Fleet News

Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec auto 3dr - 5,667 miles



##forfoz.jpg --Right##THERE is a definite division of opinion among the Fleet News testers about the merits or otherwise of cars with automatic gearboxes. Most think that such vehicles are for wimps who haven't learned to use their left feet properly. I, on the other hand, find them enormously relaxing to drive and always pick one over a manual 'box if I have a choice.

Hence, I now have the keys to our long term Ford Escort 1.6 Zetec complete with auto box, as most of the other staffers don't seem interested in driving it - which is fine by me, as after a week behind the wheel, I have found the experience pleasant in the extreme.

In three-door guise, the swirling, futuristic lines of the Focus are shown off to their best and a neat set of alloys give the car a fine sporting look. Inside, the swirls and curves continue with one of the best looking dashboards in the business and the front seats have a sporting, figure-hugging feel.

So I hop in, tuck my left foot away in a corner and fire up. Unfortunately, the performance of the car doesn't exactly match its sporty looks. Auto boxes always soak up a bit of power and here, 0-60mph comes in a relatively sluggish 12.2 seconds, as opposed to 10.9 for the manual version. Top speed is reduced from 115mph to 111mph.

But there's far more to a car than acceleration and top speed and these gripes apart, I can't complain. There are acres of legroom for my gangly frame and even rear seat passengers have remarked on its spaciousness. The stereo is a good quality one and the car comes with electric windows and a sunroof, albeit of the manual variety.

In standard format, the Focus 1.6 Zetec doesn't have ABS brakes and I must admit that over my years of testing new cars, I've come to rely on them. On this model, you'll pay an extra ú500 for such a facility.

My euphoric praise of automatics must also be tempered by the fact that for fleet users, there is a double tax whammy to be paid. As benefit-in-kind tax is calculated on the cost of the vehicle, a driver will pay extra because the auto box carries a ú500 price supplement. And under the new CO2-based system to come on tap in 2002, this model will be doubly penalised because it emits 200 grams per kilometre of this gas compared to 165 for the manual.

A nifty bit of fingerwork on the Fleet News calculator shows that under the new system, a 22% taxpayer will pay ú51.60 per month BIK tax as opposed to ú33.81 for the manual. It's hardly any wonder that autos are so unpopular among company car drivers.

Trevor Gelken

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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