I have seen the future, and it’s not so bad.
The looming specter of fuel economy standards doubling by 2025 is forcing auto makers to contemplate new approaches to personal mobility, from full electrics to plug-in hybrids, which fail to provide the same gratification as cars that runs on gasoline.
So allow me to thank Ford for planting a flag deep in the soil on behalf of the internal combustion engine.
WardsAuto editors were fortunate recently to test drive a European-spec Ford Focus equipped with the latest engine springing from the auto maker’s EcoBoost powertrain strategy, which combines direct fuel injection and turbocharging.
This latest iteration draws all its energy from only three pistons and a displacement of a mere 1.0L.
We’ve driven 3-cyl. engines before in cars smaller than the Focus and have not been impressed.
But adding direct injection and a low-inertia turbocharger makes all the difference in an engine rated at 123 hp and 148 lb.-ft. (200 Nm) of torque.
Mated with a 6-speed manual transmission, the 1.0L Focus can leave any auto enthusiast slack-jawed by its first-rate NVH, smoothness, high-speed cruising capability and willingness to rev.
Oh, and don’t forget fuel efficiency. After a day of flogging the car on a highway run from Southfield to Ypsilanti, MI, and back, the trip computer reads 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km).
But we’re told later this U.K. vehicle calculates fuel economy based on the larger imperial gallon. Adjusting for U.S. measure, the 1.0L Focus still clocks in at 39 mpg (6 L/100 km) in real-world driving, under a heavy boot. The same cannot be said for the U.S.-spec Focus, powered by a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cyl.
Unlike electric vehicles and many hybrids, the 1.0L EcoBoost Focus is more than comfortable in the fast lane of Detroit’s wild-west freeways.
The smooth-shifting 6-speed manual enables a stop/start system that works well at traffic lights, quickly sparking the engine back to life once the clutch is depressed. This Focus demonstrates the stop/start expertise European auto makers have established as a hedge against exorbitant fuel prices and restrictive carbon-dioxide emission standards.
The 1.0L Focus is not loaded with low-end torque, but it lets the driver have his fun, at optimum efficiency. Illustrating the point, the car seems to invite sixth gear at just about any vehicle speed: The sooner you get there, the better your average fuel economy.
Likewise, cruising in the fast lane in sixth gear at 75 mph (120 km/h), the 1.0L Focus happily accepts a downshift all the way to third gear. And just for yucks, run at wide-open throttle until the red line forces a higher gear. The engine responds enthusiastically, without hesitation and as if it’s barely working.
The experience is nothing short of remarkable as this mighty powerplant makes a convincing case for a slot on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list. But it won’t be in contention this year because the engine will not be available in the U.S. until later next year.
Still, the 1.0L EcoBoost isn’t just a cool engineering trick. Instead, it should excite us about the possibilities ahead.
For those of us who still cherish the act of driving and who want to feel connected to their vehicle, this engine represents the natural evolution from the gas guzzlers of old. I’ve driven a lot of EVs, hybrids and plug-ins, but not one of them left me as pumped up as did the 1.0L Focus.
Volkswagen’s 2.0L turbodiesel in the Jetta TDI won our affections as a high-mileage, high-thrill driving experience, but the 1.0L Focus may supplant it as the ideal vehicle for a fun road trip.
Of course, all good technology comes with a premium. The Focus Titanium trim carries a U.K. base price of £19,195 ($31,190), and options push the sticker up to £22,495 ($36,552). Hopefully, Ford will figure out a way to bring the technology, undiminished, to the U.S. at a more reasonable price.
Nonetheless, the other bells and whistles on the 1.0L Focus Titanium are impressive as well, including the power folding mirrors, navigation system, traffic-sign recognition, blind-spot information system and lane-departure warning.
The Focus also features nifty door edge protectors that hide inside the doors when they are closed.
When the door swings open, the soft rubber edge guard protracts outward and affixes to the sheet metal, preventing damage to an adjacent parked car. All four doors have this feature, which costs an extremely reasonable £50 ($81) in the U.K.
But no matter how many gizmos the European Focus may offer, nothing satisfies like the 1.0L EcoBoost.