Ford Focus Econetic - can the tortoise beat the hare?

There is nothing outwardly to distinguish the latest version of the Focus Econetic from its predecessor – and not much to distinguish it from any other Focus. What is new is the emissions figure – just 99 g/km if you specify the optional stop/start on the five door hatch (not available on the estate, however). That means the apparently conventional Focus has lower emissions than the Honda Insight hybrid (101g/km – 105 g/km depending on the version selected).

So how does Ford beat the Honda without any fancy hybrid technology? By improving everything 1% instead of one thing by 20%. The Focus bristles with tiny improvements, such as a new way of tensioning the fanbelt that reduces drag on the engine (saving, yes, 1% fuel consumption).

There are minor aerodynamic improvements that reduce the drag co-efficient by a fraction to 0.31, an intelligent alternator that reduces charge to the battery under acceleration and slightly longer gearing. The only substantial piece of technology is the optional stop-start system that cuts the engine at traffic lights and restarts it automatically when the driver dips the clutch. This is similar to the system in the Mini, but the Ford version does work a bit more smoothly.

The net result of all this obsessing over details is...a car that feels like any other Focus. That is Ford's point: they wanted a car that feels completely normal but also provides road-tax-free motoring. The fact that you get the best handling family hatch as part of the package means the Focus Econetic is a far more appealing package than the Honda Insight. However, the bad news is that it is also more expensive, at an eye-watering £20,428 if you specify the stop-start (or £19,916 without stop-start). A modern diesel costs as much to make as the Honda combination of petrol engine and mild hybrid (the battery in an Insight can only assist the engine, it cannot drive the car alone, unlike the full-hybrid Prius).

In the real world, we think the simpler Ford approach works better than the Honda (which costs between £16,338 and £19,303), but it also costs more money. Go figure...
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