COAL: 2007 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI Wagon

Time for another car! It had been two full years since the V40 was wrecked when I got a new job at a major pharmaceutical company. The position was full-time and permanent. This was a huge relief as we were running out of options at the time. I had had three temporary part-time high school teacher positions which had me spending more than three hours a day riding trains, which is something I really do not enjoy at all.

With another kid on the way and the new job being located half an hour away, the arguments leaned towards once again becoming a car owner. 

I have grown fond of Excel sheets and decided to use them to run a lot of numbers when looking for a car. You see, in Denmark you pay a tax on a new car of 105 to 180 percent depending on the car’s fuel economy (yes, that is 105 to 180 percent tax in addition to the price of the car itself, so we pay two up to almost three times the value of the car itself when we buy one). But your taxes are not done with that. Gasoline is around 10.50 DKK/liter (roughly 5.60 USD/gallon) and 8.60 DKK/liter (4.90 USD/gallon) for diesel. So the choice is easy, right? No!

You see, in Denmark our taxpaying is not done with that. In addition to the above, we pay an ownership tax twice a year, and that tax is based on the type of fuel as well as the mileage, so a 50 MPG gasoline car is taxed a lot lower than a 50 MPG diesel car. This means that you have to drive pretty far for the cheaper diesel to counter the higher ownership tax.

Oh yeah, and there is a 200 USD annual tax for diesel cars without a particle filter. So I ran the numbers and settled on a diesel station wagon that does in the 48-50 MPG range. We set a budget of around 50k DKK (~7,500 USD). Then we went to the bank, and they said that they only wanted to finance newer cars due to the depreciation. So we were very close to pulling the trigger on a 2013 Ford Focus 1.6 TDCI station wagon (Mk3) with some 80,000 miles on it at 135,000 DKK (21,000 USD), but then learned that we could indeed finance a car beyond five years of age. So back to the drawing board with the initial budget.

My focus quickly centered on either the first generation Kia C’eed 1.6 CRDI station wagon or the 109 horsepower (there is also a common 90 horsepower) second generation Ford Focus 1.6 TDCI station wagon. I test drove one of the former but it sold before I could pull the trigger. The same happened for one of the latter. So after a long search, my girlfriend and I were both getting fed up with the whole process, and when she one night stumbled on a Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI just put up for sale, I jumped on it. I went to see it that night in the dark and did a quick test drive. I decided that okay, sure why not?

The 1.8 liter engine is the Lynx design used in the Ford Sierras of the early eighties. It has since been optimized with commonrail injection, but it cannot hide the fact that this engine design is old and the sound and feel agricultural. Meanwhile the 1.6 and 2.0 liter TDCIs are of a much newer design by PSA and thus to be found in Peugeots, Citroëns, Volvos and Mazdas as well. They share zero components with the 1.8.

The advantage of the PSA engines is the smoothness which is a whole hell of a lot better than the 1.8. They also get better mileage. The advantage of the 1.8 is that it is durable. There have been several issues with the PSA engines (an oilpan that does not drain properly, which is in itself an issue. The old oil clogs are then fed to the turbocharger and some of the piping for that is a flawed design which causes these clogs block the lubrication for the turbocharger and then you know what happens). Furthermore, the 1.8 is relatively powerful compared to the PSA engines of this generation:
1.6: 109 hp, 240 NM (192 lb-ft)
1.8: 115hp, 300 NM (221 lb-ft)

Having driven them both, I can tell you that the torque difference is very noticeable. It feels like it would happily pull anything, which I guess is part of the agricultural driving experience.

The downside to our car is that it has not been meticulously maintained and it shows, although the car is relatively healthy. On the other hand we paid 39,900 DKK for it (5,900 USD) which I’m sure many of you would be surprised to learn is a very good price for a ten year old agricultural diesel station car with 135,000 miles on the clock.

The upside is that it is a so-called Trend Collection trim level car. I imagine they did this one because a facelift was right around the corner and wanted to get the last ones off the lot. It is loaded with accessories for a 2007 car: Power windows and mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, refrigerated glove compartment, heated windshield, heated seats, entry lights in the rear view mirrors, power outlet in the trunk and a six speaker stereo prepared for aux-in which I completed for 10 USD via eBay.

A timing belt change was way overdue so I got that fixed and then it had a rear brake caliper that needed replacement, so I had them both changed. In addition to that I have added ISOfix brackets on both seating positions in the back, had an airbag on/off switch installed for the front passenger seat, a plastic mat in the trunk. These additions are all made to make life with an infant, a 4-year-old and two parents easier.

It drives well and you can tell that the handling is as good as they talked about when it was new, despite the heavier diesel engine. The narrow torque band limits spirited driving, but as a commuter car on a budget it really works quite well and I have got addicted to the torque boost around 2,000 RPM.

A silver station wagon is very popular over here. As of this writing no car holds its value better than a silver Skoda diesel station wagon. This car ticks three of those four boxes, and as you can see, it really blends in well. So there you have it: proof that I have grown as a car owner. I buy just about the most sensible car available and maintain it and do repairs preemptively. How bouh dah?

My unicorn (two more unicorns in the back).

With two kids and saving for a house, you have to make compromises and indeed this is not a dream car. I am very pleased with it and it does everything well, but the fact that the aux-in and the airbag switch were both prepared from the factory, and they just did not bother putting it in, makes you feel like you bought a sub par product. The same goes for the pre-drilled holes for the ISOfix mounts. Imagine Volvo preparing a car for safety equipment and then not bothering installing it. Yeah, I can’t see that either. The trunk is square and easy to access, but why did they not build in more room for smaller stuff? Why did they not install some kind of dividers for those 99 percent of the time when you do not have the trunk filled up to the brim?

I needed a manageable project for fun so I decided to do car audio again, since a better soundproofed car with better audio would improve my commuter experience. I am one of those rare people who really enjoy running cables, so I looked to my youth and bought a used Phoenix Gold M44 amplifier with a used Phoenix Gold 1.0 farad capacitor and will be hooking it up to a set of Boston Acoustics Pro component speakers in the front and two built-for-small-enclosures MB Quart 8” subwoofers. It will all be controlled from my phone running through a preamp/equalizer in the glove compartment.

I want to keep it all fairly hidden, so only the discrete subwoofers and amplifier in the trunk will stand out a little bit. Add dampening, and the sound should be really good with components that from new would have set me back around 3,000 USD.

As you can see, I have only got around to installing the subwoofers and running the cables at this point, but when done, you can say that in a way I have come full circle seeing as my first car 19 years ago was also subjected to the car audio treatment.

Would I buy a Ford as a daily driver again? I just might. I am of course thinking about our next car already, and I am toying with the idea of a minivan, and the best looking and handling one of the bunch is the Ford S-Max. I might go that route and I might go with something completely different. Do I think more about buying an old transaxle Alfa Romeo project car in the future? Definitely.