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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Silent treatment offers plenty to shout about

IN a spectacular display of downsizing, Ford have replaced their effective 1.6-litre engine with a 1.0.

It may seem like madness but the blue oval giants believe that this revolutionary new three-cylinder engine can pack just as much of a punch while giving the environment a hand at the same time.

The turbocharged EcoBoost uses high-tech wizardry – variable valve timing, a miniature turbo, advanced electronics, a direct fuel injection system – to conjure up an impressive 125bhp. But even more astounding is that it does it so quietly you can barely tell it is working at all.

The first car to get the silent treatment is the Focus, Ford’s larger family hatchback, before they roll it out in the new Fiesta and C-Max in the near future.

I drove the six-speed Zetec model (the five-speed puts out 100bhp), the first of its type to arrive in Barrow and available at £17,945.

The thing you forget about a Focus until you see it next to the Fiesta and Ka is just what a big car it is. By rights, such a miniscule engine – the cylinder block reportedly has the area of a sheet of A4 paper – shouldn’t even be able to shift it. But shift it it does. If nobody had told me beforehand, I would have sworn it was the old 1.6, except for the fact that it was so eerily quiet in there.

The car had the stop-start system, which sees the engine cut out temporarily when stationary, but even when you disable that, it’s hard to tell if the engine is running.

Even under acceleration you’d be hard-pressed to hear it over the noise of the air con.

For any smaller engine, dropping down into the mid-range gears at 60mph would usually see the rev counter having a fit, but this new greener Focus copes just fine. In fact, you can zip through the six gears at relatively low revs without ever bothering the redline at all.

Disregarding the engine for a second, it is still your standard Focus with its old foibles – smallish boot, restricted rear visibility, and that weird ridge behind the pedals that makes it tricky to put your foot to the floor.

But to disregard the engine would be to disregard one of the most important breakthroughs in the eco movement.

This is the clearest signal of intent yet from Ford to become the class leader in economy, and it might just be the turning point in bringing environmentally-friendly cars into the mainstream. The Focus 1.0 is at Pye Motors, in Barrow, for test drives until Thursday, so I suggest you go and check out what all the noise – or lack of it – is about.

l The Focus 1.0 Zetec was kindly supplied by Pye Motors, in James Freel Close, Barrow. Telephone 01229 842323.

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