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Euro Drive: A Bog-Standard Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost 100PS

The 1.6-liter naturally-aspirated petrol engine is a true compromise milestone in the automotive sector, as it is by far and away, the most adaptable unit one could think of, used during the last, say, three decades, in Europe.
Usually ranging in power from just under to just over 100 hp, these engines powered everything from 1990s BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 sedans, positioned at the very bottom of the range, to swift city cars like the Renault Clio, where they constituted the stepping stone between the regular model, and the choice of the enthusiast, the hot hatch.

However, the classic 1.6 engine is now on its way out, as it’s meant to make way for newer, smaller-displacement units that can match them in terms of power thanks to a turbocharger, but beat it in terms of economy, due to their reduced size.

While Volkswagen was the first to employ mass use of turbocharged smaller-displacement engines in the 1990s with the 1.8-liter twenty-valve unit, now virtually all manufacturers are on the downsizing train (whether they like it or not).

However, it’s Ford’s line of new EcoBoost motors that has attracted the most attention towards the phenomenon lately, even if they were by no means the first to jump on it, nor is their engine the smallest – that distinction goes to Fiat with its arguably cooler turbocharged two-cylinder with just 875 cc.

Getting back to the topic at hand, the slow march towards extinction for the classic 1.6, so when a friend bought a brand-new Focus, I jumped at the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the most basic of them all, the lower-powered variant of the 1.6-replacing 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-pot turbo, under the bonnet of a mid-spec Focus hatchback with hubcaps (yes, they still make those).

The Engine

Putting out 100 PS / 99 hp, the three-cylinder unit is very quiet and well balanced at idle (especially for a three-pot), and while a moderately-well trained ear can distinguish the telltale idle thrum specific to this type of engine, it’s actually surprisingly refined, at least in the Focus. The Fiesta also gets it, but has far less sound insulation, so it may be a very different experience altogether in that car. The car I drove also had a stop-start system fitted, and while it was generally not intrusive (aside from the moments you purposely want to fluster it), each restart sends a thud through the entire cabin, as do gear-changes carried out at low rpms, where I found you had to ride the clutch a bit more than it felt natural to.

If you obey the dashboard shift indicator, you’ll find yourself driving around at or just under 1,500 rpm, which is fine, except for when it asks you to select the fifth (and final) gear as efficiently as possible – the engine pulls it off, but you feel it as being very strained, so I found myself using fourth more than I would have liked to.

The gearbox itself deserves high praise, and its ratios are well thought out for city driving, and it also continues the tradition of an accurate yet mechanical-feeling shifter operation – for me, it is one of the smoothest I’ve had the chance to try.

Under hard acceleration, even this 99 hp variant moves the car surprisingly zippy, and it picks up nicely from anywhere in the rev range, particularly low down – peak torque of 170 Nm / 125 lb-ft is delivered around the aforementioned 1,500 rpm mark, and it really shows.

Does It Work?

The whole idea behind this downsized and turbocharged 1.6 replacement is getting better fuel efficiency, so I feel that this is actually the key point of this drive. The person who kindly loaned the car to me had done 2,500 km (~1,500 miles) since new with it, all of which was done exclusively in the city. He had not reset trip computer once, and it was reading 8.5 l/100km, or 33 mpg UK / 27.6 mpg US.

When I drove it, in mixed and moderately crowded conditions, I managed to get below the 8 l/100km mark without too much restraint – I even squeezed in a few acceleration runs without resetting it, and it still dropped down nicely once we resumed normal driving.

So, does it work in terms of fuel economy? Well, no, or not as well as Ford would have you believe, I mean, my figures were quite far off the official claimed average of 4.8l/100km (58.9mpg UK or 49mpg US). Granted, if you are very careful with the right foot, you can probably get closer to that figure, but the discrepancy was a bit too noticeable.

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