Four cylinder engines are so last year. Increasingly harsh emissions regulations and tax bands are forcing manufacturers to try anything they can to make their engines cleaner. Fiat’s TwinAir shows that two cylinders can be great fun as well as (officially) economical while the SEAT Mii, Skoda Citigo and Volkswagen up! wouldn’t be half as good without their frugal yet entertaining 3-cylinder engines.
The question is can you chop off a cylinder in a larger family hatchback and make sure its still driveable? That’s the challenge that Ford have taken up by fitting their clever 3-cylinder, turbocharged 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine into the Focus. It’s a technological tour de force, using variable valve timing, compact turbo, advanced electronics and direct fuel injection to produce 123bhp. It’s the equal of the non-turbo 1.6-litre engine but offers more torque (148lb/ft) while at the same time saving 30kg of weight.
Performance is ever so slightly down, losing out to the 1.6-litre by 0.3 seconds in the 0-60mph sprint and by 2mph flat out. None of that really matters though as the Ecoboost is all about lower CO2 emissions and higher MPG. With 114 g/km of CO2 (Band C) and an official figure of 56mpg the Ecoboost is hugely appealing, not least because it costs almost exactly the same as the old 1.6.
In Zetec S form the Focus even looks like a hot hatch. Big chunky bumpers, 17-inch wheels, side skirts and a rear spoiler make it look much quicker than it really is. The interior is less convincing, not helped by the optional Interior Pack’s bright red sections on centre console and seats. The radio and Bluetooth setup is controlled by a mass of buttons that aren’t very intuitive but I was impressed by the computer display in the instrument panel. The colourful and concise layout satisfies my need for immediate information without requiring me to flick through lots of individual displays.
On the move the Ecoboost engine is incredibly refined. You can barely hear it when it’s idling and even in the upper reaches of the rev counter it remains smooth and composed. While it’s happy to rev the Ecoboost impresses most in the mid-range where the turbo-assisted torque is at its most abundant. With 123bhp it could never be classed as a performance option but it’s more than up to the job of keeping up with the traffic.
The most pleasant surprise is how the Ecoboost engine affects the handling. The Zetec S is fitted with sportier suspension than lesser models and with the smaller, lighter engine the Focus’s nose is much more responsive and the steering has more feel and delicacy. It’s not quite back to the standards of the original Focus but there’s a hint of what made that car so great.
I can’t really vouch for the economy claims. My brief and not economy-minded run in the Focus saw an average of 39mpg. This is a car that requires you to think about how you’re driving in order to return the best economy, making the most of the ample torque and full use of the six-speed manual gearbox. If those official figures are genuine then there’s no question that you should pick this engine instead of 1.6-litre diesel.
The 1/0-litre Ecoboost proves that a family hatchback can run effectively on three cylinders. Even if the economy figures don’t stack up in the real world you benefit from cheaper road tax as well as a Focus with much sweeter handling. When you realise it costs the same as the 1.6 petrol you have to wonder why anyone would want to choose the old 4-cylinder.
Ford Focus Zetec S 1.0 Ecoboost Specifiations
|Engine:||999cc 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Torque:||125 lb/ft (148lb ft on overboost)|
|Top Speed:||120 mph|
|Kerb Weight:||1,240 kg (est)|
|CO2 Emissions:||114 g/km (Band C)|
|Official Economy:||56.5 mpg|
*Prices taken from Ford website, November 2012