Focus boasts an impressive engine

The Ford Focus.

The Ford Focus.

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Here’s the thing. A Ford Focus powered by a 1.0-litre three-pot engine sounds like a recipe for feeble with a capital ‘F’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even in ‘cooking’ tune, the diminutive high-tech unit develops a respectable 99bhp and the model we’re looking at here has 123bhp. The way ahead? Ford thinks so.

A clean sheet design, the 1.0-litre 12-valve powerplant is so compact its block could sit on a sheet of A4 paper. And because it’s so small, being made out of cast iron incurs no significant weight penalty.

There’s a split cooling system operating on the head and block, helping the engine and its catalyst get up to operating temperature quickly, reducing emissions.

Exhaust gases spin-up a tiny, low-lag turbocharger while direct injection precisely meters the amount and timing of fuel into the cylinders. In league with the twin variable camshaft timing, this optimises the combustion process to reduce consumption and boost torque.

Ingeniously, a deliberately unbalanced the flywheel counteracts the three-pot motor’s inclination to rock from side to side and, at the same time, damps out vibration.

The inclusion of stop-start is no surprise but its implementation was by no means straightforward because the engine’s lack of friction makes the engine hard to stop swiftly, and it requires some advanced hardware and software to fire it up again instantly.

There are two versions of the 999cc engine: with 100PS and 125PS (or 99bhp and 123bhp in old money). The higher output is particularly impressive but, as ever, torque is the secret to making a small engine work in the real world. Both variants can twist out a beefy125lb ft from just 1400rpm, though the 123bhp unit has an overboost function, which lifts the peak to 150lb ft for 30 seconds, if you need to overtake something in a hurry.

So, can the mighty triple really take the place of the 1.6-litre four that has served the Focus to date? Absolutely. In fact, it makes the larger engine, which weighs some 30 kilos more, feel somewhat crude and breathless. For a start, it’s almost miraculously smooth and quiet. And it pulls with real vigour from as little as 1500 revs right through to the 6400rpm red line. Naturally, it’s the 123bhp unit that feels the more energetic, but the difference is only really noticeable at the top end or when the overboost kicks in if you floor the throttle. Ford quotes a 0-62mph time of 11.3s for it, and its muted yet engaging three-pot warble makes it feel even quicker. The six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasure to use too, with a short, snappy action.

As with other Focus models, the electric power steering, while light and accurate, could do with more feel, but because the engine is so light, turn-in is even crisper and the already excellent ride quality possibly even better.

Far from being a tokenistic nod to the eco zeitgeist, the 1.0 Ecoboost is arguably the most impressive engine fitted to a Ford Focus. What it does with just 999cc is simply remarkable and makes even the Volkswagen Group’s downsizing initiatives look a little tame. It isn’t just that its hits its eco targets so comfortably, but that, powering the Focus, it does so with such exceptional smoothness and refinement allied to energetic performance and an engagingly charismatic soundtrack.

In short, it’s a gamechanger. A petrol engine that challenges the idea that the future is diesel, electric or some combination thereof.

It also lays to rest that hoary old cliche about there being no substitute for cubic inches. It seems that there is, after all.