Niall’s virtual diary archives – Saturday 07 December 2019

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Saturday 7 December 2019: 23:50. I have mentioned recently that I bought a new used car a few months back to replace my twenty year old Ford Focus Mk 1 which was dying from car cancer (i.e. unfixable rust eating away the superstructure). As when buying Megan’s car, I bought my new car from a British auction house online, used an Irish broker to import it, and then did the Irish conversion and payment of VRT myself. I was very grateful to myself for having taken the time to write up Buying a used car off the internet via auction (UK and Ireland only) when importing Megan’s car, as not too much had changed since 2016, thankfully. I did use a different broker, have become a bit sloppy of late and the collection from Dublin is a pain, so this time round I used Ray from in Waterford, and I couldn’t fault them one bit, they even ended up a good bit cheaper despite their website listing higher fees than UK car imports. They were particularly good with supplying documentation and very detailed instructions on how to convert your British car to Irish. I’d have no hesitation in recommending them.

Anyway the car I bought is a late 2015 Titanium X spec Ford Focus Mk 3.5 with 1.5L diesel. As Megan’s car is an early 2011 Titanium spec Ford Focus Mk 2.5 with 1.6L diesel, and my former car a mid 2000 LX spec Ford Focus Mk 1 with 1.4L petrol, I’m in the unusual position of being able to compare all three from the perspective of many years of ownership of each.

Ford Focus Mk 1 (mid 2000)  Ford Focus Mk 2.5 (early 2011)  Ford Focus Mk 3.5 (late 2015)
Engine:1.4L petrol1.6L diesel1.5L diesel
Turbocharger:None1500 to 2500 rpm1200 to > 4000 rpm
Gears:5-speed manual5-speed manual6-speed manual
Max power:73 bhp108 bhp118 bhp
Max torque:123 Nm240 Nm270 Nm
Weight:1163 kg1357 kg1456 kg
Power to weight:62.879.581.0
Claimed MPG:42 mpg64 mpg74 mpg
My MPG:Urban: 39 mpg
@ 100 km/hr: 42 mpg
@ 130 km/hr: 41 mpg
Urban: unsure, not my car
@ 100 km/hr: 61 mpg
@ 130 km/hr: 56-60 mpg
Urban: 40 mpg
@ 100 km/hr: 57 mpg
@ 130 km/hr: 50 mpg

A remarkable thing is how for city driving, we have for most modern cars chosen to exchange fuel efficiency improvements for heavier cars. The Mk 3 is 25% heavier than the Mk 1, 25% more energy gets burned by braking, yet urban driving is basically the same MPG. We do the same for housing incidentally, the ~40% improvement in home heating in past decades has been exchanged for ~40% more floor space, so the heat expended per household has been almost flat for thirty years. Or, put another way, the carbon burned per household has been almost unchanged in thirty years in Ireland and the UK. Same for city driving of cars!

The above figures for the different models are the statistics, but reality is much more nuanced. Sure, my new car would appear to have 29% more ‘poke’ (power to weight) than my old car, but due to natural aspiration my old car had a far wider torque curve – you didn’t get much torque (less than half at peak!), but it was available irrespective of engine rpm, which in turns means you had some engine power no matter what. The problem with turbocharged engines is that unless you’re within the turbo’s range, you get almost nothing, so if someone pulls out in front of you and you drop out of the turbo range, you need to change gear to get any overtaking power back. That lowers ‘driving fun’. Don’t get me wrong here, the Mk 1 did not have much power at any time (though compared to my old 1.0L Nissan Micra with 55 bhp, it was a sports car!), but it had some always.

Though, all that said, the Mk 3 is by far the most fun car to drive out of all these if you have an open road before you without any surprises. The six speed gearbox exactly aligns with the peak turbo range, so you can go from zero to one hundred staying entirely within the peak turbo. The Mk 2 has a five speed gearbox, and a much narrower on the rpm range turbo, so it’s very hard to accelerate without extensive periods in between turbo ranges during which there is no engine power at all (or at least I find it to be so). This leads to a very irritating sharp oscillation between ‘power on’ and ‘power off’ when you’ve just pulled out in front of someone, and are trying to not cause them to run into the back of you. The Mk 3 fixed that irritation in the Mk 2 by very significantly widening the turbo range and adding a sixth gear, which makes for a far superior acceleration experience.

One big disappointment in the Mk 3 is the decline in fuel efficiency over the Mk 2. If you run the numbers, it’s about 7%, which is entirely explained by the weight difference. I have read online that the Mk 4 sheds much weight over the Mk 3 whilst keeping the same engine, and apparently the difference is quite noticeable when driving.

Good and bad

Obviously on interior there is no comparison between any of them. The Mk 1 was the ‘not-bottom’ LX trim with a surprisingly good stereo for its time, electric front windows and central locking. The Mk 2 was the top trim of its time, lots of fancy stuff like auto dimming rear mirror and rain sensing wipers. But my Mk 3 is the top trim of its time, it even has direction swivelling headlights with high intensity discharge lamps which is a degree of fanciness not usually associated with a Ford car. There’s no comparison between the models, but that would the case for all cars from sequential model revisions over the past forty years. There is a constant increase of car fanciness with time anywhere you look.

Let’s consider instead what went backwards. The Mk 2’s seats are far better than the Mk 3’s seats, despite the latter being the super fancy part-leather ones with electric adjustment, and both seats are made by Recaro. The Mk 2’s seats are firmer, they hug you and prevent you sliding sideways, and appear to show no signs of aging apart from stains. The Mk 3’s seats are inferior in almost every way, and the driver’s seat has noticeable loss of springiness already on the side where you get in and out. This is despite half the mileage logged. The seats are most definitely a step backwards in the Mk 3 unless you are a much larger person, they are only marginally better than the Mk 1’s seats.

The Mk 2 had a slightly longer boot than the Mk 1, which was great because we could finally fit the buggy without taking it apart. The Mk 3 has a shallow boot to make way for the subwoofer, there is far less space in there. It doesn’t affect me badly as we don’t have buggies any more, but even for suitcases there is nearly nine inches less vertical room.

I suspect, though it might be lack of time owning the car, that there is more road noise in the Mk 3 than the Mk 2, specifically from the rear wheels. It could be the cheap chinese tyres on the back wheels which is what it came with. But others on the internet have said the same.

The steering is definitely marginally inferior on the Mk 3 to either the Mk 2, or indeed Mk 1 for that matter. It’s electric rather than hydraulic, but to be honest the Mk 1 has better steering than the Mk 2 as well. The only gain from electric steering is the self parking facility where the car will park itself. But to be honest, after playing with it a few times I’ve not used it since – I can park the car myself in the same time and hassle. I will say though that the turning circle has consistently improved over time, the Mk 1 has a terrible turning circle, and the Mk 3 is much improved on that relatively speaking. Still, our old Nissan Micra blew any of these cars away on turning circle.

The Mk 2’s handbrake is terrible. Slips without herculean strength yanking it upwards. The Mk 3 ‘solves’ this by the computer quietly applying the real brakes to fake a working handbrake, though sometimes it doesn’t detect what you’re doing, and you get a crap handbrake when you weren’t expecting it. The Mk 1 beats both easily here, it has a great handbrake.

Another area where the Mk 1 wins by far is places to stick stuff in the cabin. The Mk 1 had two excellently placed coffee cup holders and many excellently placed and sized storage places and cubbies. Whomever designed the Mk 1 cabin really cared about storage, and it really shows. The Mk 2 has a shockingly awful storage configuration: the coffee holders are where your handbrake is, and you cannot not knock over your coffee. There is a small place for random stuff just in front of the windscreen which is awkwardly placed and too shallow. The door pockets are too narrow and shallow to fit anything useful. Whomever designed the Mk 2’s cabin clearly didn’t care. The Mk 3 substantially improves on the worst failings in the Mk 2’s cabin: you still have to put your coffee where the handbrake is, but now there are ratchetable stays to hold the cup, whatever its size, firmly in place, and at the front it’s super deep and you can drop a 1.5L bottle in there without it getting in the way of either the handbrake or gearstick. The door pockets are much wider, though still shallow, but are now at least useful. The middle storage place is now hidden to the right of the driver – I’ll grant you that it’s now easily accessible when driving, but it’s far too easy to drop what you want down at your feet now. Oh, and the sunglasses space on the Mk 3 now has an actually useful size for adult sunglasses, whereas the sunglasses space on the Mk 2 could only fit children’s sunglasses for some reason. Nevertheless, the Mk 1 wins cubby hold design by a mile, none of the models since then competes on this regard.


If you could give me the engine and gearbox and fancy features of the Mk 3 combined with the weight and cabin and handbrake and steering of the Mk 1 and the seats and boot and lack of road noise of the Mk 2, you’d have my perfect Ford Focus.

Taking each of the three cars as presented, I definitely prefer the Mk 3 the most. It’s better than the Mk 2 in most areas, and is especially better at what was the worst regressions in the Mk 2 over the Mk 1.

However I’ve got to be honest in saying that the Mk 1 was a piece of artwork. It has a design coherency and attention to minute detail which none of the cars since then had. You could drive the Mk 1 very hard, sliding around corners, yet its handling was so superb that I never had the wish to push it harder, what it delivered was more than enough for my tolerance of G-forces. The fact it matched the MPG of the very newest cars today for city driving despite being twenty years old, and that only a few years before a 1.0L Nissan Micra couldn’t beat 35 MPG, showed how so very modern its engine and powertrain was when launched. No wonder they sold so many of the Mk 1, indeed many credit the Ford Focus alone for saving Ford from being bailed out in 2009 like the other US car manufacturers. It had sold in such numbers and been so successful that literally other car manufacturers were reselling the Ford Focus chassis but with different bodywork and sometimes different engines because it was simply that good that it was easier to buy the chassis from Ford than attempt designing a realistic competitor.

So in some ways we’re comparing an original artwork with contemporary clones. Sure, the contemporary clones are fancier and more modern. But they’re not the original.


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