Prepare for an onslaught of three-cylinder cars
The new Ford Fiesta is introduced at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The annual Los Angeles Auto Show opened to the media Wednesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Published Sunday, January 27, 2013 7:00AM EST
Are you ready for a Ford with a tiny, one-litre, three-cylinder engine? There’s a Ford Fiesta soon to go on sale with an engine so small it will fit in a large suitcase. I’ve driven the car and it’s brilliant.
Alan Mulally, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company, is the man who brought Ford back to profitability after years of billion-dollar losses. Under Mulally, Ford was the only major American car manufacturer to avoid government-sponsored bankruptcy.
In 2008 he said: “Everybody says you can't make money off small cars. Well, you'd better damn well figure out how to make money because that's where the world is going.”
Tough fuel economy regulations are forcing the issue for sure, but people are also finding out for themselves that small cars are comfortable and safe these days. And who doesn’t want to pay less for fuel?
When I spoke with Mulally at the Detroit Auto Show I mentioned that I was impressed with their three-cylinder engine. He was even more enthusiastic. “What an engine! What efficiency! I’m so in love with it. There’s a picture of me kissing it at the official launch. Well, a lot of people were wondering about that,” he said.
The 1-litre, 3 cylinder is the latest in the line of engines Ford calls EcoBoost. Mulally explained, “EcoBoost is going across all our product lines. Direct fuel injection plus turbocharging gives a 30 per cent improvement in fuel economy and a 20 per cent reduction in CO2. That’s technology that is going to be available to everyone.”
You get improvements in that order when you downsize from a V8 to a V6 or even to a four cylinder. The point is that now you can get more horsepower from a smaller, more efficient engine. Soon you’ll have the option of going all the way down to a three-banger.
I recently roared up and down the hills north of Los Angeles in a Ford Fiesta with that 1-litre, 3-cylinder motor. The engine is smaller than many motorcycle engines but it propelled the sub-compact Fiesta with ease. It even sounded good.
The little Ford engine advances three cylinder technology. The problem with an odd number of cylinders is that it’s an engine inherently out of balance. Instead of building in a power-draining, counter-rotating balancing shaft, Ford engineers offset the crankshaft and unbalanced the flywheel. To keep the engine noise down, they ran the bottom of the timing chain through an oil bath. They bolted on a turbo-charger, gave it direct gas injection and variable valve timing and came up with an engine that produces 126 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque.
How does it perform? 126 hp from a 1-litre engine is amazing.
A Lamborghini “only” gets 108 horsepower out of a litre of displacement. As Mulally points out, turbocharging is a key to the success.
Turbos used to be restricted to the hot-rodders as they were expensive and could be unreliable. Now computer-aided engineering has made turbos a standard item in the parts bin. They use exhaust gas to spin a turbine that compresses air going into the engine. The little turbo blades are spinning at an unbelievable 248,000 RPM producing quite a boost. It brings the power on very quickly and can make acceleration a bit twitchy until you catch on to it.
In Europe, Ford has been selling the larger Focus with the three-banger but it’s coming to North America this year only in the sub-compact Fiesta. This is a very agile and comfortable car. It’s quiet and functional and lots of fun to drive. Expect to pay about a thousand bucks extra for the three-banger over the stock four-cylinder when they reach the showrooms, but official pricing has not been announced.
Ford hasn’t given its "official” fuel economy numbers for the Fiesta 1-litre yet, but promises they’ll be in the order of 40 mpg city, 50 mpg highway.
These are U.S. numbers which work out to be about 5.8 and 4.7 litres per 100 km. And nobody is stopping there; even smaller cars are coming and 3 litres per 100 km is the goal.
Governments are determined that we will all be reducing our fuel requirements by more than half in the foreseeable future. We take another step in 2016 and the big one by 2025. Whether you like it or not a three cylinder car could be parked in your driveway too. The three-cylinder era is upon us.