engine is actually decidedly smoother than the agricultural 2.0 in my Skoda, which sounds like a tractor a lot of the time. That’s the one thing I’d fix if I had a magic wand. Really the Ford’s diesel is very smooth and just provides a whoosh of power without accompanying sound effects, and this for me was the biggest category-win in the battle. Don’t forget however that the Ford is 9 years newer than the Skoda model in question.

Refinement aside, the power may whoosh but it doesn’t dazzle. I found that first and second gear were great with plenty of point and squirt fun, but then performance fell off a cliff rather disappointingly. I suspect economy-oriented gearing here, not to mention the disadvantaged 104bhp vs 140 in the Skoda, though I still harbour a desire for the 170 of the vRS Octavia. That said, the lack of serious oomph wasn’t problematic and I’d have got used to it perfectly well. That 88g/km figure doesn’t come for free obviously and it does genuinely worry me that my great big usual diesel is choking the world with it’s particulate heavy exhaust. Still, no more big clouds of black smoke out of the back under acceleration with the new turbo now fitted!

Practicalities

It’s not an estate, but I’m still a bit surprised that Ford’s flagship everyman car doesn’t have more room and more of those nice little touches that I’ve been getting used to from Skoda, and Alfa before that. The boot is positively tiny if you ask me, but maybe I’ve been spoiled. I get the impression that with a space saver tyre you get more depth, and with no spare at all (just some plasters and a four-leaf clover) you gain quite a lot more. Ours had a full-size spare but peering underneath the car showed several inches of unused vertical space between the bottom of it’s well and the effective ‘floor’ of the car. I suppose this must be a packaging issue with the suspension, but it still seemed to me that it ought to be possible to drop that wheel space by four inches and make a massive gain and it seems like a win worth going after on the engineering front.

Conclusion

It’s a properly decent car and drives beautifully, with a surprisingly high-up driving position and great refinement of the power-train. Lack of urgency is mostly made up for by its eco credentials, though I didn’t have enough time to judge fuel economy. I get about 56mpg on long trips in the Skoda, which is pretty decent I reckon given the size of the engine, but the Ford claims 83mpg which would be stellar if true. If they could just amp-up the interior quality and thoughtfulness then as as long as you don’t require a large boot, this would be a hard car to fault.

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