If you’ve read my Ford Focus Estate 1.6 Duratec petrol manual Ti-VCT 125PS Titanium review back in April, you’ll know that I think Ford have cracked it with the design of the new Focus’ front-end. This press car looked even more appealing, wearing its sports bodykit comprised an aggressive, jutty-outy front spoiler, 18” alloys, purposeful-looking rear diffuser, tinted windows, flared arches, a nice blend of angles and curves and a chunky boot spoiler.
Most of you know I prefer discretely-coloured cars, but I actually loved the bright red (‘Race Red’, to be specific) paint job of this Focus. I still personally feel that the rear corners are too fussy, with overly-busy light clusters. But they blended into the red bodywork nicely in this case. This Zetec S model really didn’t look much different to the latest Focus ST, so if you want to buy into the sports hatch looks but want an engine that’s softer on the wallet, maybe this is the car for you.
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I won’t go into the absolute minutiae when it comes to the interior, either, having already covered a Focus comprehensively a few months ago. But suffice to say, the interior in this 1-litre Ecoboost Zetec S model was just as accomplished, solid and rammed full of technology and kit. Granted, there are too many buttons smattered all over the dashboard, cabin and steering wheel, but once you realise what’s behind them, you might be less inclined to complain. DAB digital radio, colour sat nav (albeit with a very small screen), cruise control with active speed limiter, Bluetooth telephone and a wealth of safety features such as Lane Departure Warning, BLIS blind spot warning lights on the electric folding wing mirrors, auto high-beam lights, traffic sign and speed limit recognition, and Ford Active City Stop, for automating braking to lessen the likelihood of impacts at slow speeds. Pretty impressive for a common family hatch, huh?
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Everything felt sturdy and well-built inside the Focus, although the seat fabric once again felt to me like it would pick up marks quite easily. The seats were lovely and supportive, though, the steering wheel had a nice feel to it and it even came with a ‘normal’ handbrake. The blue ambient dashboard and instrument lighting is great and the audio system sounded very good. In the back there was plenty of room for average-size people and the boot, although not the largest in the class, is decent enough. So the Focus’ exterior and interior together form a high quality package.
But what about this 1-litre malarkey?
Indeed – this is the big question! Three cylinder, one litre engines are usually associated with city cars, superminis and the like. So it’s understandable that some of you may be sceptical, thinking that such a diminutive engine will struggle to power a relatively large 5-door (oh, and on that note, Ford aren’t releasing a 3-door version) family hatchback like the almost-2-tonnes Focus.
Well, the truth is that the 125PS, 1-litre, 3-cylinder engine, which is compact enough to fit on a sheet of A4 paper, is actually a very good performer, with enough power to allow one to squeeze a lot of fun out of this family-favourite model. The first thing that hit me was how astonishingly quiet the engine was. Ford have evidently put a lot of effort into the soundproofing and engine acoustics – and it’s paid off. Wow. I could quite happily drive around town at sedate speeds and not even notice the engine at all.
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Bury your right foot in the carpet and what happens – not a lot? Quite the contrary. The engine emits a wonderful, off-beat, typical 3-cylinder thrum sound. It’s such a good sound, in fact, that it became quite addictive. Just like the 900cc Fiat 500 TwinAir, the 125bhp version of Ford’s EcoBoost Focus is a car you can have a remarkable amount of fun in. It uses a very clever engine setup, with a turbo, twin variable cam timing and direct injection. Any lag from the little turbo is negligible and in my estimation, Ford have definitely succeeded in making the 125PS 1-litre EcoBoost as entertaining as the 1.6-litre petrol model.
The sweet engine is matched by a typically brilliant Ford chassis, with responsive, nicely-weighted steering. The suspension is great in terms of the car having very little body roll in corners, but I must say the 18” wheels did tend to crash through potholes. I found the clutch a bit grabby and unforgiving at times, but if I lifted my foot too sharply, the stop-start system rather handily powered the car straight back up again. The gear ratios were quite close and the Focus loved being put in 5th gear doing 30mph, but on the motorway the 6th gearing felt quite tall at times – so the gearbox wasn’t perfect, but didn’t let down the overall summation of the car. The variable power steering was nice and light around town, whilst out on faster, windy roads it proved sharp and responsive – in part owing to the light engine. On the motorway, I did find that the steering feedback became a little numb, but the engine itself was once again not lacking, keeping up with traffic in a very dignified way. Overtaking necessitated dropping down a gear or sometimes two, but the little EcoBoost once again proved a joy.
And what about the amazing fuel consumption figures Ford claim?
Ah – this is one of the debatable issues when it comes to the 125PS Ford Focus EcoBoost. It’s a bundle of fun to drive, but if you can’t resist evoking the engine’s sweet sound between 3,000-5,000rpm, you’re never going to get anywhere near the published combined fuel consumption figure of 56.5mpg. I spent the first three days of my week with the Focus trying as hard as I could to drive very carefully. I then spent one entire day doing only motorway driving, followed by a final couple of days having sheer fun. The results?
* Three days of town and built-up A-road driving with a delicate right foot and precise gear changes: 39.3mpg
* 120 miles of steady motorway driving in one session: 48.9mpg
* Two days of driving in town and on built-up A-roads, having fun: 22.1mpg
That amounts to an average of 37mpg, which is about 20mpg less than the 56.6mpg Ford claim. Sure, the test car I drove only had several thousand miles on it so probably wasn’t fully bedded-in, and hardly any cars achieve their published combined fuel consumption figures. I must also mention that the two days of ‘having fun’ driving really were without any regard at all to fuel consumption, flooring the thing at every opportunity. So strip those days’ fuel consumption figures out of the equation and you’re left with a more realistic achieved average of 44mpg, 12mpg less that Ford reckon in their brochures. So it still begs the question as to whether the 1-litre EcoBoost Focus makes sense over the 1.6-litre petrol or the diesel, when it comes to Joe Public’s driving habits.
The 1.6 petrol Duratec Ti-VCT unit averages a claimed 44mpg and I did actually achieve close to that figure with my test car earlier this year. The nearest diesel version, the 1.6 Duratorq TDCi (115PS) is said to reap 67.3mpg. So purely looking at fuel economy, the 1-litre 125PS EcoBoost doesn’t make a resounding argument for itself, going by what I achieved in real life. But you’ve got to look at the whole picture. There’s CO2 emissions to consider, for a start. The 1.6 petrol Duratec Ti-VCT produces 149g/km, the 1.6 Duratorq TDCi (115PS) emits 109g/km, and the 1-litre 125PS EcoBoost puts out a very impressive 114g/km.
Now analyse the base pricing for these three Focus models (we’ll compare them all in Zetec S guise, for a fair comparison). The 1.6 petrol Duratec Ti-VCT starts from £20,200, the 1.6 Duratorq TDCi (115PS) from £20,045 and the 1-litre 125PS EcoBoost I’m testing here, from £19,195. So considering the 1-litre petrol performs as well as the 1.6, we can knock the latter out of the contest, in effect. Whether you would then choose the slightly pricier diesel over the 1-litre petrol really boils down to what sort of mileage you do. If you cover loads of miles on a regular basis, the diesel may prove a better financial choice in the medium-term and beyond. But if you only do a low annual mileage, the slightly cheaper starting price of the 1-litre 125PS EcoBoost, along with the fact that petrol is cheaper at the pump, do put forward a decent argument in the 1-litre petrol’s favour. You also don’t have to pay any VED (road tax) for the first year of ownership, and then it only costs £20 per year thereafter. Insurance, what with the 125PS EcoBoost being a 999cc car, will presumably be lower than for a 1.6 petrol or diesel, too.
So if you’re a family driver and not a motorway business rep’, the 125PS variant easily makes more sense than a 1.6-litre petrol Focus in my mind, and probably more sense than the diesel, too. If you’re really, really hung up on CO2 emissions, you could also plump for the lesser, 100PS version of the 1-litre EcoBoost, with emissions of 109g/km.
Gadgets are seldom free
Just as a final little note when it comes to the pricing of the Ford Focus 1-litre EcoBoost 125PS, our Zetec S model had a base RRP of £19,195, but by the time various options were added on, the total price came to £22,320 – which isn’t exactly cheap. Options included the Ford DAB digital radio and Sat Nav System at £750, Cruise Control with Active Speed Limiter at £200, the City Pack with Rear Park Assist and Powerfold mirrors costing £525, Privacy Glass at £150, the Driver Assist Pack costing £1050 (and I think it’s worth it, providing Active City Stop, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Traffic Sign Recognition, Driver Alert, Auto High Beam and Blind Spot Information System), £400 for the 18” alloys and £50 for Door Edge Protectors. You could, though, reason that the slightly cheaper starting price of the 125PS 1-litre EcoBoost leaves you a margin to add on such options, so that the final price isn’t that much dearer than the 1.6 petrol and diesel – plus you get lower road tax and cheaper insurance.
Buying this largish family hatchback with the 125PS 1-litre engine needn’t be a cause for shame in the slightest, so you can banish any notion of wearing a bag over your head or hiding the engine details from your mates at the pub. It’s actually a brilliant engine and the refined chassis, high specification and strong refinement make the Focus Zetec S an enjoyable car to drive and own. Just don’t expect to see the cited fuel consumption figures, especially if you want to have some fun in it from time to time. The 125PS 1-litre EcoBoost Focus isn’t quite as much of a revelation as was hoped when it comes to economy, but if you take it for what it is and are happy with cheap road tax, low emissions and reasonable MPG, it would make a pretty good choice.
© Oliver Hammond
Specification of the Ford Focus Zetec S EcoBoost 1-litre (999cc) 125PS hatchback tested in this review:
Engine: 999cc, 3-cylinder petrol, start-stop
Transmission: Durashift 6-speed manual
Max Output: 125PS
Max Torque: 170 lb ft @ 4,000rpm
Top Speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 11.3 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 56.5mpg
Fuel tank capacity: 55 litres
CO2 Emissions: 114g/km
Gross Weight: 1,900kg
Max Towing Weight (braked): 1,200kg
Boot capacity: 316 litres (rear seats up), 1,101 litres with back seats folded down
Dimensions: 4,358mm long, 2,010mm wide including mirrors, 1,484mm high