Ford Focus gets an Ecoboost

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Ford’s third generation Focus Ecoboost sounds rather dull but underneath all the greenwash is a proper entertainer. Andy Enright reports.

Although ‘EcoBoost’ might sound like a setting for a washing machine, when it’s attached to a Ford Focus it serves up a big helping of fun with a side order of environmental responsibility. With either 148bhp 178bhp on tap from its 1.6-litre petrol engine, the Focus EcoBoost is punchy enough yet still returns excellent economy.

We all know about the hot Focus models. The ST and RS variants have been huge hits, offering an extrovert option for those who like their hot hatches smoking. Knock the attitude back a couple of notches and Ford hasn’t had much to shout about. The old ST170 promised much but delivered little. The latest Focus, though, offers a very different perspective on the so-called warm hatch theme. The Focus 1.6 EcoBoost hides its dynamic light under a green bushel, aiming to demonstrate that with pace can come parsimony.

It’s not a theme we’ve really seen before. To date vehicles have been either sporty or green, not both. How does this latest Focus shape up when trying to square these two apparently contrasting criteria?

Unless they’re powering a sports model, petrol engines aren’t getting much of a reception from buyers looking for a family hatchback. So efficient and so good to drive are the latest diesel units that the green pump has been getting the elbow. Ford has been as responsible for this as anyone, thanks to its excellent range of TDCi diesels, but now it has delivered an in-house riposte in the form of the 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol engines. The 148bhp version is a respectable performer, getting to 60mph in just 8.3s and topping out at 130mph. The star turn is the 178bhp version though, which offers 7.5s sprint to 60mph and doesn’t stop accelerating until it reaches 138mph.

The Ecoboost models haven’t been given a rock hard suspension setup which means that comfort and refinement are excellent. Drop into the driver’s seat and you’ll initially notice that it’s lower set than in the previous car, while the sharply- raked windscreen pillars are bulkier than is ideal. One thing both engines have in common is a ‘torque vectoring’ system.

This works by nipping at the brake of the inside front wheel as you turn into a corner, helping to reduce understeer. You might well notice it drag the car into the apex on wet roads if you’re pressing on. The electric power steering system is very quick and accurate, if trading a little something in ultimate feedback. Weighing 128kg less than a 2.0-litre diesel model, you’ll feel how keen the Ecoboost is to turn into a corner and hang on to its line. If you want a really hard-edged Focus, you’ll need to wait for the ST, but if you’re after something a little more rounded, the Ecoboost, especially in 178bhp guise, answers the call more than adequately.

Ford hasn’t gone out of its way to visually differentiate the Ecoboost models. They adhere to Ford’s standard trim system, being offered in either Titanium or Titanium X guises. For the quality of the materials quality and the fit and finish of the cabin, the new Focus leaves its (already solid) predecessor standing. Some commentators have claimed that the Focus has targeted the Volkswagen Golf, but the interior is a far more extrovert design than you’ll find in any Wolfsburg vehicle. The centre console looks busy but it’s fairly easy to figure everything out quickly and the Sony stereo is a very classy touch. There’s no word yet on the availability of Ford’s twin clutch Powershift gearbox with the EcoBoost models, so for the time being it’s a six-speed manual only.

The Ecoboost models are as much about efficiency as they are about entertainment and both engines do extremely well when it comes to running costs.

The Ford 1.6-litre Ecoboost models marry strong performance and fine efficiency and prove that there’s life in the petrol engine yet. There’s a price to be paid for getting the best of both worlds, however, and the Ecoboost models aren’t cheap. Only offered in range-topping Titanium and Titanium X trim levels, you’ll need to be of decent means to get your hands on one, but once the dotted line is signed, ongoing costs will be relatively modest.

Whether buyers can be teased out of their diesel family hatches is debatable at best but if nothing else, Ford has built a car that showcases the way forward for the petrol engine.