HERE’S the thing. A Ford Focus powered by a 1.0-litre three-pot engine sounds like a recipe for feeble with a capital ‘F’.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even in ‘cooking’ tune, the diminutive high-tech unit develops a respectable 100PS and as much as 125PS is also possible. The way ahead? Ford thinks so.
Downsizing has become arguably the trend of the last few years. Advances in engine management and turbocharging have extracted unlikely outputs from motors of modest capacity and hitherto unimagined efficiencies. You can buy the almost limo-sized Skoda Superb, for instance, with a 1.2-litre powerplant and, while it won’t ignite the desire to take on BMW M5 drivers at the lights, nor does it feel in any way limp-wristed. But a Ford Focus with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine? Surely this is taking things too far. And if, in the spirit of experimentation, you managed to transplant the tiny three-pot motor from a Kia Picanto or a Toyota iQ into the 1300 kilo Ford, the result would be predictably dire.
But Ford’s triple, while almost unbelievably compact, is made of sterner stuff and elemental in the Blue Oval’s ambition to become the king of economy. The Focus, already noted for its high-tech accoutrements, was felt by Ford’s executives the obvious place to showcase its talents, but this 1.0-litre unit has also been designed for Ford’s B-MAX and C-MAX mini-MPVs, as well as for its Fiesta supermini.
A clean sheet design, the 1.0-litre 12-valve powerplant is so compact its block could sit on a sheet of A4 paper. And because it’s so small, being made out of cast iron incurs no significant weight penalty. There’s a split cooling system operating on the head and block, helping the engine and its catalyst get up to operating temperature quickly, reducing emissions.
Exhaust gases spin-up a tiny, low-lag turbocharger while direct injection precisely meters the amount and timing of fuel into the cylinders. In league with the twin variable camshaft timing, this optimises the combustion process to reduce consumption and boost torque.
Ingeniously, a deliberately unbalanced flywheel counteracts the three-pot motor’s inclination to rock from side to side and, at the same time, damps out vibration. The inclusion of stop-start is no surprise but its implementation was by no means straightforward because the engine’s lack of friction makes the engine hard to stop swiftly, and it requires some advanced hardware and software to fire it up again instantly.
There are two versions of the 999cc engine: with 100PS and 125PS (or 99bhp and 123bhp in old money). The higher output is particularly impressive but, as ever, torque is the secret to making a small engine work in the real world. Both variants can twist out a beefy125lb ft from just 1400rpm. Enough for the 100PS variant to make 60 from rest in 12.5s on the way to 115mph.
So, can the mighty triple really take the place of the 1.6-litre four that has served the Focus to date? Absolutely. In fact, it makes the larger engine, which weighs some 30 kilos more, feel somewhat crude and breathless. For a start, it’s almost miraculously smooth and quiet. And it pulls with real vigour from as little as 1500 revs right through to the 6400rpm red line. The six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasure to use too, with a short, snappy action.
As with other Focus models, the electric power steering, while light and accurate, could do with more feel, but because the engine is so light, turn-in is even crisper and the already excellent ride quality possibly even better.
Plenty of fresh air in the engine bay, then, and lots of space in the cabin, too. With each successive generation, the Focus has grown larger and more spacious - to the extent that, with the exception of the very tallest basketball players, no one is likely to quibble with the amount of leg- and headroom on offer in the front and back. The boot is 316 litres and should you fold the rear seats down, you’ll have over 1,100 litres of room at your disposal.
Aside from the engine stuff of course, it’s all familiar Focus, which means that you get the choice of either this five-door hatch or a pleasingly sleek five-door estate. This third generation model is certainly a more agile, interesting piece of design than its predecessor, even if it is slightly narrower. That’s intentional actually, part of a more dynamic stance that sees this car sit 16mm lower to the ground than the MK2 model did, its slight increase in length disguised by distinct side creases. It’s not an overall look to stop passers-by in their tracks but it is much neater - and very clearly Ford Focus.
Expect to pay between £17,000 and £19,000 for the 100PS version of your 1.0 Ecoboost Focus. It might seem that you’re getting less for your money, engine-wise, compared to similarly-priced 1.6-litre rivals from Vauxhall, Renault and Peugeot but, as we’ve already discovered, this is no ordinary 1.0.
And we certainly can’t think of another that can be had with such a vast choice of safety and comfort options ranging from Active Park Assist to a Lane Keeping Aid, Lane Departure Warning, a rear view camera and a Driver Alert system. Owners can further personalise their car with their own choice of options from the Ford ‘Individual’ range. Conspicuous technology abounds. There’s a ‘MyFord’ system that uses a touch screen to give control over key functions and links to the latest generation SYNC connectivity package with voice control, Bluetooth and satellite navigation.
After years of being pummelled by diesel power when it comes to running costs, the petrol engine is making a comeback. This 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit proves it. Let me give you a few comparisons within the Focus range to make the point. The 100PS version of this 1.0-unit compares directly to a diesel Focus with a 95PS 1.6 TDCi engine and returns exactly the same 109g/km CO2 figure, so will be just as cheap to tax. True, this petrol unit’s 58.9mpg combined cycle fuel figure isn’t quite as good as the diesel’s, but it gets within 9mpg of it, a difference balanced out anyway by the realisation that petrol is up to 10p per litre cheaper to buy and the fact that this petrol Focus is around £1,000 less to buy than its diesel stablemate in the first place.
Bear in mind though that if you start driving this car hard, it’ll have more of an impact on these figures than would be the case in an equivalent diesel. So the tools that Ford has provided to help everyday drivers get somewhere close to the quoted figures take on even more importance. These include a gearshift indicator to prompt you into swapping cogs more efficiently and Ford’s Eco Mode driver information system which aims to help you change your driving style and cut fuel bills by as much as 10%. Insurance groupings on the 1-50 scale range between 10E and 11E for the 100PS model.
Far from being a tokenistic nod to the eco zeitgeist, the 1.0 Ecoboost is arguably the most impressive engine fitted to a Ford Focus. What it does with just 999cc is simply remarkable and makes even the Volkswagen Group’s downsizing initiatives look a little tame.
It isn’t just that it hits its eco targets so comfortably, but that, powering the Focus, it does so with such exceptional smoothness and refinement allied to energetic performance and an engagingly charismatic soundtrack.
In short, it’s a gamechanger. A petrol engine that challenges the idea that the future is diesel, electric or some combination thereof. It also lays to rest that hoary old cliche about there being no substitute for cubic inches. It seems that there is, after all.