At one point, a version of this range-topping 1.5-litre Ecoboost engine was destined for the Focus ST – or so we thought. The truth is that tuning its three cylinders to deliver the 250bhp-plus output expected of a modern hot hatch would have compromised reliability, and Ford will instead turn to the deep-breathing 2.3-litre block from the old Focus RS.
Our subject’s 180bhp is modest by comparison and, against a test weight of 1417kg (fuel tank brimmed, but no passengers or luggage), progress never felt any more than usefully brisk. On a damp, near-freezing surface, our best efforts yielded a 0-60mph time of 8.9sec.
Even if kinder conditions had allowed the ST-Line X to match a manufacturer claim more than half a second quicker than that, it wouldn’t change the fact the quickest Focus to date is not quite as quick as it looks. In terms of in-gear performance, the Ford is narrowly but dependably bettered by Honda’s 1.5-litre i-VTEC Civic, though it does do just enough to see off the less powerful VW Golf 1.5 TSI Evo.
But if the raw performance is nothing to get excited about, then the delivery and character of this engine certainly is, if only by the ordinary standards of the class. Peak torque of 177lb ft is comparable to similarly downsized engines, but it enters the fray with a linearity that remains undiminished even by the point peak power arrives – fully 6000rpm.
Furthermore, if three-cylinder engines typically go about their business with a jovial burble, this Ecoboost supplements that with a richer timbre and a genuine eagerness to get the crankshaft spinning. Along with a six-speed manual gearbox whose throw is satisfyingly precise – if a little light and synthetic – this is a driveline worth engaging with, and rarely, if ever, does it feel strained. It’s also worth noting that at a steady 70mph, the Focus’s cabin was two decibels quieter than that of the Golf.
In summary, this is a companionable powertrain that touts its own distinct, refined character, as we’ve come to expect from Ecoboost-badged wares. But performance that’s merely adequate means it isn’t one that defines the driving experience of the new Focus, despite this model’s position as the current range-topper. That is something left to the chassis, as we’ll now discover.