Thursday, September 3, 2015

Workplace Sitcom | 2015 Ford Focus 1L EcoBoost Review

Source: Ford Motor Company
White collar office work is so very interesting. It can be brutal, if working for a baldheaded retail CEO. Or it can be boring and bureaucratic. Unless you work in advertising, or in Silcon Valley, the office is deeply uninspiring.

The grey walls, grey fluorescent lights, grey cubicles and grey colleagues demonstrate the depths office life can dive to. The only hope a corporate robot has for any sort of excitement is from an eccentric colleague. You know, the new guy that awkwardly fumbles through his day. Not the most productive of workers, but fun nonetheless.

This brings me to the latest version of the Ford Focus. It and its compact competitors are the automotive representation of middle class, middle-managed office life. It’s a fine car with great benefits. But it’s not a job, er… car one dreams about. It’s the one they get. A safe choice with good safety ratings.

Source: Ford Motor Company
For 2015 Ford has sprinkled some spice onto the car. There’s a new grill and lighting clusters. The interior is better too, with easier to operate radio controls and available steering wheel heater. But in office terms it’s the equivalent of adding a couch or a painting.

The big change is in the hiring of a new powerplant. It’s the 1.0L 3-cylinder EcoBoost turbo engine from Romania. The idea is to use the award winning engine to help improve operational efficiency while adding a little bit of excitement to the workplace.
Source: Ford Motor Company

At 123 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, the specs are quite impressive for such a small engine. However, let’s not forget how big the Focus is. An average car gets an engine twice the size with much more power. But this downsized turbo concept is the future. So, is it any good?

Well remember that eccentric colleague I was telling you about? That’s exactly what this engine is like. Driving through a city is a very interesting affair. The clutch take up is quite high and from a stop the engine needs lots of throttle to get going. If you don’t give it enough, the engine lugs close to stalling. But if you give it too much you’ll chirp the front tires. There’s a very narrow sweet spot that’s hard to get. And once you do get going there’s a bit of turbo lag. 

It feels like the engine is constantly distracted and overwhelmed by what you’re asking of it. “Oh? You want some power now?” Tires chirp, “Too much? Okay I’ll pull back. Oh not enough??? (spools turbo).” It’s really weird and took me the full week to get used to it. But even after I thought I had mastered it, I’d sill be bouncing around and apologizing. Once you're on the highway things settle down and the turbo becomes a really handy asset in the passing lane.

That’s not to say the engine is all bad. I absolutely love the sounds it makes. That 3-cylinder growl is very special. And you can hear the turbo spool up and dump air like it’s a tuner. What I found really surprising is that because of clever engine mounts, there is no vibration. It’s so smooth that I would hit the rev limiter without flinching.

Source: Ford Motor Company
What I appreciate about the 1.0L is the experimental nature of it. It really is Ford asking the question of how small an engine can you fit in how big of a car - a question they're asking across the range. Every day behind the wheel is an eccentric adventure of unpredictability, and probable unreliability.

Source: Ford Motor Company
Putting such a small engine in such a big car is a demanding task. The engine feels like that coworker that got promoted a little too early. Turbos are more sensitive. And in the week I drove this one the check engine light went on.

As interesting as the concept is, it can’t really recommend it. And I doubt many people will buy it either. It’s only available as a manual on the Sedan in mid-range SE trim. And the whole package costs $1600. It’s a really tough sell, and I don’t anticipate many will go for it.

This downsized turbo Focus is the future though. As governments impose ever stricter fuel consumption regulations, automakers are already looking to the turbo for help. And does it? Well in my week of driving on mainly the highway, I averaged about 7.5 L/100km. According to NRCAN ratings the engine represents a 1 L/100km improvement over the regular Focus, representing more of a small step forward rather than a giant leap.

I really like this new engine, it’s very special. But touchy clutch take up, and a slightly delayed turbo shows that maybe the Focus isn’t quite ready for such a small engine. It is available on a Fiesta however, and I feel like that is probably a better fit.

2015 Ford Focus SE EcoBoost
There are a couple of things that'll need to be looked at at next year's performance review  

Price as tested (Base Price): $23,314 ($22,114) inc. Freight + PDI
Engine: 1.0 Litre Direct Injection Turbocharged 3-cylinder
Power: 128 hp @ 6350 rpm   Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Manual

Fuel Consumption NRCan (city|hwy|combined): 8.1 | 5.9 | 7.4  L/100km

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