There's a slate of new Ford Focus models arriving in dealerships right about now, a collection that's mildly updated for the 2015 model year with the new Ford front grille and various interior refinements. Within a small group that ranges from the all-electric Focus to the electrifying ST, there is one that stands out for its newsworthiness: the Ford Focus SE EcoBoost Package.
Most of the news that's fit to print is found under the hood; the car is powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged, direct-injection, three-cylinder gasoline engine. Part of the EcoBoost line of turbocharged engines, it's the first three-cylinder in Ford history and it's been a terrific rookie effort. Used to power the Ford Fiesta in other markets, it's a three-time International Engine of the Year winner.
Now, for the first time, it's available in the larger Focus, a development that leads directly to the following question: Would the tiny engine be as effective in a car that's 150 kilograms heavier?
The quick answer: yes.
In a drive that stretched south from Montreal into Vermont and then New Hampshire through various rises of the Appalachian Mountain range, the Focus powered through with little effort. The three-cylinder growled pleasantly and pulled nicely, provided it was kept in the sweet spot with the six-speed manual transmission.
Even if the gear was too high, the engine was able to keep the momentum going, chugging away up inclines at low revs. It was impressive, surprisingly refined and far more entertaining than any modern engine with just 123 horsepower has any right to be. The secret here is not the horsepower, but the torque developed by the three-cylinder – 148 lb-ft, two markers higher than the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the base Focus.
Still, the drive served to highlight the glaring weakness of smaller displacement engines: When asked to work harder, their primary purpose – heightened fuel efficiency – can fall by the wayside. Over the course of 300 kilometre of decidedly non-aggressive highway driving, we averaged about 6.8 litres/100 km. Not too bad, but a bit removed from the manufacturer's claimed figure of 5.9 litres/100 km.
There are two other caveats for the compact car buyer interested in this particular engine: It's only available in the Focus sedan and it's only available in the SE trim level. So if your wish was for a base five-door hatchback, you're out of luck.
The rationales here: First, the sedan is aerodynamically more efficient, so it's a better fit for the engine. Second, better fuel efficiency is something manufacturers can and will charge extra for; the Focus S sedan rings in at $16,799, the SE sedan starts at $19,199.
That's a fairly high price gap, but the EcoBoost engine is an object of desire and it may well be worth the difference. Paired with the six-speed manual, it's right at the intersection of fun and frugality, a great place for a compact car to be. The chassis, steering and reworked suspension system provide great back-up support, making the Focus a complete engineering effort.
The steering is light, direct and entertaining. The suspension did a commendable job of dealing with the creative patchwork paving in Montreal, allowing for just one teeth-rattling moment when hundreds were in the offing. All things considered, the Focus SE EcoBoost Package is a class-leading compact car that deserves a close look.
You'll like this car if ... You feel a responsibility for the environment (to use less fuel) and a responsibility to yourself (to have more fun).
- Base price: $19,199
- Engine: Turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual/Front-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.1 city; 5.9 highway
- Alternatives: Dodge Dart, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla
- Looks: The restyled front grille, hood, headlights and taillights combine to give the Focus a decidedly purposeful look. This is in stark contrast to other vehicles in its class, which range from cute jelly beans to ugly jelly beans.
- Interior: The interior features new materials and a centre console with adjustable cup holders. It’s a decent effort in terms of appearance, but competitors offer richer-feeling materials and more standard convenience features for less money.
- Performance: The 1.0-litre EcoBoost is a well-engineered piece of kit and the six-speed manual keeps things entertaining. The combination is more fun-to-drive and refined than anyone would guess just by looking at the spec sheet.
- Technology: Other compact car manufacturers focus more on tactile qualities, but Ford leads with technological features. All versions of the Focus come standard with the new Sync system, a rearview camera and a USB smart charging port that’s twice as quick as a standard USB port.
- Cargo: The hatchback version sacrifices less than a centimetre in rear-seat headroom, matches the sedan in most other respects and speeds off into the distance when it comes to trunk/cargo capacity.
This is a great little car that could only be made better if the engine/transmission combination were offered in the five-door hatchback.
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