Turbo = Big power in small packages

Are South Africans ready to embrace tiny turbocharged engines in their cars? That’s the question Ford is asking with the introduction of a one-litre engine in its newly facelifted Fiesta, and the same one Renault will pose in two months’ time when it launches its new fourth-generation Clio here with a 900cc engine.

An engine-downsizing trend has been creeping into the market in recent years with the introduction of 1.2 and 1.4-litre turbos by firms such as VW/Audi, Opel and Peugeot. These small force-fed engines have proven themselves by having similar power outputs to larger normally-aspirated 1.6s or 1.8s – in fact usually better power at high altitude – with improved economy and C02 emissions.

Ford now sells its Fiesta hatch with a three-cylinder one-litre turbo.

But in a conservative local market still largely stuck in a cubic-capacity-is-king mindset, is a three-cylinder 900cc taking downsizing too far? Not according to Ford and Renault, who say kilowatt and torque outputs are what matter, whatever the hardware used to achieve them.

When you look at their spec sheets, you can’t help but agree.

The new three-cylinder one-litre turbo Ecoboost powering the updated Fiesta is an impressive piece of engineering that scooped the 2012 International Engine of the Year award.

From its tiny cubic capacity it pushes out a remarkable 92kW and 170Nm – outputs comparable to bigger normally-aspirated engines but with far better fuel economy and emissions, at a claimed 4.3 litres per 100km and a CO2 figure of just 99g/km.

At a starting price of R211 200, however, the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta doesn’t exactly qualify as budget transport.

Renault’s 900cc Clio is expected to be pegged in the more affordable R160 000-R180 000 range when it’s launched here in April.

The turbocharged three-cylinder unit to be fitted in 80 percent of the new Clio range musters credible outputs of 67kW and 135Nm – comparable to a non-turbo 1.4 or 1.5-litre engine but with a more budget-friendly consumption (4.5 litres per 100km) and planet-friendly emissions (99g/km).

It sounds marvellous, but the worry – even among tech-savvy early adopters – is how good-looking paper specs will translate into the real world of driving.

What if these tiny-engine terrors turn out to be buzzy, noisy things that have to be frantically revved to overcome heaps of turbo lag? And what is the lifespan of an engine that has to be worked so hard?

Our experience so far with 1.2 and 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo cars has been nothing of the sort; they’ve all hustled along briskly and quietly at normal revs with minimal lag, with generally good consumption.

We’ll be getting our first crack at driving the Ecoboost-powered Ford at the facelifted Fiesta’s South African media launch as you read this; look out for our driving impressions soon. - Star Motoring