I spent 6½ years covering the European auto industry for Automotive News Europe during the last decade, and one thing that continually amazed me was how much power European carmakers could wring from small engines, both gasoline and diesel.
While a wholesale invasion of small diesels still seems years off in the United States, Ford is bringing its smallest European gasoline engine here next year. It's a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, with direct injection of gasoline and turbocharging.
At a test drive of the engine in a European Focus in Dearborn, Mich., in June, I could have sworn there were more than three cylinders under the hood. The 1.0 is peppy and has a decent amount of torque: 123 hp and 148 pounds-feet of torque at 1,400 rpm. Most of all, it seemed incredibly smooth.
I wasn't alone in being surprised by the capabilities of this little engine that could.
David Sullivan, an analyst for AutoPacific Inc., said: "I was floored with how refined it was, how quiet, the lack of vibration, the amount of torque. I had heard people say it was the best engine in Ford's lineup. I think that engine has awards coming down the pipeline."
Actually the awards have already begun. The engine won the 2012 International Engine of the Year award in Europe.
Dean Slavnich, chairman of the International Engine of the Year awards and editor of Engine Technology International magazine, was gushing in his comments: "This is a fitting victory for a truly remarkable engine. For a three-cylinder to power a vehicle like the Ford Focus with such ease proves that the future is very, very bright for the internal combustion engine. Power, response and very good real-world fuel consumption figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this engine and what it offers drivers today."
Customers in Europe have been showing their appreciation by taking out their wallets. Joe Bakaj, Ford's chief powertrain engineer, said, "During its first month on sale in Europe, it accounted for 25 percent of all Focus sales."
Bakaj isn't saying what vehicle the 1.0-liter EcoBoost will power first in the United States, but the Fiesta is a likely candidate.
The Fiesta has hit a sales trough while U.S. sales of the larger Focus have soared. Ford could use a sophisticated new powerplant to lift the Fiesta out of its doldrums.