Bruce Newton June 28, 2012
Ford downsizes the engine of its big selling small car with a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder that looks set to come here.
Usually an overseas sampling of a new model signals its arrival in Australia within months, but there is no official confirmation the new Focus Ecoboost Drive got behind the wheel of in Germany this week will get here.
The smart money says it will and let’s hope so, because the tiny three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol-turbo that powers it is a small wonder and worthy winner of the 2012 International Engine of Year Award.
While the primary point of the drive was to sample the engine, which will be first seen here in the new Ford EcoSport mini-SUV that goes on-sale in Australian in late 2013, it is also yet another example of the constant engine downsizing underway across the car industry.
The naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder entry-level engine in the Australian Focus range is no dud, but nor is it a standout and it can’t offer the combination of low-rev torque (or pulling power) and fuel economy that simply make the 1.0-litre EcoBoost a better engine.
Consider the figures; the 1.6 produces 92kW at 6300rpm, 159Nm at 4000rpm and averages 6.2L/100km. The Ecoboost 1.0 (or 999cc to be exact) produces 90kW at 6000rpm, but more importantly, 170Nm between 1400 and 4000rpm (with an extra 30Nm available under hard acceleration) and averages an exceptional 5.0L/100km.
Of course the fuel figures are claimed and in everyday driving both will likely use considerably more.
Still, the upshot is better performance while drinking less from a smaller, lighter package. Some very clever technology delivers this capability, including a tiny turbo that spins at up to 248,000rpm, dual variable cam timing and direct injection.
But come on, only three cylinders? That’s an engine more commonly associated with motorcycles. It’s also a configuration renowned for vibrations.
Rather than add a balancer shaft, which is the normal method of resolving this issue, Ford has unbalanced the flywheel and pulley to counter-act this issue, a solution that saves weight, money and fuel.
But enough of the theory, let’s press the starter button and see what happens.
After an initial momentary judder, not a whole lot. The triple has a very quiet and smooth idle which occasionally makes you wonder if the start-stop system has kicked in to automatically shut the engine down when the car is stationary. In our well-equipped Focus hatch it actually had sometimes.
Press the throttle and there’s obvious and solid response that backs up the torque claim. There’s also a distinctive beat that any Volvo five-cylinder owner would think familiar. It’s gravelly but not coarse.
On a varied and sometimes steep drive in the countryside around Cologne it became clear this engine did not lack for performance. It would happily potter through villages or pull cleanly out of uphill corners at 1000-1500rpm in fourth gear. And that’s not because it’s short-geared either, the top two gears overdrive in the six-speed manual gearbox.
But you couldn’t call it the sportiest engine going around either. It is quite slow progressing toward its redline, something a long stroke and significant flywheel weight contribute to. Still, the 11.3 secs 0-100km/h claim is respectable and believable.
Where the EcoBoost does improve the sportiness of the Focus is the dynamics.
Because it is 33kg lighter than the old 1.6 in the Focus, the steering and handling feel that tad surer and more responsive. And that means an already very enjoyable small car gets that much better.
So, whetted your appetite? Before there’s a bunch of indignant posts at the end of this story decrying Ford Australia’s unwillingness to embrace downsizing technology for Focus – a fair point as it could have taken the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol Ecoboost from launch of the current generation – there are positive indications we will see the 1.0 in Focus here, just don’t expect anyone to say it on the record.
For a start it’s only been on-sale in Europe for a few months, so even if it’s on the schedule it’s going to take some time to arrive. Secondly, an auto option is still being tested with this engine.
It will be a dual-clutch auto and should be on-sale in 2013. Only then would you think Australia would become a candidate given the take-up of automatics.
Eventually, it seems, not only the 1.0 but the 1.6 turbo will sell here in Focus. The EcoBoost family will also flow into the Fiesta mini and eventually into Australia.
Drive understands Fiesta will be equipped with both naturally-aspirated and turbo versions of the 1.0-litre, although what we get here remains unspecified.