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Ford Focus ECOnetic 1.6 TDCi 110 5-door

Click to view picture galleryAt a time when British motorists
  need to make every drop of fuel
  count, Ford has introduced
its new Focus ECOnetic models.
  Two questions: How ‘green’
  is it? And should you be rushing
  out to buy one?

FIRST THE BAD NEWS: With fuel prices at an all-time high and not likely to get any cheaper, and with ever increasing tax for higher CO2 emitting vehicles, playing the 'green' card makes more and more sense.

Two recent surveys in the Daily Telegraph showed that UK motorists are changing their motoring habits. Survey one showed that fuel sales to motorists had dropped by 20 per cent — even before the recent cut in supplies due to industrial action. The second survey showed that 60 per cent of motorists are currently using their cars less.

In addition we know new and used car sales are stalling and dealers and manufacturers are feeling the pinch. There is the threat of job losses in the industry if the recession grows and, to make it even worse, the transport strikes in Spain, Portugal and France are disrupting supplies of vehicles and parts to this country. So all-in-all it isn't good news.

Now the good news: With high fuel prices and low availability, the growth in the number of Eco models available to new car buyers is timely. Volkswagen has been peddling their BlueMototion 'eco' variants for some time, Audi have theirs as do Fiat, SEAT, Skoda and Ford to name but a few. BMW, of course, has to be applauded most because their EfficientDynamics programme (which reduces CO2 emissions) provides better mpg and more power and is standard on virtually all their models — not just a few variants.

Now whether these 'eco' models really do show an improvement over their standard model counterparts in real-life motoring conditions is debatable. Where they do have a real benefit is in their sub 121g/km CO2 rating so road tax is only 35 instead of 120 a year. However, it is likely that would-be 'eco' model buyers will have paid more for their new car than would a customer buying a standard version with the same engine size.

I rather get the feeling that these limited 'eco' models are more to do with manufacturers' environmental marketing gestures than really achieving tangible fuel and CO2 savings in every one of their models like BMW has done.

Take, for example, the new Ford Focus — Britain's best selling car for every one of its ten years in production. As a C-segment family car, hatchback, saloon, estate or coupe-cabriolet in the volume sector it ticks all the right boxes. It is the right size, it is the best in its sector for driving dynamics, it's attractive, it's safe and the range has a wide variety of engine options with prices to suit most people's pockets.

Playing the 'green' card, Ford has now introduced Focus ECOnetic variations to capitalize on the growing demand for low CO2-emitting family cars. They also have non-ECOnetic diesel models which are also sub 121g/km anyway, but it is important for marketing activities to be seen to have stand-out 'greener' versions.

The Focus ECOnetic models all have 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCi diesel engines with the option of 89 or 108bhp power outputs with CO2 levels starting from 114g/km. Buyers have a choice of five-door hatchback and estate body styles. ECOnetic models have their own specific level of specification that positions them between the mainstream Studio/Style and Zetec/Titanium models. ECOnetic models are priced from 16,050 — around 250 more than equivalent 1.6 TDCi Style models.

In July (2008), Ford will introduce a 123bhp sub-140g/km Ford Mondeo ECOnetic 1.8 TDCi five-door hatch and estate. ECOnetic versions of the new Fiesta will be launched in 2009.

It was ironic, then, that my week-long experience with the very new Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic 108bhp five-door hatchback involved me and my wife taking a week's holiday in Cornwall. Ironic because Ford officially launched the Focus ECOnetic to the public at the Eden Project in Cornwall, home of the Sexy Green Car Show in May this year. It was also ironic because I was in Cornwall when the Shell fuel delivery drivers strike took place and many of the garages in that part of the UK just happen to be Shell outlets.

Luckily for me the Focus ECOnetic used less than half a tank of fuel to get to my destination so if the worst came to the worst I'd still have enough in the tank to get home. Despite long queues at the petrol stations I did manage to top up the tank just to be sure of making the 220-mile trip back home again.

With the Ford ECOnetic you pay a shade more — around 250 — to buy the car over a standard Style version. The CO2 emissions for the 1.6-litre TDCi diesel engines are all below 120g/km, be they ECOnetic or not. ECOnetic models officially return about three mpg better fuel economy in the combined cycle than the standard units. So all these diesel engines only cost 35 a year in road tax and all could be exempt from the London Congestion Charge from October this year unless Boris changes the rules.

So is there really a point in buying Ford's first branded 'green' car? For the performance of fuel saving and with only marginally lower CO2 levels over conventional 1.6 TDCi variants, probably not. The point with the ECOnetic badging is that it's largely about the driver displaying their 'green' credentials; and it is a message from Ford saying we too produce new 'greener' models to meet customer demands.

On the subject of fuel economy, the official average consumption for my test car is 65.6mpg with 115g/km of CO2 emissions. Now we all know these official figures are recorded in a rolling road-equipped emissions test centre and usually bear no resemblance to real life conditions, but as long as the car has an official sub-121g/km CO2 rating you will only pay 35 in road tax no matter how you drive it.

In practise my test Focus ECOnetic 1.6-litre TDCi 108bhp five-door hatch, with two people in the car and some luggage, returned 51.2mpg on the motorway to Cornwall; 47.8mpg over 300 miles travelling around Cornish country lanes and roads; and 49.2mpg heading back home up the M5 motorway. The car was driven at legal speeds throughout with no undue hard acceleration. I did manage to get the Focus ECOnetic to achieve 62.2mpg for about 10 miles whilst really trying to see how fuel efficient it could be driven very carefully.

In truth, these figures are about the same as non-ECOnetic Focus 1.6 TDCi models, so it's all about sending out that 'green' message — there are no advantages in real life motoring conditions. How you drive, how much weight you have in the car, the correct tyre pressures and having the air conditioning off, all of these have much greater affects on the mpg your car will return.

Ford's Focus ECOnetic models start at 16,050 but my five-door hatchback 1.6 TDCi 110 (108bhp) version cost 16,550 — but then add in a few 'must have' options, heated front screen, perimeter alarm, metallic paint, navigation system, rear park assist and Bluetooth pack and the price was a steep 18,425.

As standard, Focus ECOnetic models come with an electronic stability programme, air conditioning, front fog lights, Ford's clever EasyFuel capless refuelling system, front, side and curtain airbags, immobiliser with remote locking, anti-lock brakes, electric front windows, power and heated door mirrors.

ECOnetic tweaks include improved aerodynamics with the body lowered, a modified front bumper skirt, engine cover and rear spoiler. The cars have modified engine mapping, low-rolling resistance tyres and the transmission uses low-viscosity oil.

There is really not too much more that can be said about the latest Focus models. They look classier with their sharper 'kinetic' design lines, they are the right size for a mass-produced family car with plenty of room for five passengers and their luggage, the headroom is fine for tall people, generally the build quality is good, there is a wide engine choice and they are probably the best handling cars in the sector. Oh yes, and generally the prices are OK as well although residual values are lower than for some of its competitors simply because there are so many second-hand Focus cars for sale.

The ECOnetic Focus is perhaps not as sharp in the handling department because of the low-rolling resistance tyres and lowered suspension. The tyres seem very hard; they create a lot of road noise and they unsettle the ride. The aerodynamic tweaks seem to have increased the wind noise as well, so overall the 'green' Focus is not as accomplished as its 'standard' stablemates.

The engine, despite its tuning for fuel economy, is still a lively and flexible performer but offers no real advantages in fuel economy savings or significantly reduced CO2 levels over the standard 1.6-litre TDCi turbodiesel engine. Neither is the ride/handling of the 'greener' models as good as that of the standard cars.

I think the sensible customer will stick with the standard Focus five-door hatch fitted with a normal 1.6 CDTi engine — it's slightly cheaper in Style specification level, has the same 35 road tax rating, handles better, has a more comfortable ride and is just as fuel efficient under real-life motoring conditions. — David Miles

Ford Focus ECOnetic 1.6 TDCi 110 5-door
| 16,550
Maximum speed: 119mph | 0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47.8/51.2mpg | Power: 108bhp | Torque: 177lb ft
CO2 115g/km