The days of high displacement engines in regular cars may soon be numbered. However, while a small engine usually means better efficiency, it results in low power output. To balance power and economy, manufacturers are now turning to turbocharging.
Ford was among the first to introduce the concept of small turbocharged engines in mass-market cars in the Philippines, giving us a taste of what has been going on in Europe. Called Ecoboost, Ford's turbocharged engines can be seen in the whole gasoline-powered range from the Fiesta to the Expedition. To show us the benefits of turbocharging, Ford invited us to try out the latest application of the EcoBoost engine in the Ford Focus with a quick trip to the North.
In the past, turbocharging was seen as a fuel-wasting device. The general principle of a turbocharger is to increase air flow into the engine, giving it more power but at the expense of economy. Developments in turbocharging have brought us here today and can be used, not only as a power booster, but also as a fuel saving device if tuned properly. Will the Ford Focus deliver?
For the drive, we went to Ford Balintawak and I was greeted by three Ford Focuses (Focii?) in various trim levels. One was the range topping hatchback Sport + and behind it was the top of the line sedan, the Titanium +. Rounding up our cars for the drive was the Titanium, seen here in hatchback form. Seeing these cars brought back memories of the Focus TDCI in the previous generation. I was especially impressed with the TDCI when I drove one on a regular basis in the past and it was perhaps my first experience of a car that blends power and efficiency in one package.
This drive would take us up North to Tarlac to the Ninoy Aquino ancestral home. After a quick briefing, we were soon told to get in the cars and I found myself behind the wheel of the Titanium + sedan. Bringing the 1.5 EcoBoost Focus to life, it was smooth and quiet and gives no hint that it is indeed turbocharged. Around the city, the only clue was slightly faster acceleration even with a light press on the throttle. Economy around the short city stint hovered around the 8 kilometer per liter mark. So far, so good then.
Out on the highway is where the EcoBoost mill shines. The Focus offered a big slug of torque which was really helpful for merging on NLEX. Overtaking maneuvers can perhaps best be described like shooting a .44 Magnum; simply aim, pucker and fire. Granted, it's no Mustang but it was somewhat like the past Focus TDCI when it came to overtaking confidence. It felt planted on the highway too, thanks in part to its suspension tuning as well as the grippy tires. During my highway stint, I managed a diesel-like 15.6 kilometers per liter which was impressive considering I turned on the cruise control, did several overtakes, had the air-conditioning on full blast with two extra passengers and down time at the toll gates.
Another treat I had in the Focus was the infotainment system. It was nice that Sync 2 supports various mobile applications and I was particularly amused with the availability of Spotify. You no longer have to fumble with your phone to pair it with the infotainment system, perfect timing too with the distracted driving laws in place.
After the highway jaunt, it was now my turn to be a passenger in the Focus. From a passenger's point of view, the Focus carried over its overtaking confidence from the highway, easily passing slow-moving tricycles and buses scattered throughout Tarlac. Partial throttle presses got the job done and its brakes were strong enough to avoid erring motorcyclists who decided to pull U-turns at the last moment. The Focus ate up the kilometers with no drama and the next thing we knew, we were at the Ninoy Aquino Ancestral home.
In the ancestral home, we saw various family portraits as well as the the old room where Ninoy himself worked. In his home office were several law books, as well as a compilation of family photos featuring the young Ninoy himself. We took a tour upstairs too where one would see the living room and a statue of the Virgin Mary. We were also allowed inside bedrooms and all the sights made for a surreal experience.
After that brief look at history, we were back on the road, this time to Abe's Farm in Magalang, Pampanga for lunch. Again, it was smooth sailing with the Focus eating up kilometer after kilometer. It still proved to be an efficient car despite the preconceived notion of turbochargers being inefficient. When we got to our destination, the Focus had done 9.3 kilometers per liter.
With our bellies full, it was now time to head back to Manila. Again, I took the wheel for the stint home and the Focus ate up the kilometers as it sipped on fuel. To check out if its efficiency was consistent, I did this last leg with the cruise control off but the aircon on full blast. Cruising along NLEX, I had managed 16.6 kilometers per liter which still included overtakes and tollgate lines. These figures were enough to convince me that the Ecoboost mill in the Focus does indeed deliver both performance and economy -- important things in a solid highway runabout.
As we wrapped up the day, I got down from the Focus impressed how far turbocharging has come. No longer a part that burns more fuel, the folks at Ford did a good job fine-tuning the turbocharger into something that helps economy. It is perhaps the motoring equivalent of having your cake and eating it.