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Ford Focus Zetec 5-door 2.0 TDCi PowerShift

Click to view picture gallery“You may have noticed the sharper
  ‘Kinetic
designs of Ford’s latest
  models but overlooked the latest
  technology under the smarter
  bodies. For example, Ford
s new
  PowerShift  automatic transmission
  option — if you want an auto ’box
  with really slick and seamless
  gearchanges, then check out a
  Focus fitted with
Fords new twin-
  clutch automatic transmission
...”

FORD'S RECENT PRODUCT AND TECHNOLOGY OFFENSIVE has been rather like waiting for a bus: nothing much for ages, then we get loads arriving in quick succession.

The relatively recent launch of the much smarter and better built Mondeo started the process, and this was followed by the much improved new Ford Focus. The Ford 'march of technology' continues unabated with new offerings such as lower-emission ECOnetic models, revised lower-emission petrol and diesel engines, Flexifuel bio-ethanol 1.8-litre engine option, CNG (compressed natural gas) and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) engines, Easyfuel capless refuelling system, their new PowerShift seamless automatic transmission — as reviewed here — and shortly we will be seeing the all new Fiesta and Ka ranges plus the potent Focus RS.

In a tough market place Ford in the UK at least has managed to increase its share of a falling new car market and to improve the ownership desirability of the brand by building better looking, better built cars with advanced technologies, whilst still retaining their competitive pricing.

Their latest offering is the new PowerShift six-speed, twin-clutch, automatic transmission. This is now available in the Focus and C-Max ranges used in conjunction with their 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi common rail turbodiesel engine, tuned to deliver either 108 or 134bhp power outputs. Ford also continues to offer their conventional four-speed automatic torque-converter gearboxes for other models across the Focus range.

For the high-mileage business car users the seamless, fast-acting and non-power sapping new automatic transmission makes driving less tiring, potentially more fuel-efficient and, just as importantly, more enjoyable. This is the first application by Ford of a twin-clutch auto transmission and it is an option available with limited model choice — for now. But this technology will be used in more current and future model ranges as engine efficiency and easy driving functions become more and more important.

The quick response, fuel saving or performance enhancing twin-clutch automatic transmissions are not new. In fact I remember first driving this type of twin-clutch auto gearbox (called DSG by the Volkswagen group) five years ago in an Audi TT, and many other cars now have similar systems.

The beauty of the twin-clutch system is that, unlike conventional torque-converter automatic gearboxes, there are no power losses between gear ratios and that in turn means no wasted fuel or energy. They are electronically controlled — not by hydraulic pressure — so they are faster in operation and can be electronically matched to the engine's power and torque outputs to optimise gearchange points and performance.

In some cases — although not with the Focus — engines fitted with twin-clutch gearboxes actually return better fuel economy and lower CO2 levels than their comparative manual transmission models, and the acceleration performance is better as well.

A Ford PowerShift auto gearbox costs an extra 1,200 over a standard manual transmission and, as already mentioned, is currently only available for the 108 and 134bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engines. Ford's conventional (Durashift) auto-box for other engine sizes costs an extra 1,000

The PowerShift option is available for Zetec, Zetec S and Titanium trim levels and the Focus 3-door, 5-door, 4-door Saloon and Estate all have PowerShift models with prices ranging from 18,195 to 21,195. The likely best selling PowerShift model — the Focus Zetec 5-door 2.0 TDCi 134bhp — costs 19,595 on the road.

The six-speed, double-clutch PowerShift unit provides the efficiency of a manual and the full comfort of an automatic. The Ford system does not, however, have the usual steering wheel paddle-shifts associated with twin-clutch systems, just the conventional auto-shift gear lever with a sequential manual gearchange position.

For petrolheads and technology enthusiasts the following is a brief explanation of how twin-clutch auto-boxes work. The Ford PowerShift transmission, which was developed by Getrag Ford Transmissions GmbH as a 50:50 Ford/GETRAG joint venture, consists essentially of two layshaft transmission units working in parallel, each with its own wet clutch. Thanks to the layout of the intermediate shafts — one carrying the 'uneven' gears 1, 3 and 5, and the other the even gears 2, 4 and 6 — subsequent gear changes can be prepared by pre-selecting the next gear while in motion and at full power. The change then takes place through the opposed activation of both clutches. The clutch operations are electronically co-ordinated so that no interruption to the torque delivery occurs — the result is fast, slick and smooth changes every time.

In contrast to a conventional automatic transmission, the basic technical configuration of the Ford PowerShift transmission offers numerous advantages. It does not require any complex sub-systems such as torque-converters, planetary gear sets, multiple wet clutches and multiple bands — all of which significantly reduce gearbox efficiency due to increased inertia and drag torque effects.

The Ford PowerShift transmission, with its high torque capacity and the ability for it to be used with a wide choice of gear ratios, makes it the ideal partner for modern high-performance diesel and petrol engines.

The official fuel economy data of the 108 and 134bhp TDCi derivatives with Ford PowerShift show how efficient a modern automatic transmission can be. Regardless of power rating or body style, all new Focus models equipped with this state-of-the-art transmission are homologated to a combined fuel economy of 48.6mpg with an average CO2 emission of 154g/km.

There you have it — the full technical explanation of why twin-clutch auto transmissions are the way forward when integrated with the engine's performance. It's all right on paper but does it really work in real life?

My experience of the Ford system (and others) is positive, although you pay extra and so it really is high-mileage company car drivers who will benefit most. That said, the extra cost of the Ford PowerShift system does increase company car tax (by 3%), and the official fuel economy of 48.6mpg falls a little short of the 51.3mpg achieved with the same engine mated to a standard manual gearbox. The manual Focus model with the same engine is in Band C for CO2 (at 147g/km, costing 120 a year); the PowerShift model (154g/km CO2) is in Band D and its VED rate is 145 annually. For the record, manual transmission Focus models with the same version engine are marginally faster as well.

So it costs more for better driving refinement and on that financial basis, whilst PowerShift is nice to have, in today's cost-conscious world, and by incurring higher taxes, it is likely to be a minority option. Be aware, though, of the official versus real-world fuel consumption: my test Focus PowerShift 134bhp model returned an average 46.3mpg but on a long motorway journey at the legal maximum speed the car's computer showed an impressive 55.2mpg. Only stop/start driving and in-town motoring reduced that to the final 46.3mpg average.

Another major plus point to add to the good fuel economy potential for an automatic model is the really nice, slick and seamless gearchanges made even better by the ideal mating with the excellent 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine. So, if it's a 'slick operator' you're after and you're willing to spend the extra money, focus your attention on Ford's PowerShift! — David Miles

Ford Focus Zetec 5-door 2.0 TDCi PowerShift
| 19,595
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 46.3mpg | Power: 134bhp | Torque:
236-251lb ft
CO2 154g/km