First DriveThis eco-friendly version of the Focus emits just 88g/km of CO2, but its price premium is hard to justify
First DriveThis electric Focus lives up to the promise of affordable, reliable and enjoyable motoring
What is it?
This is the latest Ford Focus Econetic, an eco car that doesn’t want to look like it’s trying too hard. Wrapped in the skin of a standard high-spec Focus Focus Zetec, with all the trimmings including sports seats and a spoiler, the new car builds on the current Econetic’s green credentials with a number of new technologies to hammer the emissions down even further to 104g/km for the standard car and 99g/km with stop-start.
Developed with Bosch, this is the first start-stop system to be used by Ford. It is mated to a beefed-up starter motor for reliability and quick ignition, and comes with a small auxillary battery that stabilises the car’s electrics when the engine is switched on and off.
Ford admits its estimate of a 0.5 per cent take up of stop-start from the overall Focus sales (three per cent including non-stop-start) is conservative, but it is being coy about the technology. Ultimately this will be a test bed to gauge public reaction, and if successful it could find its way onto other models across the range.
Also appearing on the Focus Econetic is Smart Regenerative Charging, which increases the alternator output when the vehicle brakes or decelerates, recharging the battery. Low Tension FEAD (Front End Accessory Drive) features a redesigned alternator bracket and a new belt pulley design, helping to reduce tension, and thus friction on the belt, improving fuel consumption.
Improved fuel injectors and an air intake system further enhance efficiency. A lowered ride height (10mm at the front and 8mm at the back) and blanking plates to improve aerodynamics are carried over from the previous Focus Econetic.
With the serious stuff taken care of, Ford has also embarked on a spot of in-car horticulture. Aimed at teaching us the art of green driving, the new Ford Eco Mode system measures driving behaviour in three parameters - gearchange, anticipation and motorway driving - and rewards the driver’s efforts with petals on a digital readout within the instrument panel. The more efficient the driving, the more petals will grow, with a maximum of five possible.
What’s it like?
Like a Ford Focus - and that’s the point. Ford wants this to be an environmentally friendly car without compromise, and in many respects that’s exactly what it is. Everything about this car begs you to drive smoothly and sedately, and at responsible speeds around town it has enough urge to keep up with other traffic, even with the obsessive shift light blinking earlier than you expect.
The taller gearing in third, fourth and fifth is barely noticeable and the Michelin Energy Saver 195/65 R15 tyres give a little pliancy to the well judged ride.
Taking just 0.3sec to resuscitate the engine at the lights, the start-stop system is only notable for its lack of drama. It is noticeable when the engine is cold, however, but less so when up and running.
Gimmicky as it may be, the Eco Mode turns out to be an effective device to inject a bit of fun into economical driving. It steers the mind away from thoughts of wringing every last rev out of the 1.6 in a fit of frustration.
The best we managed was three petals apiece for gearchanging and motorway driving and four for anticipation (which is signified by a little set of binoculars on the readout), although there was talk of complete flowers being created on the launch. Perhaps the imagery could be a little less twee but it does actually work, although sometimes to the point of distraction.
A mixture of roads around Nice didn’t allow us to reach the claimed 74.2mpg combined fuel economy, but an indicated 62mpg is nothing to be sniffed at, and more petals would no doubt have improved that figure further. When tested in the UK, the figure dropped under 60mpg in heavy London traffic but was in line with our original findings.
The rest is standard Focus Zetec stuff, with a blend of practicality and driver engagement that has kept this hatchback hovering around the top of its class for years.
Should I buy one?
Just as it’s hard to ignore it’s obvious ability, it’s hard also to ignore its one major fault – the price. Ford’s UK price hikes have received a lot of scrutiny in recent months, so it’d be wrong to overlook the list price of the Econetic next to the obvious and competent competition. A five-door VW Golf Bluemotion weighs in more than £1500 less, while a Seat Leon Ecomotive should cost around £3500 less when it goes on sale in the spring.
The price shouldn’t detract too much from what is a very capable car. But in the face of equally efficient and impressive competition in a very competitive segment, the Econetic doesn’t quite do enough to justify its extra cost and secure a place as the default eco hatchback choice.