Our family’s first antique car was a barn-find 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom with the vanity plate “SZMTRS,” a nod to its long 19-foot stature. But does size really matter? Ford, with its 1-liter Ecoboost engine has proven otherwise. What this turbo mill lacks in displacement, it makes up for in engineering—some 200 engineers spent over 5 million hours on development. It’s one of the coolest engines ever built.
When dealerships get the new Ford Focus RS this spring, it’ll come with a 2.3-liter engine, the same four-cylinder in the Ecoboost Mustang. But, for this application, it’s transversely mounted, has a bigger intercooler and twin-scroll turbocharger, with the boost cranked to 11 psi, translating to 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Ford even called on its old pals at Cosworth to cast and machine the heads, which is awesome. But I’d still go for the 1-liter over the 2.3 in the RS. Here’s why
1.) It has a racing pedigree. The 1-liter, not the RS’s 2.3-liter, is currently being used in the Ford Fiesta R2 rally car. And, when it made a custom Formula Ford racecar, it was the 1-liter that went to bat. The single-seater smoked a Ferrari Enzo around the Nurburgring. On 105-octane racing fuel, the Formula car’s engine produced 205 horsepower—60 percent of the RS’s output with just 43 percent of the displacement.
2.) It has won the “International Engine of the Year Award”... three times in a row. The reasons are numerous, but starts with hardware. Besides a stout cast iron block and a low-inertia turbocharger that can spin up to 248,000 rpm, the Ecoboost 1-liter has direct injection, twin variable camshafts, an oil-immersed timing belt, a variable-pressure oil pump and an exhaust manifold cast into the aluminum cylinder head for improved thermal efficiency. Of note, this 3-cylinder does not have a balance shaft to quell its inherent vibrations; rather, it has an eccentrically weighted flywheel and front pulley to eliminate the shaking. Its specific output (power-per-liter) is better than a Bugatti Veyron’s. And, at max boost of 38 psi, the little Ford engine withstands peak firing pressure of 124 bar (that’s 1800 psi, or 124 times atmospheric pressure) on each piston.
3.) It makes torque like a diesel (with fuel economy to match). The 1-liter produces 125 lb-ft from 1,400 to 4,500 rpm, and 148 lb-ft on overboost. It also gets 42 mpg on the highway. That’s approaching diesel and expensive hybrid territory, and with the option of a six-speed transmission that won’t put you to sleep on your daily commute. Ford is also prototyping cylinder deactivation that’ll improve fuel economy by 6 percent.
5.) It’s not achieving its max power potential—not even close. Like all engines, Ford tuned the 1-liter engine to be a balance of power, weight and efficiency. But Mountune, a British tuning company, offers kits that’ll turn the wick up to 162 hp using only a new intake, intercooling and a tune. That means 30 percent more power while maintaining stock exhaust, turbo, and engine internals.
The cherry on top? According to truecar.com, the average transaction price of a 1-liter Focus is $14,075. That's one-third the MSRP ($5,315 less) of a fully-loaded Ford Focus RS ($44,650).
Knowing that, I’d opt for the Ford 1-liter Ecoboost Focus, pocket the difference, ring Mountune, and get the vanity plate: “1LNERD.” It’s okay to call me crazy.