To buy or not to buy
Diesel or petrol? Not quite the stuff of Hamlet’s soliloquy, but for car buyers in 2007 a vexed question that is as difficult to answer as the Danish prince’s “to be or not to be?”
Is it better to stick with petrol, which is generally less economical but is taxed when you buy; or to opt for more economical, lower-priced diesel and then have to fork out the additional tax, hidden in the euphemistic puff of the phrase, Road User Charges?
It’s not often that you can compare apples with apples, so to speak; but this year we got the chance to do just that, when in quick succession we drove examples of the Ford Focus diesel manual and Focus petrol hatchback (also with manual gearbox) on long, open-road trips.
The Focus wagon is the first small-capacity Ford to be sold here with a diesel engine, and is aimed mainly at business users.
The one we drove came from Ford New Zealand, and we drove it from Auckland to Manfeild and back, and did some city running in it.
The Focus hatch was a rental car which I picked up in Christchurch and drove to and from the Timaru race meeting. Most of its running was on the open road, though there was some Christchurch city driving and a bit of round-the-town stuff in Timaru.
The diesel wagon is powered by a 1.8-litre, common-rail fuel-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder motor.
It develops a useful 85kW of power at 3700rpm and a strong 300Nm of peak torque at 1900rpm, so the wagon is a handy load-carrier.
The petrol Focus runs a 2.0-litre DOHC Duratec four-cylinder with electronic fuel injection.
Maximum power is 107kW so there’s plenty of pep, and though the torque output of 185Nm is good, it looks puny compared with the diesels.
The gearboxes in both are slick-shifting five-speeders.
Focus handling is a class benchmark, and both the petrol hatch and diesel wagon are good to drive, with very high standards of roadholding and user-friendliness.
The Duratec petrol engine is willing and crisp and makes the Focus a very competent open-road tourer.
Its throttle response is good and power delivery smooth.
The diesel motor is a typically modern oil-burner, quiet at cruising speed and devoid of excessive diesel rattle.
It gave the wagon effortless touring performance, and was caught short only by a power delivery flat spot (or turbo lag) at low revs before the turbo wheel started spinning and boosting power.
The diesel returned exemplary fuel economy – remember this was a mix of running predominantly at highway speeds – of 6.5 litres/100km. That figure is helped by the Focus wagon’s sublime chassis and the engine’s meaty torque, which combine to make momentum driving easy, maintaining good cornering speeds and making minimal throttle use to accelerate off corners.
Ford’s official blurb quotes an overall consumption of 5.3 litres/100km, but we couldn’t match that.
However, at selected points of the open-road journey, we micro-monitored fuel use.
At a constant 100kmh on relatively easy going, the Focus was sipping fuel at 4.8 litres/100km; and on the southbound section between Waiouru and Taihape which includes quite a lot of downhill travel, it managed a stunning 3.7 litres/100km.
So the potential for 5.3 litres/100km is well and truly there.
Fast-forward to the South Island and the Focus petrol hatch.
It’s always a time of suspense when I wait and see what rental car Avis is going to serve up to me.
Might it be an old model Mitsubishi Lancer? A Daihatsu Sirion? A Mitsubishi Colt Plus? None of those fires me with much enthusiasm, especially the booted Colt Plus which a colleague likens to sailing rather than driving.
This time I had been hoping for a Ford Fiesta, and was chuffed to get a Focus.
With its good-sized luggage boot to carry the hefty suitcase that includes dry weather and wet weather gear needed for race meetings, its attractive, logically laid-out cabin and fine road manners, the Focus seemed the perfect companion for a weekend.
And so it proved, its equally fine chassis meaning that as in the diesel wagon, momentum driving was a breeze.
We were staggered at the fuel economy. The petrol Focus hatch returned an excellent 7.1 litres/100km – not significantly more than the diesel.
We accept that the run from Christchurch to Timaru and back is mainly flat, mainly easy going, but it’s still an impressive result, and matched exactly Ford’s official fuel economy figure for the car.
So, diesel or petrol?
Not an easy one to answer. If you were doing big mileages and in a mix of running that include quite a lot of city work, we’d say the diesel.
But if you were using your Focus mainly for motorway or open road running, we’d go for the petrol. It lacks the torque of the diesel but is crisper down low and is a little more refined – and what you pay at the pump is all that you pay. There are no RUCs to have to contend with.
Either way, if you plan to buy a Focus we can’t see you being disappointed with either model. They’re comfortable, practical, are easy to drive and have top-drawer road manners.