Focus on fuel rival for diesel

Amazing but true, the fine driving Ford Focus is now at its finest with the smallest engine in the range. And driven gently, you’ll be saving the planet while having fun.

Until recently, diesel power looked like the conventional answer to better fuel figures; simpler and cheaper than adding batteries and electric motors. More sure of a result, too.

But with tough new Euro laws about tailpipe pollution on the near horizon it’s going to be expensive to make diesels comply, so car makers are turning back to petrol power.

Now, from Ford’s European engine design centre in deepest Essex, comes perhaps the most convincing case yet that there’s life left in petrol.

With a mere three cylinders (four is the usual minimum) and a capacity of just one litre, this is a little engine for sure, taking up less space and weighing lots less than the 1.6-litre lump it’s designed to make redundant.

It also posts diesel-like economy figures in the official Euro tests every new car has to endure. All is not what it seems when the rules have to be observed.

The high-tech content of the new engine (with an expensive turbocharger included) means you’ll pay £250 extra for the little ’un under the bonnet, compared to the current 1.6 which produces the same power but does less well in the official economy tests. It doesn’t take long (well, moving off from rest will do it) to realise Ford’s bevy of Essex engineers have come up with a gem.

It sounds eager in a distant and charmingly thrummy way and any fears that the tiny powerplant might shake itself to pieces is banished as you engage the clutch and pull smoothly away.

With the turbo puffing fuel and air into the engine from low revs, you’d never believe there was an engine up front that some motorcyclists would consider insultingly small.

It pulls like a terrier hanging on to a bone and the new lightness up front means the Focus, already a nimble car, gains a delightful edge of added eagerness when you turn the wheel for a corner.

Good for Ford, there was an old-engined 1.6-litre petrol model available for a drive before jumping into the new baby.

First impressions, as always, were of a car designed to please a keen driver. At the end of the shortish test the trip computer showed I’d managed 38mpg over a mix of country roads and edge-of-town work, none of it good at making the most of the contents of the tank.

No doubt with restraint that figure will improve, perhaps greatly.

A little longer on test and we should have confirmation, baut that’s something to look forward to.

The future may have arrived earlier than was generally expected. Let’s hope so.