Ford’s 3-banger challenge: Driving pleasure plus high mpg

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

Are three cylinders better than four?

Ford’s first three-cylinder engine, the upcoming 1.0-liter EcoBoost power plant, will be on sale in Europe early next year and in North America in 2012 or 2013.

The engine will deliver horsepower and torque outputs equivalent to or better than many normally aspirated 1.6-liter gasoline engines, Ford says, and will have turbocharging, direct injection, twin independent variable camshaft timing and other technology.

The new engine will be offered in the European Focus, C-Max and B-Max and in several unnamed models in North America. The expectation is U.S. versions of the Focus and C-Max, too.

Today, depending on model and equipment, the 2012 Focus fuel economy ratings range from 26 mpg in the city to 37 mpg on the highway. A 2.0-liter engine is under the hood. The low-volume Focus with the Super Fuel Economy option gets 28 mpg city/40 highway/33 overall.

As for the upcoming three-cylinder engine, Ford promises higher fuel economy, calling it hybridlike, and says it will be offered at an affordable price.

How affordable?

Ford won’t talk price, fuel economy, horsepower or torque for the North American market. The engine is expected to be an option.

According to one Ford insider, “We will position it appropriately, be at the right price point for the value that it offers. We think it will be a compelling proposition.”

My last experience with a three-cylinder car was the 1994 Geo Metro XFi which offered hybridlike fuel economy. It was rated at 52 mpg on the highway. Aside from the outstanding fuel economy, the driving experience left a lot to be desired.

But Ford doesn’t expect the turbocharged three-cylinder engine to be a hard sell.

Speaking of the driving experience for the new engine, the Ford insider said, “You won’t be saying, ‘This is a three-cylinder engine.’”

I never thought I would be saying this, but I can’t wait to get some time behind the wheel of Ford’s first three-banger. And considering the surprise and delight experience of Ford’s EcoBoost four- and six-cylinder engines, I’m not expecting Ford to disappoint.

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