Ford Focus ECOnetic

The Ford Focus ECOnetic promises 80mpg economy with no compromises, so does it deliver?

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Engineering cars is all about compromise – in this case, between fuel efficiency and performance. However, the Focus ECOnetic proves that a well equipped, good to drive, comfortable and reasonably practical car can also return some very impressive fuel economy figures. It’s not the smartest looker, inside or out, and the forthcoming Golf BlueMotion is even cleaner, but the Focus is a superb all-rounder nonetheless.

Buying an eco-friendly car used to mean compromise. But while this new Ford Focus ECOnetic certainly makes big claims about its efficiency – 83.1mpg and 88g/km of CO2 – it looks like any other model in the range. Only when you scratch the surface do you find subtle changes that make a big difference.

The engine features a new injection system and turbo, while the transmission uses special low-friction oil. Other tweaks include underbody shields, an active grille shutter and ultra-low-resistance tyres, plus the usual fuel-saving measures such as stop-start, a shift indicator light and an eco mode.

The Focus is cheaper than the latest Golf BlueMotion, but can’t quite match the VW’s 88.3mpg and 85g/km economy figures. The cleanest Kia Cee’d undercuts the Ford on price, yet returns a less-impressive 76.3mpg and 97g/km of CO2, while the Focus trumps even the 72.4mpg Toyota Prius on price and efficiency.

Although the Ford has become progressively softer with each new generation, it still feels like it’s been designed with the driver in mind. Our Zetec has sports front seats that can be dropped low, while you can lift the chunky steering wheel for a comfy yet sporty driving position.

The diesel engine rattles into life and takes a while to warm up. But once up to temperature, it’s quiet and refined – unlike in some eco cars that ditch sound deadening to reduce weight. The fuel-saving stop-start system is pretty unobtrusive, too, cutting and restarting the car smoothly.

Both the gearshift and clutch pedal have quite springy actions and the Focus pulls away eagerly from a standstill. But while first is geared low to get the car up and running, the remaining five ratios are all very long, in order to keep revs down and fuel economy up.

If you drive normally, this doesn’t make much difference, although you do find yourself needing to drop a gear when going up hills with a couple of passengers and bags on board.

Pay attention to the little green arrow on the dash that suggests when to change up, and economy should improve. Yet it can make the engine grumble like a cross-Channel ferry at such low revs. We suggest driving sensibly and choosing your own shift points.

The ECOnetic makes loads of sense if you do lots of motorway miles. In sixth with the cruise control on, the low-revving engine keeps noise to a minimum and economy up, while the relatively high-profile tyres fitted to our car’s 16-inch alloys help the suspension deliver a supple ride.

The Focus feels well built – no unwanted bumps or jolts enter the cabin – while the chassis still rewards when you push the car a bit harder. This is thanks in part to the Focus range-wide torque vectoring that uses the brakes to help reduce understeer.

Inside, the Ford isn’t the most luxurious car in its class, but Zetec models benefit from DAB radio, a leather-trimmed wheel and the company’s SYNC system.

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