Engine downsizing is now all the rage. Less cylinders, less capacity. Does this mean the end of powerful, smooth engines, so essential for our driving pleasure?
Not so when masters in engine design are behind the drawing table, and even more so when they put this engine in a world class car. This is wat we found out when we sat behind the wheel of the new Ford Focus with the truly stunning 1 litre EcoBoost 125 HP three cylinder petrol engine. Just read on...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Reaching for the stars...
Indeed, there are efficient and powerful small three cylinder engines, and then there is this same engine, but now designed, engineered and built by Ford. It is decidedly in a class of its own, this EcoBoost unit. No wonder it has earned for the third time in a row the laurels of being the International Engine of the year. Its smoothness, silence and power is hard to believe at first, and left us truly speechless.
It was even quite hard to distinguish initially for our unaccustomed ears that only three cylinders are at work . It revs also supersmooth, whether hot or cold. Mated to an automatic gearbox it must be a dream. We drove it with the very good and easy shifting 6 speed box, and we concentrated on making smooth changes, cautious as we were not to spoil the nice behaviour of this wonderful engine with any jerkiness. But the clutch is progressive, and soon we succeeded quite well in getting smooth accelerations.
Of course, the gearchange indicator urges you to take full advantage of the torque characteristics of this EcoBoost unit, and for the sake of economy you are advised to do so. Only then, say at 1400 rpm in fifth or sixth gear, a slight roughness is noticeable, so one is tempted to use slightly more revs, and stay in the chosen higher gear just a bit longer. Not that it harms economy...
When it comes to slow driving in city traffic, using the four lowest gears and staying in the low rev ranges, the EcoBoost unit is virtually inaudible, virbationless and the Focus drives truly "Zen", like a hybrid or electrical car.
This is, in our opinion, where this petrol engine has clearly the edge over any Diesel unit, how good or sophisticated and well balanced this Diesel engine may be. It will never reach the level of refinement a petrol engine can offer. Admittedly, the Diesel engine will be still more frugal, so the choice is yours, what you consider to be more important.
The constant speed consumption figures you see blinking on your dashboard display are nothing short of astonishing, like 2,9 litres/100 km when you are pottering along in fifth at 50 kmh, for example.
So very good economy is also at the rendez vous with this engine, which can indeed be fittingly called "EcoBoost". Our average consumption boiled down to 6,4 litres/100 km, with lots of very brisk driving included. Indeed, when accelerating at full throttle, the engine revs up beautifully under a smooth, subdued sound, and it is a pleasure to take this engine through its paces.
Do not expect miracles in economy when you drive like that. The sun never goes up for free, but rest assured that under any circumstances this remains a very efficient engine indeed. Acceleration from 0 to 100 costs just over 11 seconds, and the Focus cruises effortlessly up to very high speeds, topping at 120 mph or 193 km. Torque is plentiful over a wide rev range, although a downchange helps when you want full pulling power.
A world class car with premium handling...
Ford automobiles deliver driving pleasure, and the new Focus amply proves this point. Its handling is masterfully agile, it steers with delightful precision, and it is therefore an undistilled joy to drive on winding roads. The Ford engineers have stiffened the front end, revised the damper settings, and the new electrical assisted power steering is sensitive and gives proper feedback. The steering geometry has also been revised, as well as the lateral stiffness has been increased of "steering relevant" suspension bushes.
Straight line stability is also perfect, and the inaudible engine together with the excellent cruise control makes this Focus ideal for those long motorway trips. The suspension is well tuned and delivers a quite comfortable ride.
The interior noise levels are very low, due to improvements in noise and harshness suppression, and indeed, classical music can be enjoyed through the excellent sound system even at higher cruising speeds.
The interior and dashboard of the Focus have been redesigned to make the use of the car more intuitive and to reduce the number of controls and switches. The centre console has now practical variable to accomodate smaller cups as well as larger bottles.
On this new Focus, Ford offers the second generation of the so-called SYNC function, consisting of a large eight inch colour screen and advanced voice control over audio, navigation, climate control and phone(s). We liked the overall simplicity, ease of use and intuivity of this system very much, and it truly stands out in its class.
The styling of instruments and dashboard contours is (still) rather bold, but altogether not unpleasant.
Driving and seating position is excellent, and in the Titanium version we tested, the two front seats had lumbar support, and this adds greatly to long distance driving comfort.
We also came to experience Ford's Active City Stop system, as we approached a parking entrance bar a bit too fast before it fully opened. The system had the brakes pre-charged and the car came to a sudden stop, automatically. Bravo!
ActiveCity Stop operates now up to speeds of 50 km/h.
Active braking operates in the same way as Active City Stop, but concentrates of course rather on moving objects. It operates at car speeds between 8 and 180 kph, by warning the driver and applying the brakes when necessary.
The new Focus is pleasantly styled, and we like above all the front end treatment, with a grille which is in our eyes reminiscent of the classic Aston Martins, and, quite frankly, this "face" suits the recent Fords very well. Indeed, one finds this grille styling as an element in the so called "One Ford Global" design language. Overall, the Focus is well proportioned, and this is the best guarantee that the car will remain attractive for years on end. We already mentioned the redesigned fascia.
We liked some practical amenities like the door protection rims which jump into position automatically around the door edges to prevent any damage...
We also used frequently the Active Parking Assist, which, at the push of a button, locates the parking space with ultrasonic sensors, and steers the vehicle with the driver using only the accelerator and brakes.
Our test car came also equipped amongst many other niceties with the new Bi-Xenon HID headlamps. The beams are adjusted by the Adaptive Front Lighting system. This system assesses the ambient lighting around the car as well as objects around the car and adjusts the beams in seven different positions, depending on the speed of the car, the steering angle and distance to an object in front.
For example, when cornering at slow speeds, a beam is automatically directed towards the side of the road, so pedestrians or cyclists are more easily noticed. When cornering at high speeds, a beam is projected further into the bend. Very clever and effective indeed...
This Focus has truly convinced us of the merits of a modern, state of the art petrol engine. Despite its three cylinders and small capacity, it is ultra smooth at low revs and small throttle openings, and offers a very high level of refinement, which a Diesel engine in town traffic cannot completely match. The Focus is also very much fun behind the wheel, and offers much driving pleasure. Before deciding on purchasing a new motor in this car class, certainly book this Focus for a (long) test drive; you will be quite surprised, and you could very well be totally convinced to choose one!
Hans Knol ten Bensel