By Andy Enright
Although a litre might seem quite a lot when you spill that much Coke in your lap at the cinema, when it comes to the cubic capacity of a car's engine, it's pretty small beer. Received wisdom stated that you could run a tiny citycar with one-litre of swept capacity in your cylinders but anything much bigger than that and it would have less pulling power than John Prescott in an Ibiza nightclub.
Fiat's 899cc TwinAir engine was the first to hint that there was more to a sub-litre petrol engine than met the eye, but it was Ford who really picked up the ball and ran with it, with its 1.0-litre EcoBoost powerplant. It's been fitted to a wide range of Ford models and now one in every five petrol-powered Fords sold across Europe has the 1.0-litre engine installed under its bonnet. Here we take a look at how this engine shapes up when fitted to the Focus, sold between 2012 and 2014.
This third generation Focus, was launched back in March of 2011 but it wasn't until 2012 that Ford started offering the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, It was sold in two power outputs, 100 and 125PS, and was offered with a wide selection of trim levels. At the end of 2013, Ford announced Ford has announced an ultra-efficient version of the Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost that was the first petrol-powered family car in Europe to offer 99 g/km CO2 emissions. Due to a specially calibrated version of the 100PS engine, the Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost returned 67.5mpg, aided by ultra-low rolling resistance tyres, unique aerodynamics under the car and revised gearing to help deliver the company's most fuel-efficient ever petrol-powered family car. The fourth generation Focus was announced in summer 2014, debuting in early 2015.
What You Get
All Focus models get a front end that looks a good deal more aggressive than its rather low-key predecessor, with gaping triangular front air intakes that look as if they should grace an RS model. Closer inspection reveals them to be mere plastic blanking plates but between them is what Ford dubs its dynamic shutter grille which can close at speed to improve aerodynamics. The rear lights are an intricate design that integrate with the fuel filler cap on the right side of the car. These also contrast with the less extrovert rear window treatment. The estate version is extremely well proportioned, with a mini-Mondeo silhouette.
The interior is a massive step forward in terms of materials quality and fit and finish from its already solid predecessor. Some commentators have claimed that the Focus has targeted the Volkswagen Golf, but the interior is a far more extrovert design than you'll find in any Wolfsburg vehicle. The centre console looks busy but it's fairly easy to figure everything out quickly and the Sony stereo is a very classy touch. The estate is well worth hunting down. The load bay measures 476 litres to the parcel shelf and if you drop the rear seats you get up to 1502 litres of available space. Unlike in the hatchback version, there's no full-size spare wheel option available, Ford offering only a slim space saver spare for estate buyers.
What to Look For
The Focus has forged an excellent reputation for reliability with only the odd glitch preventing it from reaching top honours. Test clutches to make sure they're not at the end of their travel and ensure that all belt servicing has been performed on the nose. The 1.0-litre engien has proven extremely reliable to date although it might be worth having a chat with the previous keeper to find out what sort of fuel economy figures they were getting. The gap between the published figures and the real world numbers can be huge.
(approx prices based on a 2012 Focus 1.0 125PS Zetec) An exchange starter motor retails at around £225 while a windscreen will set you back around £320. Expect to pay £400 for an exchange alternator while front brake pads cost £85. An entire headlamp pod will relieve you of £400.
On the Road
There's bags of torque and you end up driving the car almost as if it has a diesel engine. There's little to be gained by throwing a bootful of revs at it and it just rows along serenely between 1,700 and 2,200rpm. It's not what you'd call eager, but it's got enough torque to ensure that you're not constantly working the gearbox to make respectable progress. Start it up, and there's a chirrup from the starter motor, but then an almost silent idle. There's none of the warble that you'd expect from a three-cylinder engine.
Of course, you could save up a bit more and go for a diesel and if you were a long distance driver, we'd certainly recommend this course of action. Having said that, it's hard not to love the fact that the 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine weighs around 40kg less than an equivalent diesel and you'll notice that when it comes to ride and handling. Put simply, a light engine improves the way the car turns into a corner, it means the brakes have a whole lot less work to do, and the suspension can deal with the issue of isolating the car from the road imperfections rather than struggling to contain the weight of a hefty hunk of iron in the nose. A clever torque vectoring system lightly brakes the inside front wheel through tight corners, sharpening turn-in and ensuring that as much power as possible gets onto the tarmac. No, it's not got the purity of a mechanical differential but it's lighter and surprisingly effective. The 100PS model gets to 62mph in 12.5 seconds and runs onto 115mph, and the 125PS version covers the sprint in 11.2 seconds and tops out at 120mph.
If you plan to cover modest mileages in your Focus, then the 1.0-litre engine might just be the best choice you can make. It's clean, inexpensive, good to drive and posts some low carbon-dioxide figures. If you're planning to cover bigger mileages, a 1.6-litre TDCi diesel is a far better buy. Why? Because the fact remains that this 1.0-litre engine isn't anything like as economical as its maker claims. We ran one and averaged just over 35mpg versus the claimed 56.5mpg figure. We enjoyed running the car and it was universally popular just so long as you took the published fuel figures with a bucketload of salt. As long as you know that before buying, there aren't any other areas of this car's repertoire that ought to come as a rude shock.