Go low with the Focus EcoBoost and A3 Ultra

12 August 2013

You can’t escape the London Congestion Charge simply by slipping under 100g/km any more, since the threshold was tightened to 75g/km last month. And it’s easy to see why – far too many cars were qualifying for the discount.

A rough count of options suggest there are about 75 distinct models from 27 different brands currently on sale in the UK that can beat 100g/km. By contrast there are only about a dozen models that can better 75g/km and all are currently exceedingly rare – and all come with a plug.

Just five years ago, a 99g/km car was small, noisy, sticky – if you wanted to stay under 100g/km you couldn’t order aircon – and generally not very nice to drive. Today, the same figure requires no sacrifice at all. It’s the new normal.

Well, not quite. Even today, 99g/km requires some compromise. You have to choose a plug-in, hybrid or diesel car, or think small if you prefer a plain petrol motor. Low-CO2 petrol options are all superminis and city cars.

This week, Ford announced its intention to change that with a family-sized Focus that can hit 99g/km without hybrid assistance, and without the need to fill up from the oily black pump. It may not get you in and out of London free of charge, but it ought to compensate by being exceptionally cheap to keep running.

Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost 99g/km

The extra-frugal Focus 1.0 EcoBoost will arrive early next year, boasting 100PS (99bhp) and a combined cycle score of 67.5mpg, alongside its 99g/km CO2 result.

The standard 100PS Focus 1.0 EcoBoost manages a respectable 109g/km, and Ford has trimmed the figure by fitting ultra-low rolling resistance tyres, smoothing the under-body aerodynamics and by lengthening the gearing. No doubt the car won’t be quite as perky from behind the wheel, though the EcoBoost engine should help to keep things tolerable. Ford’s 999cc three-cylinder petrol unit is an outstanding piece of clockwork precision, producing lovely noises and plenty of power while sipping at its fuel like a modest mouse. I loved it in Ford’s B-Max compact MPV.

The most frugal petrol Focus will also make use of automatic stop-start, regenerative charging (by biasing the alternator to run when the car is slowing down), an active shutter in the front grille (reducing drag when full cooling is not needed), and an eco driving mode to moderate the car’s responses.

Judging from the cost of the 109g/km Focus EcoBoost, I’d expect a price around £17,400 when the 99g/km edition goes on sale in the new year.

Sadly, petrol still can’t compete when it comes to super-low CO2. The 1.0-EcoBoost Focus is still beaten by the diesel Focus Econetic, which manages 88g/km in its CO2 tests, not far off the class-leading VW Golf BlueMotion and its 85g/km score.

Speaking of which, Audi has introduced a new A3 in its home market that will hit 85g/km and 88.3mpg on the combined cycle. It will also offer 110 horsepower and sprint to 62mph in 10.5 seconds.

Audi A3 1.6 TDI Ultra

Called the Audi A3 Ultra, you might equally call it the Golf BlueMotion expense-account edition, given that all the figures are identical to the most fuel-efficient Golf.

Not that that’s a bad thing – the Golf BlueMotion is an excellent car and the addition of Audi’s upmarket brand and polished interior certainly won’t do it any harm.

The Ultra A3 goes on sale in Germany next month priced at €25,200 which, judging from the German prices of other A3s, should translate to about £21,000 in the UK – assuming it comes here at all. That’s a relatively modest £700 or so more than the BlueMotion Golf, which – if it all pans out as per my guesswork – should make the A3 Ultra a pretty persuasive option.

UPDATE: alas it seems the A3 Ultra isn’t due to join the UK range...

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