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Ford Focus Ecoboost Superchips review (2012 onwards)
Power boost for an amazing Ford engine makes it even more of an eye-opener. It's impossible not to be won over once you drive it.
What - Ford Focus 1.0 125 Zetec Ecoboost Superchips 145
Where - Buckinghamshire, UK
Date - July 2012
Price - £17,945 plus £455
Available - Now
Key rivals - SEAT Leon 1.2 TSI, Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi 115, Vauxhall Astra 1.4T
We like: Convincing all-round performance, superb engine refinement, 'pleasantly different' driving feel, affordable and easy upgrade
We don't like: 'Aftermarket tuned' concerns, you must tell your insurance company, extra power can't return chassis to its fun former self
Chipping cars has come a long way since the 1980s. Today, you don't even actually have to physically swap a chip: with Superchips' Bluefin device, just plug it into the same diagnostics port the local dealer uses, to do something magic - produce more power without mechanically altering anything.
According to Superchips, today's cars respond to such work better than ever. As cars become ever more reliant on software to define their characteristics, so the opportunity exists to optimise this setup, moving the balance chosen by the manufacturer a little towards more interesting biases.
The change is to the software in the brain
The results can be impressive - such as with the Buckinghamshire firm's latest Ford Focus 1.0-litre Ecoboost. Visually, it looks just like any other Focus: the sole change is to the software in the brain. This has upped power from an already impressive 125hp, to a remarkable 145hp.
That's right - 145hp, from a tiny 999cc engine. It's a tantalising prospect on paper, particularly as it gives this Focus the same power as one using an engine TWICE the size just a few years ago. But is modifying your new car in this way as attractive in practice too?
Even the standard Focus 1.0 Ecoboost delivers surprising performance. Any doubts that a tiny 1.0-litre engine couldn't lug such a big car are soon dispelled. Thanks to the turbo, it feels even stronger than the 1.6-litre motor it replaces. Don't tell anyone how big it is and they'll never guess.
It gives the beefy response of a diesel
The Superchips enhancements are felt not in top-end power, but in more low-down pulling power. The standard car is remarkable in this respect and the modified model is even more eye-opening. Peak torque is now produced 500rpm lower and is, at 167lb ft, over 8% more muscular.
Better torque, at lower revs: this combination makes the car feel even more 'big engined' than it already does. There's an effortlessness to it that impeccable engine smoothness and a really quiet, distant engine note enhance. It gives the beefy response of a diesel, without the clattery engine note: it's a compelling blend of talents.
Just make sure the revs don't drop too much. The turbo kicks in really low, at 1,500rpm, but if you stray below this, power falls away completely. It's worth bearing in mind when you're pulling away, too: it can be easy to stall if you don't get the revs right.
Ride and handling
The current Focus isn't as fun to drive as older models. Ford has traded some of the interactivity for a more mature, smoother-riding setup, to take on rivals such as the plush VW Golf. Not everyone wants a hot hatch: now, only the Focus ST feels like one.
It's still a chassis with lots of ability, though. Grip is ample, feel is decent and response is good. Indeed, the lightweight engine means the front end threads with even more fingertip-ease. It certainly feels more lithe than models with the heavier turbodiesel motor.
Well-oiled, roll-along feel on the move
This means the Focus is an unexpectedly neat car to drive, all satisfying precision and limits that stretch beyond even the boosted power of this engine. You can drive it flat out in confidence, and not be frustrated because there's still enough satisfaction to be drawn for entertainment.
While the ride still has a taut side, in a way the more compliant Golf does not, it's still very good. Gritty potholes are absorbed well and the well-oiled, roll-along feel on the move sets it apart from rivals. This car has been set up by real experts: their goals may have changed by the execution remains top drawer.
The latest Focus has a more interesting interior than before, but it still can't match the VW Golf for perceived quality. Here, it's more about swoopy design, a semi-cockpit feel to the driving position and controls that are beautifully placed despite a too-high seat.
There are no visual giveaways to say it's been Superchipped (although they do give you a sticker...). The diagnostic socket is accessed through the drop-down cubby to the driver's right knee, so it's not even hard to install the power boost. All the displays still work, no warning lights shine: it's no different to a regular Focus.
Economy and safety
Superchips say they haven't radically altered the settings over standard. They've simply optimised how the power is delivered rather than dramatically change how it's produced - which means they're confident it should achieve similar economy to the standard car.
That one averages 56.5mpg. Yes, the reality will be less than the official figures, but this more powerful one still won't divert too far from it. The same 114g/km CO2 figure applies too, bringing tax advantages. Remember too, it's petrol rather than diesel, so the company car tax bill will be 3% lower...
The MSN Cars verdict
We love the regular Focus 1.0 Ecoboost here at MSN Cars. This Superchips model simply enhances that, giving it the full range of power and torque that make it an entirely viable large-engine substitute.
Any doubts as to the validity of choosing such a small engine in a big car are dispelled: that it costs £455 to upgrade, compared to Ford's premium of £500 between the 100hp and 125hp car, makes it a compelling option for those who want petrol refinement and diesel shove - particularly tax-saving fleet drivers...
Need to know
Model: Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost Superchips 145
Engine: 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
Power, hp: 145
Torque, lb ft: 167
0-62mph, secs: 10.0 (est)
Top speed, mph: 125 (limited)
MPG, combined: 56.5 (claimed)
CO2, g/km, tax: 114, 10%
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