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AUTO TECH: Good things can come in small packages

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Ford’s new 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine in front of 2014 Fiesta.

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2014 Ford Fiesta SE for $14,990

2014 Ford Fiesta SE

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Like the cartoon character Mighty Mouse from the 1940s, Ford's new 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is small but very mighty.

This compact, three-cylinder engine (the engine block will fit in an airplane carry-on bag!) is already available in Europe. In a continent where the diesel engine is king, about 30 per cent of European Focus buyers select this new turbocharged gas engine, and we will be able to get it here in the 2014 Ford Fiesta.

Drivers are going to be very pleasantly surprised -- both with fuel economy and power.

One litre -- think of a litre of milk. That's how much displacement the three cylinders have in total. Small size means less fuel used, but an engine also needs power. The EcoBoost concept provides that.

With variable valve timing, turbocharging with an air-to-air intercooler to keep intake mixtures cool and direct fuel injection to maximize the fuel's combustion process, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine has the performance of a much larger engine.

With a rating of 123 horsepower, this little engine would compare to a 1.6L or 2.0L in horsepower alone, but it's the torque that makes this engine feel even bigger. The 148 ft-lbs start to pull at about 2,000 rpm, and that torque is strong throughout the rpm range. This makes it feel like perhaps a 2.5-litre engine.

But when you don't need the power, fuel economy is the name of the game.

There are challenges to making an engine this small suitable for today's cars. A three-cylinder design was chosen because it keeps each cylinder big enough to provide the proper combustion environment. Using a four-cylinder design would have produced a very small combustion chamber for each cylinder.

One of the problems of using a three-cylinder design is vibration. With crank journals spaced 120 degrees apart, the engine is much like half of an inline six-cylinder but without the natural balance of either a six or an inline four.

To smooth out the engine vibrations, Ford engineers use external balancing with offset weight on both the front engine damper and the engine flywheel. This reduces the vertical vibration to almost nothing, but there's still a side-to-side vibration to counteract as the crankshaft rotates.

To accomplish this, the engine uses specially designed mounts to damp out those vibrations. Does it work? Yes, and amazingly well.

Driving a European-spec Fiesta equipped with this 1.0-litre engine, there is a little engine pulsation or vibration felt if you accelerate quickly and engine rpm is under 2,000 rpm, but it's no more pronounced than what you might find in many V6 engines.

At idle, under cruise conditions and above about 2,700 rpm, there is virtually no sensation of engine vibration at all. I've driven older three-cylinder engines back in the 1980s that would shake your teeth loose. This EcoBoost engine runs as smooth as a V8.

Another innovative feature of this engine is the oil-immersed timing belt. Traditionally, timing belts need to kept free of oil. Only timing chains ran in oil. New belt technology allows this belt to operate in oil so it runs in a clean environment and doesn't have the noise of a chain.

Combined with a ribbed block that is very stiff, isolated direct fuel injectors that use electronic controls to close them softly, and a foam-covered engine cover, the 1.0-litre EcoBoost is extremely quiet both inside and outside the car. Even when having some fun on a twisty road with the engine in the 4,000-to-5,000 rpm range, the engine was whisper-quiet.

With continued efforts to increase fuel economy and cut emissions, we're sure to see many more small engines from auto manufacturers. The key will be to produce engines that still provide the performance we seek.

If I hadn't been told there was a 1.0-litre three-cylinder under the hood of this 2014 Fiesta, I would have guessed it was a much larger four-cylinder engine. Not only was performance acceptable, it was spirited and fun.

Just like jewelry, good things can come in small packages.

Jim Kerr is an experienced mechanic, instructor of automotive technology, freelance journalist and member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada.

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