Downsizing: The car industry's buzzword for both consumers shopping for smaller cars than their previous model, and carmakers equipping their models with smaller, more efficient engines.
Both are linked to lowering the cost of driving, but the latter is most interesting from an efficiency perspective. Smaller engines and turbochargers match the performance of older, larger-engined models, but with modern-day efficiency.
The new Ford 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine is a great example, and at the recent Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders day at Millbrook in the UK, we got to sample the engine in a 2012 Ford Focus.
Economy of a 1.0, power of a 1.6
Externally, there's nothing to differentiate the tiny-engined Focus from its larger-engined bretheren, particularly in sporty Titanium spec. Likewise, stepping inside gives you no clues as to what sits under the hood.
In Europe, the headline figure is the CO2 figure of only 114 grams per kilometer. That puts it in low tax brackets in many countries, if not quite as low as some hybrids. Official combined fuel economy is 47 mpg, so by EPA standards a combined figure of around 40 mpg would be likely.
Start up, and the 123-horsepower engine kicks into life with very little noise. It's not hybrid-silent, but it's more refined than you might normally expect from a three-cylinder engine. This is no doubt helped a little by the relative size of the car compared to the typical recipients of 3-cylinder units.
On the move and the sensations of being in a regular Focus continue. There's not the muted rattle you might get from a diesel-engined car with similar economy, just smooth power. It's not quite as punchy as a diesel either--0-60 mph takes 11.3 seconds--but build up the revs and it moves along at a decent pace.
2013 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost live photosEnlarge Photo
Out on the high-speed bowl, the story improves. It gets up to freeway speeds with little effort and settled into a happy 100 mph cruise--this being a closed circuit, of course.
Just a Focus... but that's the point
It's easy to feel a little underwhelmed by the 1.0 EcoBoost engine in the Focus. In reality, you forget that there's such a small engine under the hood and it feels like a regular five-door car with a regular, naturally-aspirated 1.6 engine--not the most interesting combination.
But then, that's the point--the tiny downsized engine allows customers to benefit from improved economy, without sacrificing the performance they might expect from their previous car.
We weren't able to determine whether the official gas mileage was achievable, but with numbers now creeping towards those available from diesel cars, small-capacity gasoline models are once again becoming a popular, and greener way of saving gas.
The best news for U.S. consumers is that they'll soon get the 3-cylinder option in the smaller Ford Fiesta--where performance and economy should both improve on the Focus.