The new Ford Focus is the reigning New Zealand Motoring Writers' Guild Car of the Year. I'm just one of 30 who voted, so I don't mind saying that Focus was top of my list.
My score was based largely on road-test experience in the mid-range Sport model, which has a 2.0-litre petrol engine.
Great car, but there is always that nagging doubt that you might have missed a model in the range that's a real dud.
Time to embrace or exorcise that doubt with this: the $41,490 Focus Trend diesel. Trend is only one specification level up from the entry point, so there are few toys to distract you from the car's fundamental design and engineering qualities.
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I loved the Sport's direct-injection petrol engine - can a turbo-diesel keep the faith?
Basically, yes. And how. Focus is not a cheap car, but the lower you go down the model range, the more impressive the package - because you still get the same high-quality interior finish, with generous quantities of soft-touch plastics in an age where most rivals have hit the hard stuff. Same great steering feel, same beautifully compliant and subtly sporting chassis.
The Trend is modestly equipped by Focus standards, but hardly stripped out: you still get 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, cruise control, lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat (which would be excellent regardless), fog lights and parking sensors.
The diesel engine is superb. Actually, it's a no-brainer over the petrol in terms of driver appeal, notwithstanding the $3000 price premium. The oil-burner makes just 5kW less peak power, but a whopping 138Nm extra torque, with 340Nm.
The diesel even overcomes the biggest bugbear with the Focus petrol powertrain, which is the sometimes hesitant behaviour of the automated dual-clutch PowerShift transmission.
The six-speed gearbox just seems more simpatico with the muscular torque of the diesel and they work brilliantly together - as well as achieving a staggering 5.3 litres per 100km in the official combined fuel economy test. Granted, with Road User Charges thrown in, you'd still have to be doing a lot of mileage to justify the extra spend for the diesel when the petrol model manages an also-impressive 6.4 litres per 100km. But for sheer entertainment, there's no contest.
It's been a busy year for road-test cars already, but I've come away from my week with this Ford enthusiastic about the Focus Trend diesel. It's not merely the Motoring Writers' Guild Car Of The Year, it's a strong contender for Best Car In The Real World.