Ford puts the Focus on size in new 1-litre
ANYONE REMEMBER the petrol engine? The fixation on diesel in Ireland is incredible, a seismic shift in consumer tastes driven by a 2008 change in tax policy to focus on engine-emissions ratings rather than engine size.
Few, if any, Government policies have achieved their goals so comprehensively. Diesel offered lower emissions and therefore lower tax outlays. Irish consumers will always be led by their wallets. Reports from the dealer forecourts suggest that customers will countenance nothing but diesel these days.
Well, brace yourselves for the return of the petrol engine. For the past few years, while we were embracing diesel, the engineers back at the car firms have been turning their attention to petrol. And not any old petrol engines but small three-cylinder blocks that you wouldn’t expect to find in a city car, never mind a family hatchback.
First up is Ford with its new one-litre Focus, but a host of rivals are soon to follow, offering lower-priced motoring fun with smaller, frugal petrol engines. To put some perspective on the scale of this engine, Ford claims that, when removed from the car, this little engine would sit on an A4 page. Its secret lies in combining three cylinders with variable valve timing, a miniature turbo, advanced electronics and an advanced direct fuel injection system. The result is a game changer.
The first time we drove this three-cylinder one-litre Focus I expected to be pushing it up hills. Around a challenging test track in France, with tight twisting bends, fast straights and near vertical hills, I feared it would need a tow truck. In fact the diminutive one-litre kicked out so much torque that journalists asked the engineers whether this car was preprepared for the press test, a ringer in the ranks. The reality is that this is no ringer: it’s a riot.
The one-litre engine puts out either 100bhp or 120bhp and does so with great aplomb. And it’s incredibly refined – so much so that you could mistake it for a larger four-cylinder block. You barely hear it start, and even when you kick down it doesn’t whine like a sewing machine in overdrive but hums along like a much larger block. It’s also agile enough to comfortably sit at 3,000rpm at motorway speeds without a murmur of complaint.
The problem it faces is perception. The Focus has a strong fan base; it’s the bestselling car for the first six months of the year, so it’s off to a good start. We had a few friends over during the week and took them for a spin. Their current cars are a VW Golf and an old Hyundai, both small family cars of the Focus ilk. First impressions were positive. They liked the pep of the new Focus, the styling and the interior. They were impressed by the relatively low emissions (109g/km for the 100bhp and 114g/km for the 120bhp), but only when it was made clear that this means an annual motor-tax bill of €160 rather than the €330 and €358 they respectively pay.
My criticisms of the interior switch gear and controls were falling on deaf ears at this stage as I told them the price started at €21,485. Both thought it a bit steep but perhaps within the realms of possibilities for a new car with a warranty and a 12-reg plate to impress the neighbours. Then I let them in on the secret under the bonnet. It was a petrol engine.
It was a one-litre petrol engine.
They couldn’t get their heads around the fact that a car this size could perform this well with such a small engine. You could see from the facial contortions that they were struggling with the reality of what it was like in the car and the information I was delivering to them. It was like trying to explain evolution to a group of creationists.
They could see the facts laid out before them, but the challenge to their belief system was too great to fathom. Moving from petrol to diesel was going to be difficult enough, but to a little three-pot petrol was motoring heresy. They feared becoming the laughing stock of the neighbourhood. A throwaway remark as we parted summed it up. “Nice car, but that engine’s smaller than my wife’s Renault Clio.”
Irish people might have bought into the emissions system for financial practicalities, but there’s still a machismo about engine size that Ford, and the motoring world’s engineers, will have to overcome. Size still matters.
Yet the motoring world is changing. Turbos are making a comeback on petrol engines, and we’d be fools to miss out.
This is a remarkable engine and rightly deserves its International Engine of the Year title, which it picked up last month. It heralds a new dawn for petrol engines – without demanding drivers to sacrifice on fun or finance. This one-litre Focus needs to be driven.
ENGINEA three-cylinder putting out 100bhp or 120bhp thanks to new variable valve timing, a miniature turbo, advanced electronics and an advanced direct fuel injection system
FUEL ECONOMY100bhp – 4.8
L/100KM (58.9 mpg); 120bhop – 5 L/100km (56.5mpg)
EMISSIONS(MOTOR TAX) 109g/km for 100bhp; 114g/km for 120bhp version (both €160)
PRICEStarting at €21,485 for 100bhp version (120bhp test car €24,235)
A remarkable engine that punches beyond expectations