Ford Focus long-term test: Has our Ecoboost been outdone?

You know when you go into a restaurant, order something, and then decide that your friends have made better choices? We still think we made the right choice from the Focus menu at the time, but we can't help looking at the blackboard in the corner, where the waiters keep chalking up forthcoming specials.

First to go on the board was the 1.0 Ecoboost, which is a genuine leap forward for family hatchbacks. With its distinctive three-cylinder thrum and 118bhp, it is a much more engaging engine than the outgoing 1.6 normally aspirated unit. Then there is the 180bhp Zetec-S Ecoboost, which is the first sporty Focus. And soon the full-fat Focus ST with 247bhp will be added to the dessert menu.
Still, the Ecoboost 150bhp was the dish we chose, and we are happy with it. It seems odd to say that a Focus with a turbocharger and double variable valve timing now has the least technically advanced petrol engine in the range (apart from the fleet-only Studio base model), but the car does have a very good mix of abilities.

Its major strength is that it feels like a big car on the motorway, when its supple ride and quiet engine means you do not feel the need for a car one size larger, but it feels compact on narrow, twisty roads. Having driven it on the tightest Alpine roads, we can confirm that it is very agile despite its ride comfort - although its light steering rather disguises the fact.

Overall, we are getting 37mpg from the Focus, mostly driving around London and the congested South-East. In the context of a150 bhp petrol engine, that is very good - the old 2.0-litre normally aspirated Focus would have been five mpg less.

On the other hand a 2.0 diesel Focus would be about five mpg more, so it is a matter of personal preference. The 1.6 Ecoboost petrol is smoother and more sporty than a diesel, in return for a 15% economy penalty. For high mileage motorway warriors the diesel probably still makes more sense, but if your mileage is no more than average, and you appreciate a sporty rev-happy engine, the petrol may be the better choice.

It is a mark of how far petrol engines have come in the last few years, that there can now be a genuine debate about whether diesel or petrol would be preferable in a car of this size.

The interior is comfortable and well finished, but the curvy dashboard seems a little over-styled - there was something to be said for the large vertical screen that provided the sat-nav and audio controls on the previous-generation Focus.

However, it is very easy to live with and full of neat touches, such as the radio which switches off when the doors are opened, rather than when the ignition is cut. However, one aspect that is anything but user-friendly is the set of intricate alloy wheels on the Titanium.

On the one occasion the car was valeted, the wheels came back still dirty, which made me feel slightly better about the time it takes me to clean them by hand - clearly no-one else has a quick way of getting to all the nooks and crannies either.

Overall, we are very happy with the 1.6 Ecoboost. It may arguably be the least extreme car in the range, but that is mainly because engine technology is progressing so quickly. Even ten years ago, a 1.6-litre family hatchback with 150bhp and good fuel economy would have been unthinkable. Today, our jaded palates take it for granted and we look for the next technological breakthrough.
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