At first glance, this looks like just any other facelifted Ford Focus done up in white sitting in Sime Darby Auto Connexion’s car park by the Federal Highway. But it’s actually something new – find out more on what it is after the jump.

It’s a Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi! I know alot of us more educated motorists have been asking for a new era where we can enjoy the really nice low rev kick of torque and the better mileage that the turbodiesel engines that Europeans seem to love in our daily rides.

When the government upgraded our diesel to Euro 2 last year, it opened some doors for some better diesels to be brought in. Diesel engines that are lighter, smaller and more refined – a newer generation of diesel engines compared to the truck engines that we get in our sub-100K pickups. I know of a friend who bought a Nissan Frontier purely for its diesel engine as he had to travel alot, he wasn’t really interested in a truck.

And then BMW introduced their 320d. It had loads of shove over the 320i and could go over 1,000km per tank if driven frugally. Finally, a diesel compact executive to be enjoyed. You needed deep pockets but not as deep as pockets as 530d or X5 3.0d owners. But it was still priced over RM250k, though during promotions you could get pre-registered units for lower than that.

The Ford Focus TDCi is expected to be priced a tad lower than RM130k, which means a pricetag of about the same as a Honda Civic 2.0S and a Honda Civic Hybrid. This will make it the most accessible turbodiesel-powered passenger car to date.

While its petrol sibling is available in both hatch and sedan form, the Focus TDCi will only be available as a hatchback, CBU from Thailand in two colours – black or white.

The interior looks pretty much standard Focus. There are just a few changes. Firstly, you get leather seats in the TDCi hatchback. With the petrol version, you only get leather in the sedan, while the hatchback makes do with cloth seats. There is a small extra strip of trim wrapping around the front door armrests.

The most obvious change you’ll notice when you sit in the driver’s seat is the RPM meter, which has a redline much lower than the petrol version. This is usual with diesel engines – they don’t rev as high because of the self-ignition combustion but they deliver all of their massive punch under 3,000rpm.

With the 2.0 TDCi engine here we’re talking about 134 horsepower and 320Nm of torque at only 1,800rpm, with the ability to overboost to 340Nm briefly whenever the engine management decides its needed.

The shift knob area is also slightly different. The petrol version has the letter “M” in place of the “S” you see here. This is because the 4-speed auto in the petrol has your regular “D” drive mode, and a “M” manual mode for you to swap cogs manually – not that there’s really many gears to shift in that 4-speeder.

The diesel version uses a 6-speed Powershift unit – similiar to the transmissions you’d find in the S40 Powershift and V50 Powershift launched by Volvo recently. In addition to the “D” drive mode and manual mode, you also get a “S” mode which is essentially an automatic mode with a sportier shift pattern.

When you start the engine up, you do hear some typical soft diesel clatter from the front of the car as you idle. This disappears as you get moving as the other sounds begin to overwhelm it and it disappears. Thanks to the Powershift technically connecting to the engine via mechanical clutches instead of a torque converter, throttle response is very crisp and nice, something you only feel in an automatic when the torque converter locks up mechanically at cruise speeds. Unlike in pickup trucks where there tends to be vibrations especially in the manual versions where the whole shift lever and 4X4 selector shakes like crazy, the Ford Focus TDCi had no diesel engine vibrations or anything in the cabin. Gear lever and steering wheel remained calm.

Shifts are very smooth and driven sedatedly, the car shifts gears at just over 2,000rpm smoothly and rapidly. Gearchanges are pretty quick, faster and smoother than what a single clutch automatic can do but Volkswagen’s DSG implementation is still the leader in terms of quick upshifts (VW DSG is quite average on downshifts though). There are no jerky shifts and you do not need to lift the accelerator pedal slightly to ensure a smoother shift as with AMT products.

In this new economy where co-development between is needed for viability it’s no surprise to learn that the Duratorq TDCi engine was developed together with PSA Peugeot Citroen and is also used by PSA as their “HDi” engines. If we ever see a Peugeot 308 2.0 HDi here in Malaysia, it’ll have a similiar engine as this Ford. The engine actually sounds like growlier and more ganas than the petrol version and surprisingly sounds quite good for a 4-potter diesel. It’s sweeter and I kinda feel also quieter than the 2.0 4-potter in the 320d and 520d but it’s nothing compared to the great 6-potter BMW diesels.

I probably don’t need to say this, but 320Nm is alot of torque so charging along empty roads can actually be quite addictive. Because there are 6 gears and so much torque, when you accelerate off from a standstill there’s actually alot of gearchanges happening until the transmission settles down in one of the higher gears.

There is a short bit turbo lag when you take off, and if you shift high up the revrange on full throttle you also feel a short half-second lag once the next gear engages before things pick up in full force again. Ford’s 2.5 litre TDCi in Ranger actually does better at eliminating lag. Overtaking is also no issue, just downshift and ride the surge of torque, even going through two gears through an overtaking maneuver is no issue as once you get over that split second of lag that wave of torque comes again.

Other than lots of low-end torque, the only other thing that will probably remind you that you’re driving a diesel is that when you shut off the engine, the engine shivers a little before turning off. And I wish I could say confidently that your fuel bills will also remind you that it’s a diesel but I only took it for a short spin around the Sime Darby Auto Connexion office, up to Bangsar and back so there wasn’t really an opportunity for a fuel consumption test. Once the car is finally launched here in Malaysia I’m quite eager to get a proper test drive and see what the car consumes in terms of litre per 100km.

Thumbs up to Sime Darby for being the first to being in a diesel passenger car for under RM150k. I know alot of us have been asking for this over and over and finally we have one choice, hopefully more to come. The previous ‘cheapest diesel passenger car’ (at over RM250k list price) in our market was the 320d, which also so happens to be sold by Sime Darby since their company Auto Bavaria is a BMW dealer and BMW Malaysia is a Munich-Sime Darby JV. I hope one day Proton will be able to give us our first diesel passenger car under RM80k.

But for now, too bad the Focus TDCi will only be available as a hatchback, from what I’ve heard so far. That’s one reason for people to turn away from it – our love for the 3-box sedan. The other issue with the current generation Focus – both sedan and hatchback – is that it’s interior spaciousness falls behind its rivals like the Civic.

I have a feeling there will be more people looking at passenger diesels come 1st May when our petrol prices will be revised. This is because although petrol prices will go through a revision, the government has hinted that it could leave diesel prices alone. I wonder if I can turn my E39 into a 525tds through a halfcut or something!

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