Sacrificing power for fuel economy isn’t too much of a sacrifice.
– Detroit, Michigan
As much as I wish I could spend every morning at the helm of a Ford Mustang GT350 or a Porsche Boxster, traffic and stoplights don’t always allow me to actually exercise the cars’ potential. My 18-mile daily slog through traffic takes about 35 minutes, so it really doesn’t matter how much horsepower I have available. In fact, I could probably manage fine with just three cylinders. And I did.
As almost every automaker works to downsize every engine possible, Ford now offers a turbocharged 1.0-liter inline-three engine as an option in the Focus (as well as the smaller, lighter Fiesta). Though it’s less powerful than the Focus’s standard 2.0-liter engine (by 37 horsepower and 21 pound-feet of torque), it’s also considerably more fuel efficient, at 30 miles per gallon city and 42 mpg highway. Opting for the 1.0-liter engine on a Focus SE costs just $495, so the payback period is relatively quick compared to, say, buying an expensive hybrid. The main question is whether buyers are willing to sacrifice power in exchange for a little bit more efficiency.
- Performance is impressive given the engine’s small displacement. Yes, the car is slow, but the broad torque delivery makes it easy to keep up with traffic, so long as you shift the six-speed manual regularly (a six-speed automatic is optional). Engineering tricks like an intentionally unbalanced flywheel quell vibrations, so whether it’s idling or running toward its 6,500-rpm rev limit, the three-cylinder is no buzzier than a modern four-banger.
- It really is efficient. No, I didn’t hit the lofty highway rating, but I came pretty close to the EPA’s 35-mpg combined rating in urban driving. Ford’s downsized turbo engines have often been criticized for failing to deliver on their economy ratings, but between the engine’s inherent thriftiness and the very smooth stop-start system, it’s easy to save gas in the Focus EcoBoost.
- Sharp steering, a poised suspension, and an all-round sense of control show that Focus engineers prize driving enjoyment even in small, affordable cars. Yet the ride has also improved from the stiff-legged early models, so expansion joints no longer punish passengers.
- The Ford Focus sedan has always looked frumpy – this car was clearly designed as a hatchback first – and this specific one is especially dull. Despite receiving a visual nip-tuck a year ago, the Focus isn’t nearly as stylish as the new Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, or Mazda3. I at least wish this car were equipped with the $895 SE EcoBoost Appearance package, which brings visual flair like different 16-inch wheels, LED running lights, gloss-black trim, and foglights, plus rear disc brakes.
- Never have I ever sat in a Ford Focus (including the one I owned for three years) and felt immediately at ease behind the wheel. The seating position is too high and the pedals are oddly positioned. I ended up sliding the seat farther back than usual and telescoping the steering wheel. Ford engineers would do well to spend a few weeks measuring a Honda Civic cockpit.
- This Focus would be a lot more fun to drive if it weren’t geared only for fuel efficiency. No, literally – super-tall gearing means I’m constantly downshifting to keep the turbo spooled, and it forces more clutch slipping than I expected from a compact sedan in first gear. I’m also not a fan of the vague clutch because you can’t easily feel the friction point.
|2016 FORD FOCUS SE ECOBOOST|
|ENGINE||Turbocharged 1.0L I3|
|OUTPUT||123 Horsepower / 125 Pound-Feet|
|EPA FUEL ECONOMY||30 City / 42 Highway / 35 Combined|
|CARGO VOLUME||13.2 Cubic Feet|
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com