What’s the point of renting a car in Europe if it’s one that’s also available in the US? So why did I request a Golf diesel, with stick shift, naturally; a car that is quite common here in Eugene? I assumed it was readily available, and I wanted some seat time with one. Well, the Munich Airport Sixt Car Rental gods (actually, their counter was rather hellish that day) knew better, and put me in a Ford Focus Tournier (wagon), with the 1.5 L EcoBoost gasoline four and even an automatic transmission (the take rate for automatics in the EU is under 25%). How un-European can you get? No Citroen Cactus?
I ended up with a car that was rather American in some respects, but is nevertheless forbidden fruit here. I was a bit disappointed when I was handed the keys, but after two and a half weeks of autobahns, Alpine passes, autostradas, country roads, narrow city streets and parking garages designed for Fiat 500s, I have zero regrets. Well, except for the fact that it’s not available here.
Let me put in a disclaimer right now: I’m not going to tell you about the Focus’ many electronic features and controls, because I didn’t use any of them, at least not on purpose. At the rental car garage at Munich, I slid behind the nicely contoured leather-wrapped steering wheel on the comfortable seat, quickly realized that there was no “key”, hit the start button, adjusted the mirrors, dropped the gear selector into D, and drove off.
When I had to stop on the way out of the rental car garage, the engine died a second or two later. Aha; Start-Stop. As soon as I let up on the brake some, the engine started up again, and pretty smoothly. The system worked quite well and was quickly gotten used to and forgotten, but one can defeat it by using the S Mode on the automatic.
The airport is served by its own extension of the autobahn, so within a couple of minutes we were rolling along at 130 km/h, and that was good enough for me, in terms of familiarization. I didn’t pay for the navigation to be activated, and had no interest in any music, etc.. So this review woefully lacks what has become a key part of any modern review. Sync? What’s that? Oh wait; the Parking Distance Alert was a nice touch in the very tight parking garages, but did get a bit unnecessarily nervous in some close traffic in Italy.
But I felt instantly comfortable and at home in the Focus, which must have been the Titanium version, as it was pretty fully loaded and has the chromed grill and that the Ford.de website shows as being exclusive to that top trim line. Oh, we did use automatic climate control knob to dial in the desired temp, and of course I used the cruise control, although not so much in Germany and Austria, where the very disciplined left lane protocol made it a bit less relevant than in Italy, where I used it extensively, thanks to light traffic and often three lanes.
The first two and a half days were spent in Innsbruck—a quick two hour drive from Munich—visiting with my large extended family and my brother, who moved back there five years ago. Needless to say, the car didn’t move those first couple of days. Driving in the city center of almost any European city is a waste of time and energy.
Especially so in Innsbruck, as one can walk from where it bumps into mountains on one side of the city to where it does the same on the other side in short order. We took several hikes up into the hills and mountains right from town. These shots are from the old city watch/clock tower, which dates to the mid-1500s. (Note: the lens on an iPhone is not ideal for landscapes, and makes the mountains seem much further away than they actually are)
The tower overlooks the plaza in front of the famous Golden Roof, which Kaiser Maximilian I had built in 1500 to observe the festivities celebrating his assumption of rule over Tyrol, and was later used to watch knightly tournaments in the plaza. Maximilian was very dynamic, and the one who really got the Hapsburg dynasty rolling, with strategic marriages, wars, and deft politics. And during his extended stay in Innsbruck, he brought in the finest armorers, craftsmen, artists and other luminaries, which made the city one of the hot spots of the (known) world at the time. On this night, folks were being treated to an outdoor movie instead of the clanging of swords and armor.
After three days we extracted the Focus from its parking spot and headed to Italy, before coming back for a longer stay.
So what specifically makes the Euro-Focus different from the American Focus? The US version comes standard with a 160 hp 2.0L naturally aspirated four, teamed to a standard five speed stick or the Powershift (dual clutch automated mechanical) automatic. On the SE sedan and hatch, the little 1.0 L EcoBoost turbo three cylinder with 123 hp teamed with a six-speed manual and Start-Stop is optional ($795). How’s that for going against the grain? Paying more for a smaller and less powerful engine? And with stick only? Wonder what the take rate is.
A 100 hp version of this little tree-pot, which has gotten a lot of press praise, is standard on the Euro-Focus (except the stripper version, which comes with an 85 hp 1.6 NA four), and the more powerful version is the next gas-engine step up. There’s also several versions of both 1.5 and 2.0 L diesels available, undoubtedly the diesels are the most popular choice in most EU countries. In Innsbruck, diesel was selling for €1.04/L ($4.43/gal), and gasoline for €1.33/L ($5.54/gal), due to most EU countries taxing diesel at a lower rate. Those numbers are actually pretty reasonable, thanks to the recent drop in oil prices. Nevertheless, the take rate for gas-engined cars is quite low, except for cheap low-end thrift-mobiles and some performance cars.
And of course the new Ford Mustang, three of which were in the most prominent front position at the Ford dealer, and I saw at least a couple on the streets. The latest generation was designed to be a true global car, so maybe it’s off to a reasonably good start, especially with gas prices being relatively low. It starts at €44,400, or just a bit under $50k.
The 1.5 EcoBoost gas four comes in 150 hp and 182 hp versions, teamed with a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic. Note that this is not the Powershift twin-clutch “automatized manual”, but a conventional one. That threw me at first, as I’ve never driven the Powershift, which has come under fire for its jerkiness in some situations; I assumed this was one too when I first got in, but I could tell almost instantly that it felt like a torque converter unit, and was admirably smooth. A bit odd that Ford uses this autobox only with the EcoBoost 1.5, and the Powershift with the diesels only, in Europe anyway.
The automatic was a sympathetic partner to the engine, with only rare moments of indecision. On pass roads and other mountain terrain, I used the S mode for its more aggressive shift matrix and engine braking, and on the steep downhill segments shifted manually with the button on the shifter knob. My thumb kept pretty busy on one or two stretches. Automatics are a good fit with turbo engines, as they tend to smooth out any abrupt transitions, although these are now mostly absent in modern turbo engines. Except for the lusty torque curve, which peaked at a low 1600 rpm, one is hardly aware of the turbo otherwise. And no; small turbo engines don’t need to rev to make power; quite the contrary, as a turbo fattens the power curve in the low and mid range. The 1.5 makes peak power at 6,000 rpm, which is lower than a normally aspirated modern engine of this size.
Although I’m happy with a stick, I can also be quite happy with an automatic. In stressful situations in a foreign country (certain Italian inner cities come to mind), an automatic can be a boon, especially if one is desperately looking for the next sign. No; I didn’t pay extras for the navigation, we had no Google maps (our phones didn’t work, and my brother lent me an old extra phone for voice and messages only), and I drove off from Innsbruck to Italy without even a map. Actually, I had printed off the route from Innsbruck to where we were going in the Piedmont back home, but that somehow was missing right when I could have used it.
Frankly, I rather like the challenge of using certain spacial faculties that humans have evolved to a high degree but are now in the process of handing off to navigation systems, and I managed to get off the autostrada in Bolzano(Bozen) and find my way into the very lovely old city center (above, but not my photo) to see the museum where Ötzi, the bronze age man found in a glacier is on view. And then back on the autostrada. And then off the autostrada to Sirmione on Lake Garda. And then…I did not find my way back to the autostrada. Oops. It took three gas stations before a map of Italy was obtained, but by that time it wasn’t really needed as we had run into it anyway.
My sister-in-law got what I was wanting: a Golf TDI wagon, with stick. Both of them are parked here in front of her Italian father-in-law’s 100 year old farm house (the yellow one) overlooking the Cerrina Valley in the Piedmont area of Italy, a bit west of Turin. Like so many houses here, it’s one of a number of adjacent houses that are owned by relatives. The older house with the crumbling stucco and shrine in the wall is long uninhabited, and there’s also a spider-web engulfed cantina in the basement that still has the three big wine barrels and all the other implements of wine-making, the primary rural activity back in the day.
The yellow house is only used in the summers by SIL and her three kids (including CC Contributor Aidan), and it has wonderful spaces inside, with very tall ceilings and of course only tall windows and French(?) doors with obligatory shutters that are used to shade the summer sun as well as protect the windows from the rains.
On clear days, the snow-covered alps make a backdrop behind the hills to the north, although their tops were hidden in the clouds this day. There’s one charming little village after another, many hugging the ridgelines. Piedmont does mean “foot of the mountains”, after all. Please note: there’s going to be a lot of digressions, as this is going to be about the places the Focus took us as well as the car itself.
I assume that my rental wagon had the 150 hp version (182hp is also available) , but it certainly never lacked adequate power (magazine reviews average about 9.0 second 0-100 kmh (0-61 mph). What surprised me was its throaty roar when it’s given the spurs, since it’s an admirably smooth engine otherwise. Perhaps this is done on purpose, to make the car seem sportier, as I can’t imagine why a little turbo four would sound so lusty. Not really a problem, as it goes away as soon as the throttle is backed off again, but since the Focus was rather exceptionally quiet (a number of changes were made to the 2015 model to make it so), it was a bit of a surprise.
Obviously I was wanting a diesel both to have more experience with one as well as its better efficiency with cheaper diesel fuel. I kept track of actual fuel used, but I’ll save the results for the end of the trip/article. Italy’s autostradas (toll freeways) are splendid, with very little traffic and often with three lanes. The standard speed limit on them is 130 km/h (81 mph), but after being passed regularly by faster traffic, I soon joined in and was typically rolling along with the cruise control set at either 150 or 160 km/h (93 – 100 mph).
The Focus was serenely quiet at that speed, a combination of the extra effort Ford made in the revised 2015 version as well as the pavement quality in Germany, Austria and Italy, which was excellent. They often seem to use a light-colored asphalt that looks more like a hybrid of concrete and asphalt. My worse-for-wear ears really appreciated it.
Of course my point of contrast is Oregon’s perpetually rough pavement, which is chewed up within a year or two by studded winter tires and eventually creates very rough ruts (above) that makes for a terrible drone. What utter idiocy, to still allow them, despite the state’s declining fuel tax revenue crisis. I bitched about that here on the other site. Sure enough, after we arrived back (in Portland) the drive home on I-5 in the Acura sounded like sitting in a coffee grinder. Argh!! I have taken to driving on the extreme left or right side of the lane in an effort to get out of the worst of the rough area.
We obviously wanted to take some day trips from our base in Valle Cerrina. Given that there were two of us, and SIL has three kids (twins almost 14 and a 12 year old), I assumed we’d take two cars. By she rather hates driving in Italy, and fortunately, her kids are all skinny, so the four of them hopped in the back of the Focus. And endured daily trips, with up to four hours or more total drive time, without even the slightest complaint. You guys rock!
It was hot, so the first outing was to Lago Orta, the smallest and least (over)developed of the Italy’s great lakes on the south edge of the Alps. This is the Sacre Monte (not my photo), on an islet, as seen from the very cute little town of Orta San Giulio, where we found a parking garage and spent a happy day, including two swims in the very clear water.
The next trip was more ambitious, with a two hour drive south, a bit past Genoa on the Mediterranean; more specifically, the sea-side town of Santa Margherita.
Traffic on the main streets was…intense, with a sea of motor scooters and bikes that engulfed one’s car an both sides as soon as car traffic was backed up. But we managed to find a public parking garage again, and walked down to the waterfront. I missed catching a shot of an open Citroen Mehari, but just caught this Mini Moke, both perfectly suited to the locale and climate.
I need to confess now that I did not make much of an effort to shoot every older or interesting car that I saw, partly because I needed a vacation from car-shooting as well. And then there was the fact that I did all the driving, and one does not just whip around and go back and park when a Lancia Fulvia coupe or one of so many other fine old cars were spotted parked in various Italian towns. It just doesn’t work that way, especially with four in the back seat. People before cars…
The side streets we had to take to the garage were one-and-a-half-car wide, which made for some interesting moments, like this truck trying to make its way through.
We hopped on a ferry to our real destinations, Portofino and Bazzia di san Fruttuoso, on the rugged shoreline of a peninsula, a bit north of the famed Cinque Terre. Portofino is a picture-book little port, although that expression is quickly worn out in Italy.
The entrance to Portofino is well guarded by this giant battleship with helipad and openings in its hull for small attack boats. Someone tried to convince me that it’s actually a private yacht…right.
The next ferry stop was San Fruttuoso, a former remote monastery on the rugged coast turned into a place to have a great cappuccino after a swim in the refreshing water (much of central Europe was in the grips of a heat wave). Cars? Did someone ask what’s all this doing on a car site? I warned you.
But I’ll spare you how we spent the other days in Italy. But each one was wonderful, and at the end of every long day, we were treated to a multi-course home cooked meal by Rosema, a relative who lives next door and is the caretaker and dinner cook. And since she drives a CC, so you’ll meet her and her car in another post.
We headed back towards Austria, but this time via a different route, including the legendary Stelvio Pass, the highest pass road in the Eastern Alps (2759 meters; 9,051 feet). I didn’t stop to take many photos, but there’s lots of videos on You Tube, unfortunately many with either obnoxious music or commentary.
Perhaps the best one to get a quick but comprehensive impression of it (although only of the southern side), is this one, which apparently is a high-speed Google Street View video. My little encounter with a Land Rover in the only section of one of the tunnels that narrows down has already been documented here.
Yes, I love driving in the mountains, and Stelvio lived up to its storied rep. It was one of the high points of the trip, despite the bad weather. The upside was that the combination of some rain and as well as hitting it a bit late in the day, traffic was very light, considering it was a Sunday in August. Which means I was able to drive it mostly unconstrained. Yeah! (Stephanie never complains, no matter the terrain or speed).
The Focus was in its elements here. Foci of all generations have consistently been top-notch handlers, and that has not changed with the latest iteration. Although the Focus can’t quite beat the Golf in auto, motor und sport’s comparisons overall, it does best it in terms of handling and agility. Just the E-ticket for alpine passes, along with the willing, snarling little engine that could. And did.
Turbocharging is clearly an asset on high mountain roads, because there’s no loss of performance from the altitude, and the torque curve is fat. Up hill, that is. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the little four seemed to generate less engine braking on steep downhills than I might have expected. Is engine braking proportional to displacement? Seems like it might well be.
Did I have any gripes? Well, there’s this very odd large black plastic thing taking up quite a bit of real estate on the front windshield. I assume it’s for the GPS and the rain sensor for the windshield wipers, which worked very well, adjusting the speed to the amount of rain.
In typical straight-ahead driving it’s not really a big deal, but there were times on the Stelvio and other mountain roads where one wants—and has—to look at the road and scenery from all different angles, even odd ones. And then it makes itself a rather unwelcome. Does it have to be this BIG?
The green house could be a bit airier all the way around, but then “bunkeritis” seems to be a disease that has infected most new cars, except for the tall-roof wagons-MPVs that are so popular in Europe, especially in more practical Austria. Oh; one more thing: the color. In case you didn’t know it, black is, and has been for some time, the hot color in Germany, especially so on the type of cars that tend to inhabit the left lane. It seems to be a prestige thing, but it’s way too common now, and not to my liking. Black can look nice on certain cars, but it doesn’t really work on a family-friendly Focus wagon. White is only seen on commercial vans and such, and has poor resale value on a car. In America, it’s the number one color.
After the Stelvio we crossed the much milder Reschenpass back into Austria in the upper Inn valley. We pulled of at the exit for Ladis, a little mountain hamlet that we used to spend our summer vacations in during our last years in Austria. The castle ruin sits perched on a dramatic rock outcropping, with stellar views over the valley below. That castle once served as a judicial center for that region, and an ancestor on my mother’s side of the family was a jurist there, and earned the title “von” for his services there. This was quite a few hundred years ago.
That reminds me, we (and my brother and his wife) visited the old family apartment building in Innsbruck where my mother’s family (Payr) have been renters of this apartment for…100 years! We lived in the same building, one flight up from them. The outside in front was finally renovated after being untouched since being repaired from bomb damage right after the war (left half, without the architectural details). But once inside the old front door, everything was the same.
My brother and I just had to replicate the shot that was taken of us by the garden fence in 1958.
Valerian von Payr, my grandfather, moved to apt. #4 in 1915 when he took a job as a judge in Innsbruck, keeping in the family tradition of jurists hundreds of years and countless generations later. M. Atzwanger was one of my aunts, who always lived there too since birth, with a very brief exception, and took over the apartment. She just died earlier this year, and now her grandson lives there; his name hasn’t yet been added to the door. As a landlord, I have a very hard time wrapping myself around the idea of having the same tenants for over a century.
Back to Ladis, which like so many Alpine hamlets, has been built up dramatically with countless guest homes and small hotels, catering most of all to the winter tourist trade, but summer business is quite decent too. When we went to Ladis in the late ’50s, we rented this ancient old pile of a farm house, 500-600 years old, with tiny windows set into the very thick stone walls, and of course with the “barn” at the rear. And an outhouse, of course, perched up high just outside the door, which is around the back. The lush raspberry bushes that grew at the base of the outhouse had the juiciest berries.
The kitchen was in the center of the house, with gothic arches and the chimney rising from the top of its arched ceiling. A 19th century wood stove had replaced the original open hearth, but the walls were pitch black from 500 years of smoke rising up in the open into the chimney opening overhead. The owner was an old woman in a head scarf and old-fashioned long dress and apron, and she came over every morning with freshly baked rolls, and made a fire in the stove for our coffee and hot chocolate. I can still smell all the sausages and speck that were cured over the centuries in that smokey kitchen.
The windows on the right is the wood-paneled “stube” where we ate our breakfast and heard the cow bells in the fields. On the left is the room I slept in along with my siblings, in ancient old short and tall beds. It was like staying at a 16th century living history museum. And someone is still living there now; I half expected it to be gone, like the old house right across the way, where a brand new apartment-hotel now stands.
The next nine days or so were based in Innsbruck, taken up by family get-togethers, an unexpected funeral, hikes, almost every museum in town (it was rainy a few days), and outings, the most memorable being the one into the Zillertal (Zill valley), which has a little high-alpine toll road that we took, of course.
And a hike later that afternoon up into the further reaches of the valley resulted in an unexpected encounter with a trove of vintage bikes that were given permission to use the normally closed road up there. They’ll get a post of their own, as some are real gems going back to the 1930s, but were all driven in and up to this alm. This elderly farmer, who was heading off to mow some hay with his scythe, was at least as impressed as I was.
And I fulfilled one long-held wish regarding a certain cog-wheel steam train. It’s coming here soon, with video and sound, if not the soot and smuts that covered us from standing in the open compartment right behind the engine.
Every day was highly memorable. Reconnecting with cousins, some that I haven’t seen since 1969. And with their kids, some of whom came over one summer to Oregon, where I showed them the Northwest, and then some. And invariably over traditional food of course, and almost always in scenic setting that one had hiked to. That’s the default past time for Tyroleans: hike up to an alm hutte, and sit, eat, drink and talk. As Stephanie said: “Americans would hike a lot more if there was always a restaurant with beer and hot food at the top of each mountain”.
Of course it’s easy to cheat too, like hopping the cable car up to the top of the Nordkette, with its splendid views of Innsbruck directly below, and the Brenner Pass heading to Italy right above that wind-blown head. Perhaps out of guilt we didn’t eat on that outing, although hot food was certainly available up there too.
The Focus spent more days in its narrow parking garage in Innsbruck than I expected, but that’s ok too. Whenever it was eased out of its narrow confines, it made for an excellent travel companion. And a reasonably efficient one too. When I stopped a few km short of the Munich airport to fill it up for the last time, the trip odometer was showing exactly 2500 km (1555 miles). I wrote down the amount consumed at all of its fuel stops, and calculated it: A total of 197 liters flowed through its injectors, which comes to 7.88L/100 km. Or almost exactly 30 mpg.
That’s a bit better than I expected, although I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. It’s not like they were all easy kilometers; actually, quite few were. Looking through some German tests of similar 150 hp Foci (manual transmission), test averages seem to fall in the 8 to 8.5L/100km range. Gentle driving yields around 6 – 6.5L (35-39 mpg).
Back when Ford offered a wagon version of the Focus in the US, it was a car for those in the know, as there were ever fewer compact wagons available and none with its dynamic qualities. With the rise of CUVs and the availability of the Focus-based C-max, the odds of it reappearing here are essentially nil. I do wonder if Ford will swap the 2.0L NA four for the 1.5 EcoBoost, as that seems to be the trend across the board. Maybe Ford can’t be bothered, as Focus sales are drooping thanks to dirt-cheap gas. Seems like everyone wants a truck or SUV, once again.
Frankly, the US Focus rather fell off my radar a few years back, given the complaints about the Powershift transmission and the Sync system. But this wagon re-ignited the warm feelings I once had for its American predecessor, the last wagon in its class except for the Jetta/Golf. This might well have been a serious contender when we were looking at wagons last year; the VW Golf wagon is the last man standing in its field.
This Focus wagon ought to be sold in the US; there’s no reason to have to go all the way to Europe to drive it. I felt a bit too…American in it. But next time I’ll make sure to ask for one again so that I’ll end up in something truly 100% European, right down to the name, like a Dacia Duster Stepway or Peugeot Bipper Tepee.
Great story, Paul. I really think that your mixed background adds so much to this site. You are able to notice and compare differences between American and European (car) culture that most of us probably would not see.
Indeed, very fascinating to read!
Since I live in Munich, I have perused Sixt often for hire cars for a long time. Only once had I used Avis in Nuremberg and vowed never ever again. Sixt might be little more expensive than its competitors, but its hire cars are usually well-equipped.
Next time you want to hire a car from Sixt, there’s a ‘Diesel preferred’ option under ‘Click here for additional extras’ in the ‘Choose rate and extras’ page after selecting a vehicle. I always tick that box every time I made the arrangement. Only once didn’t I get diesel option: BMW 116i. I made my disdain clear to Sixt afterwards, and they duly noted for the future hires.
Secondly, you can use the offline navigation app for your iPhone. My American friends and I use them when our hired cars don’t have navigation system. We use Sygic, which is very good and very accurate. Additional maps can be downloaded before the road trips.
Unfortunately, three most popular colours in Germany today are black, silver, and white. Easier to sell them after their brutal tour of duties with car hire agencies. Like Americans, Germans have gotten more conservative about the colour lately. I remembered the 1970s and 1980s when they were always in bright or earth tone colours: red, orange, green, brown, and so forth.
Good to know; next time!
Great story. The 3 cylinder focus i drove is very powerful. And I got nice sounding exhaust note.
Nice cars to drive I cant understand the complaints about the DSG automated manual the positive way they shift is good I hate slurring slush boxes and coupled with the high torque PSA/Ford diesels they are a nice drive, in my humble opinion anyway YMMV. Scania trucks also use that DSG system and they shift well too its been around and proven a long long time.
What a nice review and travelogue. Despite the Focus’s intrusive center console, if the wagon were sold here it would be my next car. It’s the right mix of everything I want.
Not Jason Shafer approved? Actually, I never noticed any intrusion from the console, even when I moved my seat up when the four were in the back. It may be an issue of different body types.
In a few respects I like it better than our Acura TSX (better space utilization, more modern powertrain, quieter).
Rode from IN to WV and back in Dad’s ’12 Focus and HATED how the console forced my left knee in and was always rubbing against it.
It’s good to see I’m not the only one who takes issue with consoles! However, I agree with Paul about body types, in that you and I are somewhat close in physical dimensions with Paul being taller and longer limbed. It also appears Ford may have toned down the console from the 2014 I drove way back when.
One of my best friends owns a 2012 Focus SE sedan that I’ve ridden in many times. I’ve never had an issue with the center console taking up leg room, but I have found the footwell under the dash to be very small, causing my legs to be a little cramped. And I’m not even that tall either, though I do have long legs for someone of my height.
I have a 2013, and while I don’t have any problem with the center console, I do hit into it every now and then. My car keys also brush up against my legs when driving, although that might be due to the seat and steering wheel adjustments than anything else.
I think it’s a height thing. I have 2013 SE Hatchback, and the center stack does intrude into the footwell for me. I’m a shorter person and it hits me right on my knee. A little padding would go a long way there.
A taller friend of mine has the same car, and doesn’t have that problem.
I love my Focus, though. It’s got the 5-speed and it’s a blast to drive.
A very enjoyable read Paul! Beautiful scenery, some history, a thorough review of the Focus, and it was also great getting acquainted with some of your family. I really enjoyed it!
Guess it’s about time I start saving up for a Euro-trip.
A great way to start the morning! I have never been to Europe, and your beautiful photography continues to whet my appetite.
I am jealous of your stirring drive up and down the mountains. I was recently in Colorado and drove to the top of Mt. Evans (14,250 ft.). Unfortunately, my rental was a Grand Caravan that I came to thoroughly detest. A car like that Focus would have made the drive so much more enjoyable.
I look forward to the next installment!
The longer I look at that black Focus wagon, the more attractive I find it.
Our first trip up Mt. Evans was in our 1965 Dodge Coronet wagon. There were a few cars on the side of the road back then that didn’t like the climb.
Great feature about a great holiday – thanks
To me, the Focus is still the best car in its class in Europe, as the Golf is just a bit too serious and strait laced for me. The estate looks best too.
And the CC effect works as well – I was in France last week and saw a MK 3 Focus saloon (Italian reg I think) for the first time, in an attractive dark orange. Interesting shape.
This was a wonderful read with a good combination of car and scenery. It’s really strengthened my yearning for international travel.
It sounds like the Focus wagon is a really terrific car. For whatever reason it appears to have more presence than any Focus here; maybe it’s the black, being a wagon, or both.
My father’s best friend moved to Italy in the early 1980s to teach at a US Air Force base. He wound up living near Brindisi. As part of Uncle Sam’s moving package, he could transport his car over there, so he took his 1977ish Ford Mustang with him. He said it was nothing for that car to fill up a street; your picture of the 1.5 car width street in Italy brought all that back. He also stated parking it was a nightmare in some instances.
Reading this article was a wonderful way to start the day. Thank you for sharing your experiences – and photos – with us. It’s great that you and your family had an enjoyable vacation.
The review of the rental Focus is much appreciated. My wife has a 2005 Focus SE sedan, and it has been very reliable. So far we’ve put 209,000 miles on it. I’m seriously considering a new Focus for our next car, even though I’ve been leery of the dual-clutch automatic transmission.
It sounds like a wonderful trip, great that you were able to reconnect with everyone! I rented the previous version Focus wagon with the diesel (tdci) a few years ago in Germany and it was just as good as yours sounds; perfect size, willing partner, good looks. Asinine that its not offered here.
I have a picture for specifically for you: “eat” your heart out: wurstel mit senf, bretzel und bier! Stephanie loves that combo. That was taken at the Munich airport – last chance!
Well, it looks like I’ll have to visit that part of Earth at some point in my life, as everything there looks absolutely beautiful.
As for the Focus wagon, I’d be very curious to see how it compares to my ’13 sedan. I’ve had extensive seat time in the Escape with that exact same powertrain, and it was always a satisfying drive. I reckon we’ll see the 1.5 with the regular automatic on this side of the Atlantic within the next couple of years, as competitors like Volkswagen are now offering similar engines as standard or optional equipment.
I’ve always thought Ford could become the American Subaru in certain respects. It seems like there is a real market for all wheel drive hatch/wagon variants around the $20,000 price point, and it still baffles me that automakers are only just realizing that now with the recent proliferation of subcompact CUV’s. Given the popularity of the Impreza and the XV Crosstrek, I don’t think Ford would lose money if they added AWD to the Focus, which will get four wheel traction with the RS model. Then again, Subaru seems to cut corners when it comes to interior quality and infotainment systems, so perhaps they know how to monetize their product lineup in such a way that cannot easily be replicated by others.
With all the talk about mid size trucks making a comeback, perhaps no segment will truly die going forward. I just hope we see a compact and midsize wagon from Ford return sooner rather than later.
Ah; I see that the Escape comes with the 1.6L version of this engine and with the conventional six-speed automatic. I’m a bit confused by Ford’s powertrain combos, in terms of which automatic they chose to use.
Whoops! You’re right, the Escape has the 1.6; its the Fusion that has the 1.5. My understanding is that Ford came out with the slightly downsized version to skirt a tax in China. I remember driving a 1.6 Fusion back to back with a newer 1.5 and coming out thinking the smaller displacement version was a bit smoother. Still, I would imagine that anyone currently driving an Escape with the 1.6 would feel at home in a Focus like the one you rented.
I think the automatic in your wagon is the same as the one offered in the Fusion and Escape, but like you said, its all very confusing.
Outstanding article, Paul! Thanks for sharing so many details of your trip with us. I am not sure if we will be renting a car when we go to Europe in 2 years, but if we do, I will remember to ask for a diesel if possible.
I was very young when I was last in Europe, on a trip to Germany in the early 90s. In addition to the scenery and architecture, what really made an impression on me is how good the roads were, it seemed like they were all brand new! I do not recall much variety in the cars though, it seems like 9 of every 10 cars I saw was either a Golf or a Jetta!
This is one of the more unusual CCEffects that I have experienced. At about the same time as your trip, FavoriteDaughter and I had a rental car for an East Coast road trip, from Portland Maine to Nashville to visit universities. (Great trip: quality time with daughter, 10 college tours in 14 days, plus visited a few relatives in the Northeast, plus met up with Mrs C and the boys in NC to get #1Son started at Duke.) We had a Focus sedan for 1200 miles of the trip, probably a 2014, and I liked it a lot. I believe it had the 2.0 and a regular auto, though I am not positive. We did a mix of Interstates and state highways, and even a number of small roads. (Look at a map to see where Williams College is located…)
Perhaps due to more freeway driving, or maybe I have a lightet foot than Paul, but we got 38 mpg, with AC on, over 1200 miles.
The only issue was that the trunk would pop open at random times and places. The first time it happened, I assumed it was my fault. The next time we were on the Taconic Parkway, which is quite narrow with no shoulders. (It is one of the very first limited access divided highways, and as such was designed for 1930s cars/speeds). As luck would have it, we were about half a mile before one of the only rest areas so we were able to stop before we lost our luggage. It happened again twice as we were heading down I85 between DC and Durham, so I decided we should exchange the car. After a ridiculous wait, Dollar gave me a Nissan Versa. What a penalty box in comparison. Tinny, with a CVT that tries to pretend to be a regular automatic (seriously – it makes big engine rev changes like shifting, on purpose). Slow, and it got slightly worse mileage on rather more freeway driving (NC to Atlanta to Nashville). And at anything much over 65, it felt really twitchy, like it was about to snap oversteer.
I’ll take the Focus please….
I love the Taconic Parkway!
My wife spent some of her childhood years in Upstate NY/Western Mass, and we’ve gone back several times to visit her old friends. Back in about 1989, I got into a driving duel with a guy in a then-new VW GTI. I was in my trusty old 1987 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo. 2.2 turbo power for the win! I’d never gone triple digits on such a narrow and twisty road, however. I think I may have gotten my first gray hair there…
ditto the cc effect. i, too, was renting an american spec focus hatchback from avis at about the time paul was in europe. my quick impressions:
beautiful design, ergonomics and build quality. the only thing i’ve driven in this class that can compete is the honda fit.
if this thing had a 2.0 engine, i don’t know where the power went. every time it stepped on the gas, it sounded like a waring blender and not much happened. i’m wondering if the avis fleet cars have a special deal with a smaller engine. it was equipped with the same automatic as pictured above and i drove with the air conditioning on but it was just two people and no luggage. i drove a chevy spark over the weekend and it seemed just as peppy. the focus did get about 5 mpg better than the spark though…
this was my first experience with the ford center console electronics thingy. best one i’ve used so far. it actually integrated with my old iphone easily and didn’t try to distract me all the time like most of the other ones i’ve tried. i cold even stream music from my home system via the amazing isub app.
my overall impression was that if it was equipped with a stick and more torques (as clarkson would put it), it would be a great car.
p.s. thanks paul for sharing your vacation with us.
Ahhh, Europe, the place where I really should live…..
Beautiful pics, Paul. What I really get a kick from is when I see morons post on the internet about Europe being “a socialist hell,” etc, from idiots who have never been there.
Pros and cons, on each side.
The density there becomes a bit much after a few weeks; everywhere there are houses and people, even high up on the mountains and around every lake.
Coming from Eugene, where there is infinite deserted woods, including old-growth forests and wilderness, the contrast is pretty intense. When we go on a hike, we’re usually the only ones on the trail; maybe one or two others. And we can hike to lakes that are surrounded only by woods, not houses and towns.
Society is a bit conservative too, in Tyrol. Not necessarily politically, but in the way folks tend to all do things in the same way. I live in a town that embraces being different, for better or for worse. I’m still trying to asses the pros and cons.
The grass is always greener….
I get the density thing, but I have close connections to Asia, so Europe seems not too packed. What I really like in Europe is the art and culture that abound everywhere one turns a corner. Tradition is a big deal in much of Europe, coming from being in the same place for so many generations. There is also a very practical way of dealing with social issues, which are not nearly as dogmatic as here in North America. We can learn from this.
Very nice read. A friend of mine sent this to me. I was born and raised in Innsbruck and live in Atlanta since many years. I even recognize some of the houses in the pictures. A nice reminder from my old home.
Thanks for that!!
Geez….I don’t know where to look at first. The cars, the scenery, the buildings, the boats, or the family pictures ! Great article.
We don’t have mountains. Flat land and water, that’s what we’ve got. A few bumps in the landscape that look like hills, where BeWo lives, that’s it.
Thanks for a great travelogue, as well as a car review! I’ve always wanted to visit Germany and Austria, and this has certainly heightened that yearning. I had the opportunity to do a study abroad semester in Vienna when in college, but chose not to for reasons since lost to time. And that’s been one of my biggest regrets ever since. One day…
I must say I’m a little surprised that Ford offers the Focus wagon, what with the existence of the C-Max. I know it’s a little more “Mini MPV”, but one would think you’d end up with similar capacity. Of course, in my personal opinion the C-Max also looks rather dumpy compared to the rather sleek Focus Tournier, but that’s just me.
If this Focus Wagon was offered here, it would be on my “must check out” list for a future family vehicle as well.
I’m glad to hear you had a good trip – I’m very jealous! I’ve been lucky to travel some for work. Some of my favorite places are in Austria and coastal Italy – the term “picturesque” can definitely get a workout! So much great scenery and interesting cars and great food & beer! I’m looking forward to more from your trip.. and welcome back!
That’s what it’s all about. Being with family and friends and enjoying the beautiful places on earth together! What a great adventure, and the European cars are cool too!
Thanks for this – Tirol is not an area I visit often, living in Vienna as I do. Re Focus: yes, but I have a very bad feeling about the long term reliability of all these tiny Wundermotoren VW, Ford and Citroen are coming up with now. Such high hp per liter does not come free. I’d rather stick with the old fashioned 2L engine in my Mazda 3, all of 165 hp and no turbo (the Mazda diesels now have two (!)). Oh, and they can keep the auto: I have a 6sp manual with no electronics whatever to go wrong. Agree on the visibility issue – same here, it is as if you are driving an armored car; the park assistant is no luxury. That sensor array you mentioned is something afflicting the Mazda too, by the way.
I second that on the noisy pavement in Oregon. I turn my hearing aids off on trips just to get a little peace and quiet. Does a larger, quieter car make much difference?
Such gorgeous scenery, especially Portofino!! Wow!
Those pictures really make Mid-Michigan look pretty lame. 🙂 Considering it’s a modern car, I’ve been fairly happy with my 2012 Focus so far. A wagon would be pretty cool, but I wouldn’t have paid extra for it. It’s a manual, so I can’t comment on the Powershift, but I believe my dad’s 2014 Escape has it, and it’s pretty imperceptible. In fact, with the 2.0 Ecoboost, it’s actually quite fast for a small SUV. It’s certainly faster than anything I own.
Great vacation pics! Looks like all had a great time. Car looks like a long nose C-Max. A diesel C-Max would be a serious MPG machine.
Call me biased for saying this, as I currently own a ’12 Focus sedan, but this car looks DAMN good as a wagon, especially with the new face! Granted, the Powershift can shudder in low gears if you aren’t authoritative with your right foot, but once you actually get going it’s not a problem. I’m impressed to hear that you got four people in the back row with no complaints of legroom, especially given that rear legroom is a common complaint of the Focus (and a number of other Fords these days) in the US. Since this generation came out, I thought Ford could give itself a unique slice of the compact car pie by bringing the wagon here, and your write-up reinforces my thought that that wouldn’t be the worst thing they could do (especially given that One Ford would make bringing it over require few modifications). Seeing it in all the European scenery doesn’t hurt my opinion of it, either!
Paul -This is my favorite posting in several years of reading CC. Thank you!
Some rental car questions:
1) I’ve used Hertz and Avis in Germany and Czech – always OK or good. Do you recommend Sixt at Munich over those? I like a Polo or Golf sized car with diesel and manual – for just two persons.
2) Please discuss the obligation to purchase stickers for use on roadways in Czech, Slovakia, Austria and Italy if one has a German (D) rental car. I don’t know what exactly this involves but I guess if you don’t have one you can get into an expensive waste of time. I want to drive from Munich to Regensburg, Plzen, Brno, Bratislava, somewhere in Italy, Innsbruck and back to Munchen. If I can avoid it, I do not want to bother with these country specific permits but I know nothing about them. Please advise!
I’ve had two modern Focus based vehicles. They are good but not excellent. The one you got is close to ideal but not quite there. I agree that we will never get that ideal one (wagon, diesel, turbo, manual) here at my dealer in Cheyenne.
1. Not really. Actually, the Sixt counter was a nightmare this time, with way too many arrivals trying to get a car. Folks were cutting lines, etc. A bit ugly.
I used Hertz last time (in 1999) and they were fine. But the counter was dead quiet then compared to the airport this time.
Austria has a “maut” (sticker for autobahn use). I’m a risk taker and both this time and last time didn’t pay and took my chances. The night I was coming back from Italy, it was Sunday 8:15 pm, and I was going a bit faster then the recently lowered 100kmh speed limit. I decided to ease up a bit, and sure enough, shortly later there was a radar cop. Whew! If I had been pulled over, I would have been nailed for the lack of the maut too. Could have been expensive.
I can’t really advise on breaking the law: your call. If you get caught, it will likely not be real cheap. And I think they can make you pay right on the spot, unlike the US. I didn’t use the autobahn in Austria all that much.
This website has lot of excellent information, including the fees in each European country.
Austria, Czech Republic, and Slovakia allow you to choose the length with ten days being the shortest and one year the longest. They are cheaper than paying for toll at interval like France and Italy.
However, there are some sections of highways in Austria where the motorists must pay extra cost for travel through tunnels (Karavanke), over mountain passages (Brenner motorway), etc.
Of course, you can travel without using the highways in Austria, but a wrong turn can be very expensive with on-the-spot fine if caught. The navigation system has options of choosing the routes without ‘Maut’.
I am not sure why you feel compelled to avoid paying for cheap vignettes, which the fee goes directly to the road construction and maintenance. If you want to use the highways, you pay for use of them. Just like the motorists paying the toll to cross Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
If not, buy Railpass and travel by train as long as you don’t mind complying with seemingly labyrinthine rules and timetables.
Driving in Europe has advantages and disadvantages just like anywhere in the world. Don’t assume whatever is free or cheap in the United States must also apply in Europe. Please forget about the cost and enjoy holidaying in Europe. Consider it a special treat for yourself and your significant other. All right?
In Austria if they catch you without an “Autobahn-Pickerl” (Autobahn sticker, also referred to as “Vignette”) it’s €120 on the spot fine for a car, €65 for bike. A 10 day sticker costs €8.70. Make your own risk assessment:)
If you rent the car in Austria a yearly sticker will be a part of the deal and if not, tell them to take a hike.
Oh, for sure you can drive on the Bundesstraßen (Federal Roads, marked as B roads on the map) but max speed is 100 Km/H, it is enforced and never mind getting stuck behind farmer Franz and his tractor. So again it’s a give and take situation.
Thanks for this. I’ve driven D cars in D and CZ cars in CZ so those rental cars must have had the correct permit for use on freeways. But I never had a D car in the various other countries so I didn’t know.
Can the maut or vignette for subsequent countries on one’s route be bought at the Hertz counter? Do you buy it at a border crossing? Do you have to find an ADAC or something similar?
Thanks for the good info.
You can buy those stickers at the fuel stations or stores close to the borders. The signage alerting you to the sticker sales are pretty much impossible to miss.
EU member countries that subscribe to Schengen Accord don’t require passport control at the borders. The random check can happen like any traffic check. The car hire agencies do have restrictions where the customers are allowed to drive their vehicles and where not. The car hire agreements do list the permitted countries.
The vehicles registered in one EU member state are allowed in other member states as long as the numberplates display the country code on the blue strip or oval sticker.
Nice to see these pix of Innsbruck and Tirol! Your wife is right, if every mountain had an almshaus at the top, more people would go hiking for sure.
One thing that sticks out in my mind. I visited Germany last in the late 1970s. I was impressed by the German Fords; I’d hoped that someday they would make their trip across the See. At one point (in the 1980’s), Ford was promising a closer alignment between Ford of Europe and North American Operations. It never happened. I was so disappointed, I gave up owning and driving Fords.
Your post reminded me of that great disappointment. There are some really neat products over there, but they will never reach these shores. We can only dream.
Me? I’m dreaming of an almshaus in the Alps high above Munich. At the bottom of the hill is an Irmscher Manta waiting for me.
Wonderful story and pictures! I’ve rented cars four times in Europe between 1984 and 2004 and twice gotten a car that I wanted The other two times it ended OK, though as much as I ended up enjoying the Fiat Marea I got in Florence in 2001, I would certainly preferred the Alfa 155 which was promised on the rental website. I wonder if Europeans in America are disappointed when the “Chrysler 300 or equivalent” ends up being a Taurus or Impala … or a Passat?
When we hired a car in the UK a few years back they just said something like “take whichever car you want from aisle G”, we got a Focus diesel manual hatch (previous generation). Because they only sell the 2.0 diesel in Australia it was a few days before I worked out it was actually a 1.6, a few times we could have used more power but getting 5.5 L/100km or over 42mpUSg made up for it, diesel was a bit over 1 pound per litre at the time.
Thanks for the tour Paul, very enjoyable.
Great post, Paul. Just replaced my ’11 Jetta Sportwagen with a new Golf Sportwagen – SEL with the 1.8t gas engine – so very timely.
Re: stop/start engines, had the same experience as you with a Golf sedan I rented in England last summer. Picked it up at Heathrow, drove all the way to Oxford before I hit a light, and then wondered why the car died at the first stoplight it hit.
I had also been wishing that Ford would bring the Focus wagon to the US, but I have all but given up on that wish ever coming true. Like you, I was also able to live out my Focus wagon fantasies (albeit for a very brief time) last September in Germany. I had a 10-hour layover in Frankfurt en route to Belgrade. I figured I’d take advantage of the long layover to visit a friend down in Karlsruhe, so I rented a Focus wagon from Sixt. I had a good experience with Sixt at the Frankfurt airport; a courteous agent came down to my car to show me how to change the navigation to English. The Focus wagon had the triumvirate of my most desired features: a Diesel engine, a manual transmission and idle stop/start. The drive down to Karlsruhe on the A5 Autobahn was a pleasant one – most people only drove about 65 to 75 MPH in their Opels and Volkswagens, but I made sure to stay out of the left lane and be on the lookout in my rear view mirror for any speeding Audis and Mercedes. The cargo space with the rear seat backs folded down was cavernous. I was fantasizing about loading up my road bike and or mountain bike in the rear and driving this rental car to Mt. Tam…
It looks like Ford has finally installed a plastic finisher panel on the foot rest surface. The foot rest surface is still bare carpet on US models.