Tested: Ford Focus 2018 – 1.5-litre EcoBoost

Ford’s gasoline three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine has been wildly successful winning multiple international awards and impressing consumers with its combination of performance economy and lightweight that helps the vehicles it is in handle spirited driving, an essential part of the Blue Oval brand’s modern DNA.

So, it’s hardly surprising that Ford’s powertrain engineers wanted to develop a larger displacement engine that should have enough punch to power the larger vehicles in the brand’s model line-up while drawing on the efficiencies, both in performance and production costs, of the three-cylinder unit. TU-Automotive enjoyed the chance to try out the most powerful version of this 1.5-litre EcoBoost fitted to the lovely ‘little’ new Ford Focus. I say ‘little’ because while the car’s wheelbase has been extended by 50mm affording more internal cabin space than before, the new Focus still feels superlight, compact and agile in a way that any dedicated driving enthusiast would appreciate on the super winding mountain roads inland of the glamourous Provençale coastline near Nice where Ford held the international press launch.

Much of the weight-saving exercise that sees the 182 PS six-speed manual Focus tips the kerbweight scales at just 1,408 kgs is down to the diminutive three-cylinder engine that gains just 25 kgs over its smaller 1.0-litre sibling. Naturally the new powerplant draws heavily on the technology employed in the smaller unit and, in range-topping 182 PS guise, boasts compression upped to 11:1 with peak power at 6,000 rpm and torque of 240 Nm just 1,600 rpm.

The all-aluminium head and block construction features double overhead cams with four valves per cylinder and twin independent variable cam timing, cylinder deactivation of one of the pots when not under load, high pressure direct fuel injection and a Continental radial-axial turbocharger. This unit comes married to a six-speed manual transmission or, in the 150 PS models, a new eight-speed automatic gearbox that claims a 10% improvement on fuel economy.

After a drive where the car displayed perfect manners at a pace that some passengers may have found alarming, we had the chance to talk to one of the leading lights behind the new engine, Ford of Europe’s chief engineer for powertrains, Simon Palmer. He said the real advantage for the carmaker is that the engine has the flexibility to cater for most global markets. Palmer explained: “We have, essentially, taken our 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and we have upgraded it to bring it in line with latest emission standards and we’ve added this to our new 1.5-litre global engine, going into multiple regions and multiple car lines.

“Naturally, these markets will have different emission standards and different guises so we have in Europe it’s predominantly GTDI [gasoline turbocharged direct injection] emissions Euro 6. For rest-of-world applications we go for different technology such as TFI [techlusion fuel injection] port fuel injection.” From the automaker’s point of view, TFI where low pressure fuel is injected into the air intakes to mix with air and not directly into the combustion chambers at high pressure during ignition, are much cheaper to manufacture being able to use less heat-critical fuel injector material and cheaper low pressure fuel pumps.

Palmer continued: “So, what we have now ended up with is taking the best of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost and applying the same ‘medication’ or recipe to the 1.5-litre. This gives us a global family of i-3 engines.” He said the one of the engine’s main missions is to take over the role of existing larger displacement powerplants. “The real challenge was being able to create a three-cylinder high displacement engine that will replace the four-cylinder engines. We now have a family of engines that range right from 82 PS up to 200 PS in the Ford Fiesta ST. This gives us a lot of flexibility with a lot of opportunities to apply those powertrains to different vehicles and different transmission combinations.”

Ford can also expect to enjoy production cost savings thanks to the new three-cylinder family of engines. Palmer added: “The design ethos was around weight, design efficiency particularly around friction reducing parasitic losses for fuel economy and emissions but also we set about trying to achieve levels of refinement in terms of balance, NVH [noise, vibration and harshness] and sound quality. This is part of the reason the Focus is so refined in terms of cabin noise because the source of the powertrain has been significantly improved.”

He also stressed that Ford sees this family of powerplants holding its place within the future production strategy for quite some years to come, saying: “We think this family will last at least the next decade because the engine architecture protects for hybridisation and all the variations of electrification ranging from 48-volt right the way to full electric high voltage systems. The engine will go into not just C segment vehicles as it is today but also into larger crossovers and other adaptions of that type of vehicle. Our C2 platform, C for C car and 2 for second generation, is a global platform that will grow in length and width to suit the different Top Hat requirements.”

As a global engine, it is being built in Bridge End in Wales and is planned for China and possibly even South America at a later date.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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