Keith Adams spends a week behind the wheel of Ford’s astonishing 1.0-litre Focus EcoBoost – and wonders if this UK designed three-pot really does represent the beginning of the end of the diesel in Blighty…
Twenty twelve – is it the beginning of the end of the popular diesel in the UK? It certainly seems that way, with a number of pro-petrol media stories recently telling us that buying a car fuelled from the black pump is actually a false economy. But despite the difference in the pump price and running costs, diesel still makes a compelling case for itself when it comes to fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Certainly Ford, with its new EcoBoost family of engines, is doing its best to turn the anti-diesel screw just a little more – and if our experiences with the delightful one-litre thee-pot are anything to go by, it could well be justified.
As car enthusiasts, we’re all getting used to the concept of smaller engines to power our cars. We’ve yet to try the Fiat Twin-Air, but hear it’s a delight, but sales have been brisk – and, thanks to VAG’s sterling work in this department, the idea of driving a 1.4-litre Skoda Superb or Volkswagen Scirocco no longer seems daft. So, when Ford announced that the boys in Dunton had devised a fiendishly clever 1.0-litre for use in the Focus, it no longer seemed silly at all. In fact, we’ve been itching to have a go – and see whether the addition of some very clever turbo tech to a 999cc three-pot could be enough to drag around the Focus’ family sized with any level of urgency. And more to the point, still be economical.
The 999cc engine comes in two guises: with 99bhp and 123bhp, but it’s the more powerful version we’re driving – and, typically for a press car, it’s loaded to the max, featuring sat/nav, lane guidance, cruise control, and even some wonderfully clever little door protectors (gadget of the year as far as we’re concerned), to run up to a sticker price of £22,000. Seems a lot for a 999cc car, doesn’t it? Well, actually not, because with 125lb ft to play with from 1400rpm, and an overboost function, which ups this to 148lb ft for overtaking, it goes like a 1.6- to 1.8-litre naturally aspirated car.
Government fuel figures suggest it’s no rival to an economy focused diesel such as the Golf Bluemotion, but with 58.8mpg and 109g/km CO2, and 56.5mpg and 114g/km for the 123bhp car, it’s a good performance. That engine, though, is a work of art, with sequential turbocharging, direct injection, and twin variable camshaft timing for starters. It’s also ultra compact, which has tremendous frictional benefits, and simply represents a case of less is more – less coolant, fewer parts, and a cylinder volume that nears the hypothetical sweet point of 350cc. We’d have liked to have seen an aluminium block, but it’s still a lightweight power unit, something you’re quickly aware of when you get the Focus on to the open road.
Let’s just say right now that the 1.0-litre engine capacity is quickly forgotten. The drivetrain is smooth and creamy from idle to the red-line, and power is delivered in a linear slightly languid fashion – feeling like a long-stroker with a heavy flywheel – with usable grunt from around 2000rpm. Quite simply, the EcoBoost feels like a larger engine and delivers a pleasing V6-style soundtrack that encourages you to drive quickly – while delivering 40mpg-plus, no matter how hard you push.
For diesel users, it will be a revelation in terms of smoothness and the sheer size of its powerband – but equally, they’ll miss the hearty shove a good TDI gives as its boost swells. Horse for courses, really, but we can’t help but conclude that it’s a fun little power unit that takes the misery out of fuel saving.
Forget our £22k press-fleet special – the 1.0 EcoBoost starts at £16,245 for the five-speed 99bhp version, and £17,745 for the 123bhp six-speeder. We’d go with the more powerful car in a heartbeat, simply because of that additional gear ratio, and added overtaking brio. And at this price, the 1.0 EcoBoost is more than worthy of a punt – yes, you might lose the 70mpg potential of a more conventional diesel, but in return, you get a car that’s powered by an engine that’s quirky, innovative, and actually quite sexy-sounding. More than that, it lacks convention and me-too thinking that has blighted mainstream cars for far too long.
But by hook or by crook, the legislators are forcing manufacturers into thinking outside of the box and, if the quirky, appealing Focus is an indication of the direction we’re heading, then crisis is something to be embraced.