2012 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Wagon(Photo: Justin Couture)

Ford is big on downsizing. But is a 1.0-litre Focus a step too far?

In Saint-Paul de Vence, France

What is it?
The car you see pictured is the cutting edge of European motoring. But don't get your hopes up — you won't be able to buy it. Ford has no intentions of selling the Focus Wagon in North America, despite the fact that it was developed as a global vehicle. The engine, on the other hand, will make it across the Atlantic. It's the latest and smallest member of the EcoBoost family — a 1.0-litre three-cylinder.

What's new?
We're no stranger to Ford's downsizing strategy, but this is by far the most extreme case. We can see how a twin-turbocharged V6 could take the place of a V8, and have noted how a turbocharged four can haul around a three-row crossover without too much difficulty. Now, the idea of a three-cylinder car isn't what's got us all up in arms — BMW is at work on developing a three-cylinder that will be used in the 3 Series — rather, it's the fact that it displaces a paltry 999 cc, or less than half of what our Focus features. Alternatively, think about it like this: the entire displacement of this engine is less than three cans of Coke. Conceptually it's a lot to ask to move what is effectively a family friendly station wagon, even if it features a turbocharger and direct fuel injection.

What's it like to drive?
The first thing you notice about the 1.0-litre engine is the sound. It's not loud, just different — a pleasantly growly, thrummy sound. In fact, it was very much like the Focus ST's warble, but lighter in timbre. Acoustics aside, there are some other benefits of dropping a cylinder. There's less rotating mass on the inside, which means it revs more freely. Indeed, the engine feels very willing once the turbo kicks in, partly due to sluggish throttle calibration. Then there's the physical aspect of weight. With 30 fewer kilograms sitting over the front wheel, handling, turn-in and responsiveness are all improved. And while a three-cylinder engine isn't exactly the most vibration-free configuration, Ford has cleverly solved this problem with a trick unweighted flywheel, allowing it to skip out on a balancer shaft, saving weight and complexity.

Once above 2,000 rpm the EcoBoost feels surprisingly peppy for being rated at just 123 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. of torque. This swells to 148 lb.-ft. for 30 seconds at a time, when the turbo ratchets up the boost, enabling the Focus to pass with (some) ease. On balance, it is adequately powerful, but isn't really a match for either the standard Focus or another notable downsizer, Chevrolet's turbocharged 1.4-litre Cruze. We didn't drive the 1.0 for long enough to record any fuel economy figures, but it is rated at an average equal to 5.0 L/100 km, and emits notably fewer carbon emissions.

Should you buy one?
We like the idea, and Ford should certainly be lauded for developing this engine and fitting it to the Focus. In a place where fuel costs twice as much as what we pay, not to mention the burden of taxes based on carbon dioxide emissions that must also be paid, it make sense. But Canadians don't have to contend with this (yet). It's also worth noting that this particular engine is supposed to replace the Focus 1.6 — a Focus powered by the engine that is used in the North American Fiesta. On paper, the 1.0 improves on the 1.6 in every way possible, and as such, is a solid step forward.

There are two missing pieces of the puzzle though: price and fuel economy. This motor is a marvel of (expensive) technology, and as we've already seen with all other Ford EcoBoost applications, there is a price to pay. We also don't yet have fuel economy numbers. Given the price sensitivity of consumers in the compact market, we'll have to wait and see before issuing a final verdict.

Word has it, however, that it will be the updated Fiesta not the Focus that will feature this engine. And while we'll still have to balance savings and costs out, from a performance perspective, it makes a lot more sense for the North American marketplace.

2012 Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Wagon
Base price: N/A
Type of vehicle: FWD, compact wagon
Engine: 1.0-litre, 12-valve, DOHC, I-3 turbocharged
Horsepower/Torque: 123 hp/125 lb.-ft. (148 lb.-ft. on overboost)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Performance (0-100 km/h, est.): 10.7 seconds
Fuel economy (average, NDEC): 5.0 L/100 km
Competition: Toyota Prius V, Volkswagen Golf Wagon TDI

QUICK SPIN SUMMARY

PROS
Smooth, free-revving character
Rates excellently in European economy tests
An engineering marvel

CONS
Engine price could be a deal-breaker
Manual only
A step back in performance for the Focus, but a step forward for the Fiesta