WE'RE constantly being told that downsizing is the future. In order to save fuel, money and the planet, small has become big business. Skeptics will no doubt have visions of large cars with small, asthmatic engines, but modern technology - turbochargers, superchargers, trick fuel injection - can work miracles with only a handful of cubic centimetres.
You'd expect such an approach in city car circles, however a good indicator of progress is when the technology goes mainstream. And you can't get more mainstream than Ford's Focus.
The Blue Oval isn't known for being first when it comes to new technology. Although more of a follower, when it does decide to embrace a particular trend it does so with both arms. Ride and handling was never its forte but the advent of the Focus changed all that. Its highly praised family car gets to be a different sort of pioneer now, as the firm's new 1.0-litre three-cylinder ‘EcoBoost’ petrol motor finds a home in the car's spacious engine bay.
Does this make the Focus one cylinder short of being a proper car? Ford engineers certainly don't think so. Far from being a compromise solution to keep the green lobby happy, Ford's new motor delivers - on paper at least - a comparable performance to that of a average four-pot petrol engine of around 1.6-litres. Only this time economy and emissions are better.
In principal such a car should be ideal for low mileage private and company car users. Opting for diesel would make little financial sense, an electric alternative would likely be impractical and a current generation hybrid too expensive, plus once outside the city limits no more economical.
Reinforcing Ford's 'no compromise' approach, the diminutive engine is being offered in 100 and 125 horsepower guise. Turbocharging is, predictably, the key to those numbers, yet on the road the engine's performance belies its lack of raw capacity.
Tested in 125 horsepower trim, it's only a few years ago that such an ‘entry level’ power output would see you in a much larger capacity petrol car. With the advent of trick turbochargers, engine management systems and engineering advances, such performance is now available from smaller and, crucially, lighter engines.
The benefits to the user are many – lower emissions, fuel consumption and tax. In high power guise this Focus outputs a low 114g/km CO2 and the official combined economy figure is an impressive 56.5mpg, while top speed is 120mph and the 0-62mph sprint is a respectable 11.3 seconds.
And the trade-off? There really isn’t one, assuming you’re willing to work with and not against Ford’s plucky triple-cylinder motor. It’s fair to say that the higher output model combined with a six-speed manual transmission flatters the car’s overall performance. The low output motor makes do with one less gear, for example. Cruising is, therefore, a quiet and refined affair in the 125 horsepower Focus. This bodes well for motorway journeys in terms of economy and cabin ambience.
Where this 1.0-litre Focus really surprises is in the cut and thrust of urban and rural motoring, where you’re regularly on and off the throttle and dealing with hills and the desire to overtake slower traffic.
Thanks to the engine’s responsive turbocharger there’s rarely a need to request excessive amounts of throttle to get going or pass someone. Low-end torque – the stuff that helps you accelerate – is in plentiful supply and the manual transmission’s ratios are evenly spaced to help you maximise the engine’s potential. 125lb ft might not sound much but it’s enough torque to get you motoring in the Focus. A good job, then, that the manual shift is slick and accurate.
Everything else about the car is pure Focus, which means ample cabin space, a supple and refined ride and handling package plus a pleasingly generous level of standard kit even in the popular Zetec trim.
But this car is all about the engine and, potentially, how it can help you save money without crossing that fine line called compromise. Significantly lighter than a conventional four-cylinder unit yet easily capable of ensuring you can keep up with traffic on a fast flowing A-road without screaming its head off, Ford’s three-pot vision of the future is proof that there’s plenty of life left in the petrol engine.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Zetec, from £17,745 on the road.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 120mph, 0-62mph 11.3 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 114g/km.
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: