There's no replacement for displacement, some enthusiasts say. But that's not always the case anymore. Car manufacturers like Ford are leaning more and more toward smaller-displacement engines combined with turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing, not just for better efficiency but for more power as well. It's an approach not everyone has fully comprehended yet, so a few skeptical reactions about Ford's 1.0-liter EcoBoost powertrain are to be expected. This engine--which won the title of International Engine of the Year in 2012 and 2013--may be little, but it has plenty to offer.
We were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recently for the Ford Fiesta EcoBoost International Media Drive. While the trip was mainly about the new 1.0-liter engine, key Ford executives from Australia and China were present to share overviews of the Fiesta and its improvements in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH); vehicle dynamics; features and technology; design; and safety. But the big question is: How did the Fiesta EcoBoost perform during the drive?
Let's first visualize where we took the car with the tiny engine. The test drive consisted of five legs with a good mix of driving conditions--urban roads, highway stretches with winding sections, and twisty uphill and downhill roads--totaling 230km. Two participants in each Fiesta took turns driving, getting equal opportunities sampling the car in the different conditions presented.
The Fiesta EcoBoost is eerily silent at idle, thanks to a timing belt that's immersed in oil and sealed inside the engine. It reduces friction, so the car runs quieter. What's more, that's one thing less to maintain since the timing belt never needs replacing. The EcoBoost engine has a clever "split-cooling" system for faster warm-ups, thus saving fuel and reducing emissions in the process. The 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder powertrain has performance comparable to a 1.6-liter four-cylinder. It has an output of 123hp and 170Nm of torque, with peak torque available from 1,400rpm to 4,500rpm. The tiny motor is rev-happy and likes to linger around the 3,000rpm-mark. The turbocharger may be small, but it is a high-speed unit: It can rev up to 248,000rpm for instant boost. The engine is coupled with Ford's trademark Powershift six-speed automatic transmission. We'd love to test the EcoBoost-Powershift combo on Metro Manila roads and in slow-moving traffic.
Handling dynamics is a big factor that makes the Fiesta so engaging to drive. The light and compact powertrain gives better power-to-weight ratio; steering is sharp and firm; and the suspension has always been tuned right. The Fiesta shone on the tight bends of the mountainous sections, reminding us of the little Ford hatchback in the World Rally Championship. The region is endowed with lush greenery and scenic countryside landscapes, which just added to that imagination. And the stops for coffee and lunch were getaways that brought us so much closer to nature.
The Fiesta EcoBoost is undoubtedly fuel-efficient, but sampling the performance proved to be too tempting. On the highway, the car yielded 15-17km/L, depending on how hard we were pushing. Speaking of pushing, the Fiesta can get up to high speed without feeling hard-pressed.
The route and the stops were well-planned. Our convoy leader, Visut, was highly efficient and made the drive safer by way of his accurate oncoming-traffic/slow-moving-motorcycle warnings, telling us when to slow down and when we could pick up speed. And with good roads all throughout, the drive actually didn't feel like 230km.
The Ford Fiesta 1.0-liter EcoBoost surely kicks the "no replacement for displacement" mindset--although completely eliminating the skeptical attitude might prove to be another challenge (not to mention justifying the price tag of P898,000). Ford won't have an easy time selling this car based on face value, which can either reel customers into the showroom or drive them away. We hope it's the former, because small engines that pack a punch are the smart way to go.