Ford’s new small engine : Now for the great perhaps…

Robert Leitch

For B-Max will be powered by a revolutionary British-built and designed petrol triple.
Ford's B-Max will be powered by a revolutionary British-built and designed petrol triple.

AROnline’s readers may well have noticed that there’s a bit of a UK motor industry resurgence going on at the moment. The MINI, Nissan, and Jaguar announcements seem to have overshadowed Ford’s teasing first glimpse of the Dunton-developed three cylinder EcoBoost. The Essex operation is now Ford’s Centre of Excellence for small capacity engines. Details of this new development are tantalisingly limited – we are told it will appear in the B-Max, a contraption which many of us would judge not to warrant the description of a car. However, expect to see the new engine in the Fiesta, Focus and their global derivatives soon afterwards. Much more is to be revealed at Frankfurt in September.

Small engines are currently big news. The obvious comparison point is the parallel twin cylinder Fiat TwinAir, recently voted International Engine of the Year. Fiat’s production projection for 2012 is 250,000 as naturally aspirated, dual fuel and high performance versions come on stream.

The basics of the Ford engine are that it is an extremely compact one litre petrol triple, reported as being smaller in capacity than any previous Ford engine. Surely not? Smaller than the Fiesta’s 957cc Valencia? Or the 930cc southern Europe special Kent seen in the Escort Mk. 1 and 2? Or even the 933cc side valve Y type engine which was such an inspiration to Morris Motors? Enough pedantry…

Returning to the here and now, the Ford engine doesn’t appear to have anything to compare with Fiat’s throttle-less valve control system. By the standards of our times, the top-end specification is promisingly advanced, but not cutting edge. Direct injection, VVT on inlet and exhaust valves and the inevitable turbocharger all feature. The innovation is concentrated on the bottom end, with split cooling, which allows the cylinders to heat up faster than the head, various friction-reducing measures and an ‘offset crankshaft”. This last is intriguing, usually the final resort of Engineers charged with the unenviable task of stretching a block to the limits of its capacity. It features in many older motorcycle engine designs, as it is claimed to make kick starting easier.

The proof of Ford’s endeavours will be judged by its performance on paper, rather than on the road. We have become wearily accustomed to this. No figures seem to be available at the time of writing which suggests that the headliners are still being painstakingly honed. I’d expect that power and performance will match a decent normally aspirated 1.4-1.6-litre engine, while CO2 emissions will be below 90g/km.

I’m as ambivalent about Ford’s prowess as an engine maker as I am about the company itself. Its cars, engines and business decisions seem to be either startlingly brilliant or grimly awful, with very little in between. In W. S. Gilbert’s words ‘The task of filling in the blanks I’d rather leave to the you’.

The new engine has certainly captured the Zeitgeist, which is encouraging from a company whose mainstream power unit technology has traditionally been, at best, comfortably orthodox, bordering on downright backward.

I’m cautiously optimistic about Ford’s forthcoming engine – am I alone in thinking that internal combustion’s fight-back could be next season’s big Automotive Engineering story?

Keith Adams


  1. Another genuinely Great British success story in the making. We’ve been here before with the ECV3’s pre-K-Series three-cylinder engine… but Ford Powertrain Engineers are among the best in the world and will make this one work. 🙂

    Well done, Dunton!


  2. I agree with you there, Keith, but somehow doubt that this new three banger will go the distance of an easy 150,000 + miles like the legendary Kent, Pinto and Valencia units of old used to do.

    I have always believed that what we still do design and build on a mass scale in Blighty, is first class, top notch stuff.

    Curse that bloody, wretched CVH though!

  3. @Mike Humble
    Wasn’t the unit used in the old KA based on the Kent block? That engine was around as long as the A-Series – just simple brilliance. UK Engineers can still cut the mustard in engine design – just look at the new JLR V8 Diesel.

    Talking of Jaguars, in the 1990s Ford had that two-stroke ‘Orbital’ engine, which they trialed in some Fiestas but I read somewhere that Jaguar was also working on a larger two-stroke for its own cars at the same time. Any ideas?

  4. This sounds very much like the kind of internal combustion engine the world is waiting for – as powerful as much larger equivalents, but with significantly better emissions and consumption levels. I would be worried about the servicing and repair costs, though, with so much technology on board.

  5. Robert, I wonder if this new three piston’d future owes anything to the Orbital lump of 20 years ago?

    Have a look at this thread on – apparently the Haynes Museum has/had a prototype Orbital-engined Ford Fiesta on display.

  6. I think your view of Ford engines is around 20 years out of date. I’d agree that the Kent engine soldiered on, but no more than the A-Series, and the CVH was a bit of a nail.

    However, since the launch of the Sigma/Zetec engine in the 1995 Fiesta, Ford engines have, at least, been competitive with anything the opposition has to offer. Indeed, if recent road tests of the new Focus are to believed, the new EcoBoost engine is a real belter.

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