"If our experience with our Focus is anything to go by, the development effort has paid off..."
Ford has invested heavily in its EcoBoost petrol engine technology. Most know of the 1.0-litre unit the brand uses in its smaller cars, but how will the same engineering work when paired to a bigger powerplant? We've been trying the company's 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit under the bonnet of our long term Focus family hatch. And chatting to some of the engineers who created it. First to the engine. It's as spirited and economical as you'd expect it might be in a Focus. So how has Ford achieved that? Andrew Frazer, the Senior Engineer on the engine's development project, told us more. First of all, we asked him why the 1.5-litre powerplant size? Andrew explained that in the growing Asian market, vehicles with an engine size of 1,500cc or less benefit from significant tax advantages and conversely any vehicle with an engine larger than 1,500cc incurs significantly higher taxes. So, if the development team could produce a 1.5-litre unit to match the power, economy and emissions of, say, a conventional 1.6, then Ford would have a powerplant that could be used globally in all the markets in which it sell cars. The objectives of Andrew's development team were to create a petrol engine that produced similar power and torque outputs to that of a 1.6-litre diesel - yet one that also delivered class leading fuel economy as well as very low CO2 emissions. These characteristics are much sought after by the car buying public, especially in Europe where governments are putting increasing pressure on manufacturers to produce cleaner and more efficient engines.
Faced with these challenges, the engineers at Dunton and Dagenham set about developing a 1.5-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost technology powerplant. Ford defines the characteristics of an EcoBoost unit as being turbo-charged with direct fuel injection in the same manner as modern diesel engines. To this, their engineers have added twin camshafts that are independently controlled by the engine management system, making them more responsive and significantly quieter than those of non-EcoBoost powerplants. These twin variable camshafts optimise the combustion process to reduce fuel consumption and boost torque. The 1.5-litre powerplant also features an innovative aluminium cast manifold integrated into the cylinder head. This was first introduced on the 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit, saving weight and allowing the manifold to heat up quickly to achieve maximum efficiency. This all-aluminium approach is much lighter than traditional constructions and eliminates the need for a gasket. As a consequence, the maintenance requirements are reduced and the longevity of the engine's components is enhanced. Andrew explained that it proved particularly challenging to integrate the manifold into a four-cylinder unit and required constant analysis of the torque produced by the engine to perfect the ideal solution. The development team also had to make changes to the firing order and twin cam shafts to eventually perfect the installation. Solving this difficult technical problem proved particularly satisfying for Andrew and his team. The 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine is also the first engine from the company to incorporate a computer-controlled clutch on the belt-drive water pump, which further improves the efficient running of the engine by reducing the time it takes the engine to warm up. A water-cooled charge air cooler is also added to offer a more efficient feed of air into the engine. Another innovation this 1.5-litre unit borrows from the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is its internal timing chain which runs in a bath of oil. This chain is much quieter than the usual external timing belt and is designed to last for a lifetime. Servicing costs are also reduced as the timing chain does not have to be changed periodically. Most car journeys are less than two miles, making it difficult for engines to reach their optimum operating temperature. To counter this effect, the 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit has been designed to transfer heat more effectively and uses two thermostats to manage the transfer of heat in the most efficient manner for both the engine and the internal heating system. On to performance. As we've been finding in our long term test, the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine produces similar horsepower and torque performance to Ford's current 1.6-litre petrol unit, while delivering a 10% improvement in fuel economy and, in the Focus, lower CO2 emissions of 124g/km. That compares to 139g/km on the older 1.6-litre petrol unit. The 1.5-litre engine is also Euro6-compliant. Currently, the 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine can only be found in the Focus and the latest Mondeo, but it will gradually replace use of the older 1.6-litre petrol engine right across Ford's range. The next vehicles to receive this powerplant will be the new generation S-MAX, C-MAX and Galaxy models. So how has the engine proved in real day to day driving throughout our test? Well, though the Focus has no obvious pretensions of being a quick car to drive, it's clear from the very first pull away that this vehicle feels eager. The stats bear that out. For example, the original Focus ST 170 hot hatch produced 170PS and generated 195Nm of torque, yet the relatively diminutive 1.5-litre engine in our Focus is good for 182PS and delivers 240Nm of torque. EcoBoost technologies have proven to be a key contributor to Ford's aggressive fuel economy and emissions strategy, enabling the company to deliver both fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions savings of up to 20% in cars like our Focus. And, as you'd expect, development continues, Ford aiming to refining every element of this engine's design to make it even more fuel efficient and less polluting, while maintaining and possibly even increasing its power output. Ford has now produced over 2 million EcoBoost models since 2011, with over 100,000 of them currently running in the UK. The 1.5-litre unit will allow the brand to continue to increase the use of this technology in its model range throughout its global markets. If our experience with our Focus is anything to go by, the development effort has paid off.