Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost

Can innovative new engine propel this huge seller to the top of the class?

The latest Ford Focus may be a top seller, but it can’t quite match the all-round brilliance of the Volkswagen Golf. Although it’s great to drive, looks distinctive and has a classy cabin, it falls short in the race for overall supremacy.

So can Ford’s all-new entry-level EcoBoost engine finally give the Focus a much-needed lift? It certainly looks promising on paper. Despite its diminutive 1.0-litre capacity and three-cylinder layout, the turbo petrol engine produces 123bhp and a healthy 170Nm of torque. More importantly, it emits only 114g/km of CO2 and will return a claimed 56.5mpg at the petrol pumps.

Outside, there’s little to distinguish the newcomer from other models in the Focus line-up. Eagle-eyed owners will spot the small ECOnetic Technology badge on the tailgate, but that’s about it. That means you get the same bold yet slightly fussy styling as the rest of the range, while our Zetec test car benefited from neat 16-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, there are even fewer clues about the car’s new engine. The angular dashboard design remains, as do the impressive build quality and classy-looking materials. And while the steering wheel controls for the trip computer and stereo can be confusing, the driving position is excellent and the blue and white backlit dials are absolutely crystal-clear.

There are no complaints about the amount of space on offer, either. Occupants in the rear get slightly more head and legroom than in the SEAT, plus there’s more storage space.

Deep door bins, a large glovebox and a lidded centre console take care of most family odds and ends, while there’s also a useful amount of cup-holders. So it’s a shame all this good work is undone by the Ford’s cramped boot. With a capacity of just 316 litres, the shallow load area holds 25 litres less than the Leon’s. Opt for a full-size spare wheel in place of the standard space-saver and the available room shrinks to 277 litres – less than in a Fiesta.

However, what the Focus lacks in space, it more than makes up for with pace. While it trailed the SEAT by four tenths of a second from 0-60mph, with a time of 10.3 seconds, it felt stronger in the mid-range. Here it needed only 10.8 seconds to go from 50-70mph in sixth gear – that’s a full

2.3 seconds faster than the Leon.

The Ford’s 1.0-litre feels more refined and responsive for day-to-day driving than the SEAT’s larger 1.2 TSI. The smooth EcoBoost pulls strongly from idle right through to the red line, while the distinctive warbling sound normally associated with three-cylinder engines is only heard at very high revs. Yet its performance doesn’t come back to bite at the pumps: the stop-start-equipped Focus returned an excellent 43.4mpg in our hands.

Better still, the EcoBoost engine weighs only 97kg, which helps improve the Ford’s already sharp handling. No other hatch matches the 1.0-litre Focus for fun, agility and feedback over a twisting road. It has well weighted controls, a slick gearshift and progressive brakes. It’s remarkably refined, too, with less wind and road noise than in the Leon, while the suspension deals well with poor surfaces.

Is there a catch? At £17,945, the Ford will set you back £720 more than the SEAT, although discounts will balance that out. Yet better economy and lower emissions mean it’s cheaper to run. Is that enough to win?

Details

Chart position: 1
WHY: Latest addition to range aims to mix big-car performance with small-car running costs, plus the traditional Focus strengths of handling and comfort.

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