Versailles, France -- As equipped, the 1.0-liter EcoBoost-powered 2015 Ford Focus we sampled would make a pretty good enthusiast’s daily driver or second car. With its six-speed manual gearbox, automatic cruise control, lane-departure control, heated front seats and steering wheel, the face-lifted Focus is downright Germanic in its attitude -- think Volkswagen Golf VII.
Which is a problem for Ford. The VW Golf, Europe’s best-seller, is a niche car in America, even with its optional dual-sequential gearbox automatic. The 1.0-liter 2015 Ford Focus will be sold in the United States with the smooth six-speed manual, a decent gearbox with a well-oiled feel to its action, though far from a volume, mainstream choice. Ford says it’s selling the 1.0-liter Focus with an optional six-speed automatic in Europe, but won’t reveal what kind of automated transmission it has in mind for the North American market further down the road.
The torque converter six-speed seems like a good guess, unless the transmission simply doesn’t provide enough forward thrust while maintaining what should be an exceptional fuel economy rating. The turbocharged engine is designed to reach maximum torque at 1500 rpm, and there’s no noticeable kick-up from the 123-horsepower, 148-pound-foot I-3, though you won’t feel much forward thrust until you reach the mid-range.
Nevertheless, it’s clear from Ford’s coyness on the matter that it desperately wants the torque-converter automatic to work with the engine, which means it must deliver top-of-the-segment fuel efficiency along with decent acceleration and improved drivability. The dry twin-clutch transmission that has served as the Focus’ automatic since the car premiered in North America for the 2012 model year has hampered sales for a segment in which the manual take-rate is negligible.
For 2015, the turbocharged, direct-injection three-cylinder engine with twin variable cam timing (intake and exhaust) is added as an option to the Focus. It arrives with a thorough but subtle face-lift for the Focus line. The engine is the same three made available in the B-segment Fiesta about a year ago (also with a six-speed manual as the only transmission option).
The ultracompact-three features charge cooling, for more torque at low rpm, fuel injection isolators to control high-frequency noise, and a belt-in-drive primary drive system. The Continental-supplied low-inertia turbocharger can spin up to 248,000 rpm. The turbo is bolted onto the exhaust manifold outlet, which itself is inside the cylinder head. The variable cam timing allows moderate overlap at full load and low overlap at idle for stability. A late exhaust valve opening almost mimics an Atkinson cycle engine.
Instead of a heavy balance shaft, the three-banger is “intentionally imbalanced,” says Andrew Fraser, Ford’s gasoline-powertrain development manager in Dunton, England. The flywheel and crankshaft each counter the action of the outer cylinders, as with a five-cylinder engine, for a very smooth idle and acceleration.
In fact, it feels smoother than many fours. While it’s no muscle car at low rpm, the power builds smoothly and progressively, with a pleasant, subtle buzz at heavy throttle. The manual, and the upshift light on the dash, encourage short shifting, counter to a typical automotive press drive. You’ll want to run out through the gears, and because fourth, fifth, and sixth are so tall, it’s easy to forget to upshift past fourth at highway speeds. Heel-and-toe or double-clutch downshifts don’t work; the revs just aren’t there on such short notice. The tachometer on our test car was marked with the redline at 6500 rpm and cutoff at 7000 rpm, though the rev limiter cut in at 6500. The rev-limiter is right, and the markings are wrong, and will be fixed for production, Fraser says.
Drive it like you’re paying for your own gas, and the 2015 Ford Focus is smooth, quiet, and quick enough for the average driver, especially when cruising through smaller towns and villages outside of Paris, with narrow streets and lots of pedestrians. The 1.0-liter will be plenty of engine for the average Focus driver, though like other EcoBoost engines, it will be nigh impossible to achieve Eco and Boost concurrently.
The engine is a standalone option, available on both the four-door hatchback and four-door sedan. Ford hasn’t revealed pricing, though if other EcoBoost downsizing options are any guide, a premium of $995 over the base 2.0-liter four is a good guess.
The ’15 model face-lift includes a new, sculpted hood and front fascia, a more chiseled front end, more chrome details and of course the “Aston-esque” five-point grille to give what Ford of Europe interior supervisor Jorg Stephan describes as a lower, wider stance that makes the car look “fun to drive.” Inside, there’s a redesigned center stack with an integrated entertainment bin. There are temperature and fan-speed knobs for the climate control system, a stereo-volume control knob and hard buttons for radio station frequency, and the improved Sync II. Our European model had the new covered cupholders with a movable divider, though North American Foci will have uncovered cupholders sans the movable divider, to make space for Big Gulps.
Our test car’s all-black interior, with good dash and door-panel padding and better-than-vinyl leather, adds to the Germanic feel. The EcoBoost 1.0-liter is a three-time International Engine of the Year winner with a potentially impressive fuel economy number. (It’s not EPA-tested yet, but don’t expect too much degradation from the Fiesta 1.0-liter manual’s 31/43/36 mpg.) We would take it all day long with the manual, but that’s stick-shift diesel station wagon talk. The 2015 Ford Focus 1.0-liter deserves the six-speed automatic (and not the dual-clutch) to make it a mainstream American product.
2015 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Specifications
On Sale:Late fall 2014
Base Price:$17,805-$24,790 (est.)
Price as Tested:$25,600 (est.)
Engine:1.0-liter DOHC 12-valve I-3/123 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 1,400-4,000 rpm
Layout:4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback or sedan
EPA Mileage:30/42 mpg
L x W x H:178.5 x 71.8 x 57.7 in
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