BONN, Germany - The days of large displacement, kick-up-the-bum powerhouse engines are truly over, I thought, as I first scanned the details of the one-litre engine Ford was crowing about. I could just about get my head around the Fiesta-based EcoSport plus one-litre EcoBoost engine idea (it’ll be coming to SA in 2013), but in a decent-sized car such as the Focus? Not so sure… I should not have been as concerned, as the engine was left to show its thing between Bonn and the Nurburgring in Germany and demonstrated just why it was recently awarded the 2012 International Engine of the Year title. JOINING THE ALTERNATIVESThe development of this turbocharged, three-cylinder, one-litre motor was a reaction to increasingly stringent EU emissions policies, Andrew Fraser, Ford’s manager of powertrain development mentioned to the assembled media. Considered a true alternative to conventional naturally aspirated engines and very sophisticated but pricey diesels, the one-litre EcoBoost is the fourth of its kind to be introduced to Ford products since 2009 – and is the smallest one yet. A 3.5 V6 was introduced to the North American market in 2009, while the four-cylinder 1.6 and 2.0 followed in 2010. The four-cylinders will be introduced in South Africa – the 1.6 will power the Fiesta ST and the 2.0 the Focus ST, which arrives here in November, 2012.We’ll be driving the 184kW Focus so we’ll let you know how it goes. Driving the 1.0 EcoBoost was such as revelation, though, that for now we can say if the little triple is anything to go by, the other two should be more than just fine. It certainly feels a lot bigger than it is – Fraser said Ford was aiming to achieve power levels equivalent to engines with at least 50% bigger displacements and the resultant engine generates 91kW and 170Nm (with overboost to 200Nm). BACK TO BASICSFord’s first three-cylinder engine is, however, packed with trickery to make it more efficient but also usable. Bucking the weight-reducing alloy trend, the 1.0 uses a cast iron block that is better at absorbing noise, Fraser said, while also providing a stronger core for future engine development (as in wringing more power out of it).Because Ford’s decided to go with at least one cylinder less, there are numerous beneficial knock-on effects. The lower engine mass (a slender 97kg) contributes to better dynamics (since the relative weight up front is reduced) and diesel-like fuel consumption figures of 4.8 litres/100km for the 74kW and 5.0 litres/100 km for the 91kW. The compact engine also warms easier on shorter journeys. The gadgetry employed includes a low-inertia turbocharger, which is now a proven and cost-effective technology, Fraser said, twin variable camshaft timing, an integrated exhaust manifold that feeds into the cylinder head and direct injection, with pressures up to 150 bar and able to perform multiple injections per stroke. Refinement was also a big requirement for the EcoBoost’s development team and a number of creative solutions had to be developed to keep the project on track and within budget. For example, the conventional balancing shaft used to counteract a three-cylinder engine’s inherent rocking action was tossed out and the engine’s flywheel and pulley deliberately unbalanced to offset the moving pistons. LITTLE SUPERSTARAnd good news for many is that those horrid services for cambelt changes are a thing of the past. This EcoBoost engine uses a specially developed cambelt-for-life that is fed through the hot engine oil and is designed to last the life of the engine. As for its performance on-road, don’t be quick to write it off. While the motor still has a distinctive triple trill as its soundtrack, it is accompanied by loads of punchy low-down torque and it's flexible, too, which made for some great cruising (and overtaking on sections of the autobahn) on the route between Bonn and Bad Münstereifel. It’s also incredibly refined with hardly a whisper to be heard in the cabin and a luxuriously gentle idle when the auto stop/start function is not in use. Ford’s latest superstar definitely feels like a bigger engine that it actually is, but it’s easy to forgive this cocky number for obviously punching above its weight. So the International Engine of the Year title is a deserved one then? It definitely seems it, although local Ford customers will get the chance to sample it when it arrives in the EcoSport in 2013 although Ford SA wouldn't comment on whether the 74kW or 91kW versions (or both) would be coming. Watch this space.