Despite an improving image, diesel cars are still considered something of a poor relation to petrol power in New Zealand.
If that’s not the case, why is Ford selling its diesel station wagon Focus only with a manual gearbox when the petrol equivalent is only sold here as an auto? You can’t blame Ford NZ since it is presumably merely responding to market demands.
Yet some rival makes insist you must have an automatic choice, especially in Auckland where manuals are really on the back-foot.
Both Focus wagons cost an identical $35,290 but you can bet many consumers would reckon on the 2.0-litre petrol auto being more upmarket than the 1.8-litre turbodiesel.
The clumsy, outdated diesel road tax charge makes it difficult to compare running costs for each model although there’s no question the diesel is easier on the wallet.
Officially, the diesel uses around one-third less fuel, and the differences are even greater in urban driving where the petrol Ford consumes 44 percent more fuel.
There’s a smaller margin on the open road where the petrol car is not so much at a disadvantage.
The 1753cc Duratorq TDCi diesel produces 85kW of power at a low 3700 revs while the Duratec petrol motor’s 107kW at 6000rpm represents a 26 percent power advantage.
Reverse those roles when it comes to torque, where there’s no contest, with the diesel a huge 62 percent better – it achieves an impressive 300Nm at a mere 1900rpm against 185Nm at 4500rpm for the double overhead cam, 16-valve petrol Duratec.
Such has been the diesel enthusiasm (or lack of it), that the station wagon is the only Focus in the New Zealand line-up to offer diesel power.
Adding to the company rep image is the fact that the wagon is a low spec LX grade with steel wheels and plastic wheel trims.
We still see Ford’s own Lynx Duratorq diesel, a single overhead cam eight-valver, yet it must surely be only a matter of time before the Focus comes on stream with either the 1.6- or 2.0-litre
PSA-developed second generation common rail diesel.
Ford is, of course, already using the French diesels in models like the Fiesta, Range Rover and Jaguar.
In what is sort of a feast or famine, the Ford diesel is harsh off the line and then the turbo uptake is rather abrupt.
Use too few revs from a standstill or when accelerating from rest on an incline, and the motor is likely to shudder to a stop.
Apply a little too much throttle and the turbo takes over abruptly and you’ll make an exhibition of yourself with spinning front wheels.
The tall gearing equates to around 2000rpm in top gear at 100km/h but the car is punchy enough on the move, and low speed lugging – always an admirable diesel trait – makes for easy driving.
Once the Focus has the PSA diesels, expect the manual gearbox to move
up to a six-speeder.
As it stands, the gearbox is slick and a delight to use.
A combined EEC fuel economy result of 5.3 litres/100km (53.3mpg) is easily achievable, and a worthwhile improvement on the petrol version’s 7.6 litres/100km (39.8mpg).
The driving dynamics of the Focus have always been good and recent revisions have made the model even better.
Not a lot needed changing because the original car, launched in 1998, was so good. Indeed, this has always been a class-leader in terms of handling and poise – better, in fact, than most people realise.
The 4472mm long station wagon has a wider track and is longer and higher than the more popular Focus hatchback.
But the 2640mm wheelbase is identical.
The slightly heavier body has been made 10 percent stiffer than the previous wagon’s, and both stability and body control are improved over the already high standard.
Ride is a little firmer than the Japanese average but the Ford feels really good on the road.
All-independent suspension, with MacPherson struts at the front, and the multi-link control blade arrangement at the rear, is well set up for driver appeal.
New speed-sensitive electro-hydraulic power steering offers more weighting at highway speeds and increased assistance when parking.
Despite the modest wheels and lack of on-board computer, the Focus wagon is far from bare bones.
Standard kit includes cruise control, four wheel disc brakes, ABS with EBD and, of course, air-conditioning.
The front windows are electrically operated. but the single CD Sony audio read-out is difficult to read, especially in bright light.
Safety ratings are good, and the Focus is equipped as standard with front, side and curtain airbags.
The Focus is something of an icon in international terms, a worthy replacement for the old Escort that did so much for the Ford since its inception in 1968.
In New Zealand the car hasn’t been able to emulate the sales success of the Escort which was clearly the people’s favourite. But there is much more competition around these days.
There’s an in-built quality about the Focus – something that’s more than skin-deep – which suggests it deserves to be doing even better than it is in the New Zealand market.