Ford Focus Estate: Second report

14 Jan, 2013 10:15am Otis Clay

Only a trained ear can detect the three-cylinder engine of our EcoBoost car

Is my latest car singing a familiar tune? When I first started at Auto Express, I was given the task of running a Subaru Justy. And although I was initially sceptical, I grew to love the quirky city runaround with its three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine. Even now, I look back at it with fondness.

The Justy was small and easy to drive, and while refinement was in short supply, I really liked the tuneful three-cylinder thrum that was all too evident from under the bonnet. For me, this was part of the city car’s charm – not something you’d be prepared to put up with in a £20,000 family model, but more than acceptable in a bargain runabout.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m happy to report that my love of three-cylinder engines has been rekindled, after I took charge of our Ford Focus Estate, with its 1.0-litre EcoBoost turbo.

The Ford has serenaded me in a very different way, though. While the engine note played a big part in my enjoyment of the Subaru, my love of the Focus stems from the lack of its obvious three-cylinder character. This car proves how much engine technology has improved in recent years, because unless you have a very keen ear, you’d probably think it was powered by a four-cylinder.

The 1.0-litre EcoBoost has won awards for its innovation, and our car features the more powerful 123bhp version, so there’s more than enough grunt to lug around all my camera gear. But what really impresses is the fact that there’s hardly any significant engine noise most of the time.

Only when you rev the Focus hard do you notice that distinctive offbeat three-cylinder thrum, and even then, it remains smooth and doesn’t get strained. So there’s only a passing flashback to my buzzy little Subaru.

Most passengers I’ve carried thought the car had a conventional large-capacity four-cylinder petrol engine, so it’s been up to me to bore them with the “it’s only got three cylinders, don’t you know?” story. Just as impressive as the engine’s refinement is the Ford’s spacious boot. It offers a capacity of 476 litres with the seats in place, there’s barely any wheelarch intrusion and the lip is nice and low, for easy loading.

Plus, when the standard boot space isn’t enough, it’s easy to fold the rear seats and make use of the full load capacity. The car can swallow up to 1,502 litres of kit, but it’s the load length that really comes in handy when I’m carrying stepladders and stands for the flashlights I frequently use for photoshoots.

I like the way the Focus handles, too, while the ride is comfortable and the cabin well isolated from road noise. All the controls have a really pleasing action and I’m finding myself enjoying twisty roads more than I have in other cars I’ve run recently.

But the engine is still my favourite thing about the Focus. It’s never a drag on a long trip, providing plenty of performance. Economy could be better, though. My 40mpg average is 15mpg shy of the official figure – disappointing as most of my miles are on the motorway.

Other than that, for me the Focus Estate hits the right note in more than ways than one.

Our view

“I jumped into Otis’ Focus at the test track, and it took me a few moments to register that I was in a three-cylinder EcoBoost car. It’s fast and refined.”
Owen Mildenhall, Senior road tester

Your view

“Just bought one of these cars, and it’s amazing. But I can’t get near the 58mpg Ford quotes. I normally return 43mpg in town and 45mpg on a run, although that’s with a full load.”
Chris, via

Disqus - noscript

Ah! "thrum" and poor fuel consumption are back. Quel surpris.

Surely ALL cars MPG figures are arrived at in exactly the same way, in perfect conditions, warm lab, with acceleration so slow you'd get flashed/tooted at in the real world? So why do ppl insist on always going on about their MPG, surely its a bit boring by now

It needs to be re-emphasised that with this sort of power unit, the disparity between the "official" figures and the "real world" ones is particularly great. It suits manufacturers to produce this sort of power unit (cheaper) and the more reactionary motorists to believe it gives comparable economy to a diesel. A 1.6 diesel would return around 20m.p.g. more at the motorway maximum than the Ecoboost whilst turning over at less than 2,500 rpm, to the benefit of refinement. This is still less than the official figures but much less grossly at variance with them.

I always find you need to be firmer on the pedal with smaller capacity engines though, undoing any potential savings it might give you on the flat at 50. A lot of superminis drink fuel for fun when you take them on the motorway yet people think they're frugal in all conditions because you can get 40mpg round town.

I think of greater interest would be how the Ecoboost engines fuel consumption compares to the old 1.6 TIVCT engine. There has definitely been an improvement in drivability but has consumption improved? The consumer still has a choice between petrol and diesel power and each power unit has pros and cons. Ultimately the consumer will decide which compromise works best for him/her be it refinement, efficeincy or drivability.

I don't quarrel with this.

Key specs

  • On fleet since: October 2012
  • Price new: £20,295
  • Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 123bhp
  • CO2/Tax: 117g/km/£30
  • Options: Driver Assist Pack (£850), Sony DAB Navigation with rear view camera (£750), City Pack (£350), metallic paint (£525), retractable tow bar (£600)
  • Trade-in now: N/A
  • Insurance group/quote: 14/£345
  • Mileage/mpg: 12,067/40.7mpg
  • Costs/Problems: None so far