• Don’t be fooled by a Focus masquerading as a cute little mustard jar. Like the VW Up, this German-built three-cylinder is a harbinger of $5-per-gallon end-times. This is your preview of life in the 999-cc lane.

    At least Ford’s first-ever three-banger is less uncouth than many past triples. Thanks to direct injection, variable valve timing, and a turbo whizzing at 248,000 rpm, this 12-valve twin-cam squeezes 123 horsepower out of only 61 cubic inches. Its 148-lb-ft peak torque tops the maximum churn available from the U.S. Focus’s 2.0-liter four. And, while it quivers at idle like a frightened Pom­eranian, the spasms don’t escape the engine bay. Thanks to balancing tricks, soft engine mounts, and a thick insulating blanket, this three seems as behaved as a small four.

    That is, as long as you keep the revs above 3000 rpm. Fail to slip the clutch in first gear below that speed, and the engine responds to a knock on the throttle with “nobody home.”

    We clocked the run to 60 mph in 10.1 seconds, an agonizing 2.7 seconds slower than a comparo-winning 2.0-liter Focus SE sedan. By the end of the quarter-mile, the gap diminishes to 1.6 seconds, but by then the SE is humming along at 90 mph versus 79 in this three-cylinder. That margin is due to the power and piston-displacement discrepancies, as well as the 1.0’s curb weight. Equipped with a rich accessory load and an iron cylinder block (versus the U.S. Focus’s aluminum block), this five-door is six pounds heavier than our homegrown Focus.

    Ford’s strategy is to save money by using fewer pistons, rods, valves, injectors, and spark plugs. The other half of the three-cylinder-economy equation is better mileage. On the European test cycle, the 1.0-liter Focus achieves 37 mpg in city driving and 56 mpg on the highway. We estimate that would translate to 30 and 40 mpg in EPA city and highway tests, 4-mpg gains over the 2.0-liter Focus and slightly better than the most efficient gas burner in Ford’s U.S. lineup, the Fiesta SFE (29/40 city/highway mpg).

    Unfortunately, lab tests never tell the whole story. During a week of driving, we averaged only 27 mpg in the Focus 1.0-liter compared with 29 mpg in the Focus that won our comparo. Another bummer: The bitsy turbo-three requires mid-grade gas.

    Seeking redemption, the German Focus recorded strong braking and roadholding scores. The imported 1.0-liter beat our Focus 2.0-liter on the skidpad with 0.88 g versus 0.86, and it clipped 24 feet from the U.S. model’s 187-foot 70-mph-to-0 stopping distance. That’s all due to rubber: The Deutsche Focus rolls on Michelin Primacy HP summer radials instead of the domestic model’s Continental ContiProContact all-season tires.

    The price of this car in Europe—roughly $28,900 for a five-door with Titanium trim and the turbo 1.0-liter engine—makes our Fords seem affordable. Loaded with navigation and equipment not available in U.S. Foci (automatic stop-start, lane-keeping assistance, a drowsy-driver alert system, blind-spot warning, traffic-sign recognition), the total cost tops $34,000. The option we envy most: plastic door-edge guards that automatically deploy to protect against parking-lot paint chipping.

    Given the lame acceleration and disappointing mileage we experienced, Ford’s ­current plan to offer the 1.0-liter turbo under the hood of the smaller Fiesta in America seems wise. Our suggestion for the heavier Focus if/when $5-per-gallon gas arrives: Ship over the 161-hp 2.0-liter turbo-diesel that’s been available in Europe for years.

    Specifications >

    VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon

    PRICE AS TESTED (Germany): $34,350
    BASE PRICE (Germany): $28,900

    ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 12-valve inline-3, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection

    Displacement: 61 cu in, 999 cc
    Power: 123 hp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm

    TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

    Wheelbase: 104.3 in

    Length: 171.6 in
    Width: 71.8 in Height: 58.4 in
    Curb weight: 2971 lb

    Zero to 60 mph: 10.1 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 32.7 sec
    Zero to 110 mph: 45.0 sec
    Street start, 5–60 mph: 11.4 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 17.4 sec @ 79 mph
    Top speed (drag limited): 122 mph
    Braking, 70–0 mph: 163 ft
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g

    EPA city/highway: 30/40 mpg
    C/D observed: 27 mpg

    TEST NOTES: Fuel delivery ends 100 rpm before the 6500-rpm redline. Every last rev is helpful getting this near-3000-pound package rolling.

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