On the Road Review: Ford Focus Ecoboost

The Ford Motor Co. is America’s top-selling automotive brand — due mostly to its trucks — and the world’s fourth largest automaker by volume, behind VW, Toyota and GM.

In other markets, one of Ford’s better selling products is the Focus small car. With five versions available here, and a sixth model coming, Ford would like to see Focus sales expand in America as stiffer fuel economy standards mandate higher miles per gallon from our total driving fleet.

These fuel economy standards have forced the automakers to pursue various efficiency paths. Toyota has gone all-in on its hybrid powertrains — with more models coming this fall — while others continue to pursue electric powertrains and even hydrogen-fuels. Ford, for the time being, has been directing a lot of efforts into its Ecoboost powertrains — smaller displacement engines with turbochargers, intercoolers and direct injection.

Much of the success of these turbo-engines can be attributed to the rapid advances in computer technologies controlling the combustion process, as well as the high-pressure fuel mixes handled by direct injection. With turbocharging boosting engine output only when more power is needed, smaller engines can handle overall driving needs more efficiently. So far, the theory is working as designed — although some applications have not produced the expected gains in fuel economy.

In the compact Focus, Ford is sharing the 1.0-liter three-cylinder Ecoboost engine first seen here in last year’s Fiesta. Making a credible 123 hp with 148 pound/feet of peak torque, the 1.0-liter engine is eager but slightly overmatched by the Focus’s additional 350-400 pounds vs. the Fiesta, as well as a gearbox designed for maximum efficiency rather than maximum power. Available only with the six-speed manual — in either sedan or hatchback body — the Ecoboost 1.0-liter transmission essentially has two tall overdrive gears — fifth and sixth — and requires steady and heavy throttle application to make forward progress. Anything less results in lazy acceleration; better fuel economy, but not urgent progress.

EPA estimates are 29/40 mpg for the Ecoboost motor, approximately three miles per gallon better than the stock 2.0-liter 160-hp four cylinder engine. (Ford also has an Ecoboost version of the 2.0-liter engine in the ST model Focus — this engine makes 252 hp.) Our single refueling stop with the Ruby Red Focus resulted in a 35.6-mpg number.

Focus hits have to include the roomy interior, with ample front and rear space for four adults with great access, the fluid visibility to all areas, as well as the upgraded interior. Simple, yet efficient, the Focus’s dash includes a rear view camera and a small MyFord Touch screen. Controls are easy to use, including manual seat adjusters. With the optional cold weather package ($645), our Focus carried heated seats, heated steering wheel, and heated power mirrors but no satellite radio. Total SRP for our sample midlevel Focus SE, $22,075. Base price for a five-speed sedan is $17,170.

At a tick smaller than the Chevy Cruze or Toyota Corolla, the Focus displays some of its Euro-driving emphasis with good road manners, good driving feel and a nice level of steering agility from the electric steering rack. Not as slick as a VW Jetta when pressed, the Focus rests mid-pack in a hotly contested compact car class that also includes Civic, Elantra, Kia Forte, Dodge Dart and the Mazda 3.

Upgrading to the hatchback body, $500, doubles your cargo capacity as well as your versatility factor. Coming this fall, the Focus RS, only in hatchback, will feature all-wheel drive and most of the ST model’s sporting intentions in a package designed to compete with the German compacts such as VW’s Golf R, Audi’s A3, the Mercedes GLA, as well as Subaru’s WRX. Pricing should break the $30,000 barrier, but that may not stall sales, as the average new car transaction price has surpassed $32,000.

If the Focus’s fluid efficiency is a plus, then the Ecoboost cost could be a con at current fuel prices, as you need $795 extra to get the additional projected mileage from the 1.0-liter. If the Ecoboost had a little more grunt, if the six-speed gearbox had a bit more precision between gears, if the mileage number was, say, 44 mpg instead of 40, it would be a lot easier to shout the Focus Ecoboost’s virtues. Compared to the Chevy Cruze clean-diesel, the Chevy would get the nod in price, power and driver excitement for most efficient compact fuel-misers.

Of course, the Focus is also available with an all-electric powertrain that delivers 76 miles of no-gas driving. The Focus Electric lists for $29,170.

Gasoline prices will inevitably change. Driving styles will change. Drivers’ driving choices will change, too, and the Focus Ecoboost will become more enticing. Bureaucrats demand it; you will want the Focus. Thank goodness it is a package that will warrant purchasing.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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