Just occasionally, a new engine appears that not only throws convention to the winds, it makes convention look pretty silly as it does so. The V12 in the McLaren F1 was one, the V10 in the last-generation M5 another. The 1-litre, threecylinder motor about to be introduced to the Ford Focus also falls into this category. I have not taken leave of my senses, any more than Ford has in putting into the Focus an engine displacing half a litre less than convention says is the minimum you can get away with in a family hatch. This is no conventional engine.
The figures are impressive enough: boosted by a tiny turbo spinning at an unimaginable 4000 revs per second, this 999cc engine produces 123bhp, the same as Ford’s normal 1.6-litre four. But it uses more than 20 per cent less fuel and has more torque at 1300rpm than the 1.6 can muster in total.
But you’ll only appreciate the true scale of Ford’s achievement when you drive this Focus. Given the output, I had expected a high-rev screamer; in fact it’s so quiet that it’s measurably more refined than every other engine in a Focus. And with all that torque, a characterful thrum, a crisp six-speed ’box and 30kg less nose weight, it makes the Focus a sight more engaging to drive too.
Ford has thrown all it has at this engine: it boasts variable valve timing on each camshaft, direct injection, a water-cooled exhaust manifold, a cam belt that’ll never need changing and a cast-iron block so stiff there’s just 6.1mm of metal separating each cylinder.
More interestingly still, Ford is working on ultra-high output versions. Because the engine is already very ‘undersquare’ yet on the limit of its bores, it
can’t change sizes without growing cylinders, so Ford is experimenting with twin sequential turbos, a tiddler for low-speed torque and a monster for top-end power. I was told that an output of 180bhp would be a stretch, but possible.
Ford has such confidence in this completely British-designed engine that it will replace entirely the normally aspirated 1.6-litre motor used in most petrol Focuses sold around the world.
And rightly so: in its own way this is as impressive a new engine as I’ve seen in the past couple of years. It should also be ringing alarm bells in car manufacturer headquarters right around the world. For on this evidence, the conventional four-cylinder engine of around 1.6 litres, which has been the most popular configuration used by road cars for at least the last three decades, has just become obsolete.
Engine: 1.0 litre, three cylinders, turbocharged, petrol
Top Speed: 120mph
Power: 123bhp at 6000rpm
Fuel/co2: 56.5mpg, 114g/km