From £13,785
Efficient, competent and few compromises – but rivals do the same for much less
Mark Tisshaw
21 January 2010

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.

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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.

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2xtrouble 27 January 2010

Re: Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Econetic

SDR wrote:
I have an Audi A3 - because of the strong residuals the lease is cheaper even that the equivalent Golf, and the BIK is in the lowest conventional band

Yes as I said earlier in this thread it looks as though our next company car will be an Audi A3 also for exactly the same reasons. For the monthly lease cost we can spend the Audi outstrips the Focus we could afford in all ways, engine size, spec and money available for extras. Already we have had excellent service from the local Audi dealer who has agreed to provide a demonstrator car for 24 hours whilst most of the other dealers, including Ford didn't even want to talk to us once they realised it was a company car coming from a major leasing company. It seems strange that the vehicle with the higher list price is cheaper on a full maintenance lease (25k miles/year) but that's how it seems to be...

jerry99 27 January 2010

Re: Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Econetic

SDR wrote:
I work for a very large multinational which 'runs' thousands of company cars, and the company owns none of them. They're all leased from one of the large providers - Leaseplan, Arval PHH etc.

If that is widespread than the cars that sell in the UK are in large part determined by a small group of bank linkedleasing companies, who profit most from cars that sell close to their list prices so that they can disguise the profit margin they themselves make from getting good discounts on large orders,

SDR 26 January 2010

Re: Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Econetic

jerry99 wrote:

Is it quite that simple? Many companies now do cash for car schemes to get around this, although sadly many of these state the car must be a supplied by a dealer rather than allowing internet browsing....

A lot is down to snobbisnish of end users or company directors not wanting so called excecutives to drive around in "working class cars". If fleet managers were really free to get the best price against an outline specification of requirements nearly every manufactures prices would drop quite a bit.

I think it is that simple - I'm sure you're right that some companies have a cash scheme, but I suspect they're limited to small scale players. I work for a very large multinational which 'runs' thousands of company cars, and the company owns none of them. They're all leased from one of the large providers - Leaseplan, Arval PHH etc. To me the cost of any given car is the lease company's monthly charge (offset against the allowance my employer provides), and the BIK tax. Viewed that way Fords are appalling value - I can't honestly recall the cost of a Focus when I last renewed my car but it was completely uncompetitive, and I remember looking at a Mondeo and it was a joke.

I have an Audi A3 - because of the strong residuals the lease is cheaper even that the equivalent Golf, and the BIK is in the lowest conventional band (I know there is a lower eco-band, but I forget how that works exactly). It has nothing to do with 'snobbishness' - it's just economics. I have no desire to burn cash, and the Audi was the lowest cost decent product with acceptable dealer support. In contrast the Focus is a marginal product (perceived quality is not on the same landmass as a VW, Audi or BMW - check the air vents... trivial I know, but nasty!), backed by utterly hopeless dealers, and entirely uncompetitive on cost. Their sales model is a complete mystery to me - I agree that Autocar should really provide some intelligent analysis of this apparently crazy pricing game.

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