COAL: 2012 Ford Focus 1.0 125 Ecoboost Titanium Wagon

As mentioned in very clear terms in the past installment, the Saab 9-5 had to go and fast.

So while putting the Saab up for sale and regularly reducing the asking price to no effect, apart from ever more non-buyers taking up my time, I started looking for a sensible car. As you may recall we wanted something fuel-efficient and newer-looking for the family car and then we agreed on a stage two of that plan meaning a fun car for me down the line. Pure rationality would decide the stage one purchase.

Now, in terms of budget we were doing well and I’m making decent money. I do also realize that cars while called investments are in fact very rarely investments but mere expenses. So a purely practical car should not be too expensive in my view. Furthermore, we want to do some renovating on the house so a big car loan, while perfectly manageable budget-wise, would count against our financing options for the renovation. So this would have to be something we could buy outright.

I of course had my usual criteria of not wanting to buy a brand I have already owned. With three Volvos and (with this) three Fords out of nine cars, you already know how good I am at sticking to that.

The top contenders were: 

Skoda Octavia wagons with the 1.4 liter 122 bhp engine. It’s a four-cylinder with a small turbocharger (also briefly considered the Golf with the same engine but for X dollars you get an older, smaller, higher mileage car relative to the Octavia). 

Ford Focus wagons with the 1.0 liter 125 hp engine. It’s a three-cylinder(!) engine with a small turbocharger. 

If you want good fuel economy but don’t like feeling punished for it when you accelerate, these small turbo engines are a nice option. I think less than the 120-ish bhp in these cars is too anemic, the 105 bhp-rated Octavia with a 1.2 liter feels too slow. The 100 bhp-rated version of the Ford is listed at 12-something to 62 mph, which again is too slow. Furthermore, it’s a five-speed while the 125 bhp is a six.

Let me put it this way: The 120-ishes effortlessly keep up with traffic, but no more, while the 100-ishes struggle to keep up with traffic.

I also like the option of a chip tune or piggyback ecu if it starts feeling too slow. So there are easy options to make them less slow – though not fast.

In early 2022, good examples of these cars from around 2011-2013 with less than 200,000 km / 120,000 miles on them hovered around 70-80,000 DKK (10-11,000 USD) with the used car prices being as crazy as they are. We drove both. The Octavia felt like a solid car that will do whatever you ask of it but with absolutely no flair or fun in any way. It felt honest. I like that in a car, but not necessarily as the primary trait in a car I own and intend to keep for years.

The Focus we knew because we had considered financing one of these Mk3s when we eventually settled on buying our Mk2 outright instead back in 2016. We both liked that car. It handles well and looks and feels newer than the Octavia. It is a bit smaller but how much room do we really need? We drove one again in June 2022 and really liked it.

The issue remained that the Saab would.not.sell. But then things started moving when I got a promotion that meant a longer commute which meant fuel economy should factor even more. The Octavias are rated at 15.9 or 17.2 km/l depending on vintage while the Focus comes in at 19.2 km/l (45.2 mi/gallon). So that narrowed it down to the Focus as a clear favorite. Remember that in Denmark this number also dictates the owner’s tax. 15.9 km/l means 3,320 DKK (480 USD)/year, while 19.2 km/l means 1420 DKK (215 USD). If we’re being practical about this purchase we might as well pick the cheaper option.

I found one 200 miles away that seemed very good. It was a 2012 with 214.000 km on it but was offered at only 60.000 DKK (8,700 USD). I thought what the hell, let me see, if he will let me trade in the Saab. He said he would offer 18,000 DKK (2,600 USD) for it meaning a trade-in price of 42,000 DKK (6,000 USD) for the Focus. Deal! Provided it checked out of course.

I figured it was far and away the best option to get rid of the Saab and get something efficient. Another dealer had said 5,000 DKK (700 USD) for the Saab. So on July 7th I drove to the other end of the country in the Saab to test drive the Focus.

So it basically checked out and seems a solid example. It seems clear that it has been infected with mold or at least significant moisture, most likely due to sitting still for a long period of time. Examples of this are: dark mold spots on the sun visors and the handles above the windows, mold traces on the luggage hooks and under the trunk carpet – but you would not notice these if you weren’t looking for issues. Stuff like that. But when I drove it, it generally seemed in good condition and I figured that I could combat any future mold attacks by using the car and ventilating it. I would also replace the cabin air filter. So I accepted, again figuring that even with 20,000 DKK in repairs – should it come to that – it would be the same price as other Focuses on the market.

I drove the car home and my wife was very happy with it. Happy wife, happy life. I was very happy to get rid of the looming big repairs of the Saab and into something that had just had its bi-annual inspection days before I bought it, as well as a recent “service” whatever that entails exactly.

I did the usual stuff: replaced the oil and filter, the air filter, the cabin air filter and was going to do the plugs but I could not get them loose with any of my tools (even broke a spark plug wrench in the process), so I haven’t got around to that yet.

I got a professional to take a look at the brakes as they made screechy noises when applied and vibrated a bit. That is the only thing that needed attention. The mechanic seemed puzzled at my request and said nothing was wrong. He didn’t charge me anything and the screeching and vibration either wore off or started being less evident to me. Add to that an upcoming cambelt change in 2023 – that’s around 7,500 DKK – and it’s a fully serviced and sorted car at around 67,000 DKK.

I have already put more than 2,000 miles on it. The first 200 on the day of purchase and a few days later the family vacation to Stockholm – around 500 miles each way. I have started commuting 20 miles each way and the car is just great. 

Performance is adequate. I like the option of a piggyback ECU to raise power from 125 to around 150 hp and torque from 200 NM (147 ft lb) to around 250 NM (180 ft lb) That would be very welcome but on the other hand it is not new and I don’t actually want to put extra stress on it.

It is relatively quiet and very composed. Handling is great for a family car as you know if you know anything about recent European Fords. Fuel economy is not what is listed, 19.2 km/l under mixed driving conditions should yield more on my commute at half a steady 115 km/h and half a steady 90 km/h, but actual fuel economy is 17.9 km/l-ish on the commutes and gets worse the more mixed my driving gets. It’s still twice what the Saab could muster and probably the best you can get in a car of this size and vintage.  For comparison, the Saab was 8,040 DKK per year while this one is 1,320 per year or roughly almost 100 USD less every month. That is worth something as well.

The car is fully equipped for the time. I believe you could get stuff like adaptive cruise control but it was very rare back then and this one doesn’t have it, but it does have a lot of creature comforts and I am really happy with it. For a compromise, it’s a very good one.


Update, January 2023:

At half a year in the books I have clocked almost 14,000 km (roughly 9,000 miles) in the car with at least 60 a day commuting. Let’s take a look at how it has held up so far.

I had it rustproofed in the early fall as I plan to drive the car into the ground and it had not been rustproofed before. That was almost 5,000 DKK (700 USD).

There has been no real issues but the check engine light has come on a while back. The error code is P0420 which is a sensor detecting too much pollution, so it’s either the sensor or the actual exhaust gas. In case of the former, it’s most likely the catalyst that needs replacing. It won’t be too cheap but again, planning to keep the car for a while, it’s fine.

Other than that, I have done very little to it. I removed the license plate frames for aesthetic reasons – same with the “DK” sticker. The driver’s seat height adjustment lever cover was missing at purchase. I assumed I could find one cheap on eBay, and I did, so that’s replaced – again purely aesthetic.

Filters and oil of course. I also had a valve replaced in a winter tire as it was flat when I set about putting them on. I replaced the dampers for the rear hatch as they would lift the hatch but be really slow for the latter half. Now the new ones are showing the same tendency so I might have to do it again with  dampers from a different supplier. It’s cheap and easy, so that’s fine.

So driving it I am still deeply impressed with the small 1-liter engine. It’s a comical engine to describe: 1 liter (exactly 995 ccm/61 cu in)), three cylinders. My first car – a Fiat 127 from 1973 – had a 0.9 liter engine with four cylinders. But they are of course worlds apart. The little EcoBoost engine sounds a bit rattly when cold – almost diesel-like – but once warm it sounds smooth when it’s heard at all. When accelerating it sounds raspy as a three-cylinder is likely to do.

It will cruise happily at more than the speed limit if you wish to do so and it accelerates just fine. It keeps up with traffic. If you need it, it will keep up with quick traffic and it doesn’t seem like you’re punishing it. It feels like it has bigger reserves than the Mondeo with its 2.0 NA engine. The Moneo is a bigger car, of course, but the turbo and the well-spaced six-speed gearbox more than matches the additional ponies of the Mondeo.

The handling is great. The steering is so direct and has such great feel. Combine that with the thick steering wheel and the six-speed gearbox and it’s a fun ride – for what it is of course. I am, however, back in an anonymous car – just like the Mk2 Focus I had.

I did more than 600 miles in it one day and it was flawless and I got out of the car at 3AM feeling fine with no numb spots anywhere. They are not Volvo seats but they are very good.

One quibble I have is the fuel economy – it’s pretty paltry. I am averaging around 14 km/l (32.9 mi/gallon) which is unacceptably far from the listed 19.2 (45.2 mi/gallon). But again, considering the car’s overall value I’m not dissatisfied with it as a whole. I just have an issue with Ford’s numbers here. Of course, the listed number is what decides the owner’s tax, so I’m paying for a 19.2 km/l car even if it does not get close to that in real life. That is nice.

It is being used heavily and is now on winter tires. Winter tires and dirt from heavy use shown here:

As mentioned above, I expected to discover shortcomings but that has not happened yet. It is a very nice car. As a package, it’s the best I have had. The Saab had more fun factor and the Alfa Romeo had a lot more fun factor, but those cars fell short in crucial areas when serving as the sole family car.

So far I would recommend this car without reservations. My other two Fords were good cars but I would be careful to mention my reservations if asked for recommendations.

My previous COAL entries:

1973 Fiat 127

1978 Volvo 242 L

1988 Alfa Romeo 75 2.0 Twin Spark

1988 Volvo 740 GLE

2001 Volvo V40 1.8 Business

2007 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI Trend Collection Wagon

2007 Ford Focus 1.8 TDCI Trend Collection Wagon, part 2

2009 Ford Mondeo 2.0 Titanium Wagon

2009 Ford Mondeo 2.0 Titanium Wagon, part 2

2005 Saab 9-5 2.0t Estate