Ford's 1.8L turbo-powered Focus isn't sold in the United States. That could change. Oil-burning Foci like this one-borrowed from Ford's Scientific Research Laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan-have been wowing Europeans for a year. Future California emission laws for particulates and oxides of nitrogen are posing stiff problems for the lab types. They say they have catalysts and other solutions that'll work, but only if the sulfur content in U.S.-spec diesel fuel is substantially reduced.

Let's hope Ford licks the problems, because this car scoots. Our 75-mph commute, combined with brisk around-town trips, yielded a 38-mpg average-not stellar, but a worthy improvement over a gas-powered Focus. Staying off the go-pedal is tough-yes, a fun-to-drive diesel. It goes 0-60 in 9.9 sec, no big downside compared to the gas unit's 9.5-sec runs. Surprisingly smooth and quiet at start up and on cruise, it's smoke-free even on 40°F mornings.

This TDCi was configured closely to the four-door ZX5 hatch sold here. That means smooth five-speed shifting, big bump-absorbing wheel travel, near wagon-style load capacity, great seats and ergonomics, and, unfortunately, heaving helpings of body roll.

With today's direct-injection technology, the downsides of driving diesels have all but disappeared. If things change at the EPA-or in the minds of OPEC leadership-cars like the Focus TDCi may find new opportunities in the U.S. market.