Driven: Caterham Ecoboost


The buzz Ford has created around the one-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost engine is impressive. It helps that's it very good in the Focus (even better with a 145hp Superchips boost), as does hinting it might form the heart of a limited run of roadgoing versions of the Nurburgring-blasting Formula Ford.

But nothing us got more excited than a promise of a drive in this: a Caterham with the new turbocharged lump fitted in place of the standard Roadsport 1.6-litre Sigma engine (also a Ford unit of course). The widespread availability of a small, powerful, charismatic lump like could be manna to the low-volume sports car maker.

The transplant has an inevitability about it in that the Ecoboost was developed to eventually replace the similarly powered 1.6 Sigma unit across Ford. Which means Caterham would have to do the same thing or look elsewhere.

There wasn't time to make it a pretty installation
There wasn't time to make it a pretty installation
Because they can
This isn't a Caterham project yet - this is Ford showing off the capabilities of its baby. Roger Ratley, petrol calibration engineer and one of the architects of the Nurburgring project, explains why Ford picked the Seven. "It's a light car and it would benefit from a relatively high torque, high-power engine".

In fact, although the engine benefits from the same dry sump as the one in the Formula Ford, power is closer to the Focus application at 120hp and similar to the 125hp as the entry Roadsport Caterham.

However the turbo plumps out the torque from 120lb ft to 147. We're not told how far down the rev range that's developed, but it's way lower than the 5,350rpm of the standard Caterham, which should better help push it out of corners at our playground for the day, the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch.

The Ecoboost engine is actually heavier than the standard Sigma, despite the lopped off cylinder, because it uses an iron block instead of an aluminum one. Not that it makes a huge amount of difference: Ford's car with the SV body weighs 588kg versus 575kg for the Caterham Roadsport SV. If you're wondering what that strange power bulge is on the bonnet, it's there because the Ecoboost unit is taller, even with the dry sump. Rearrange the turbo pipes and it'll fit, Ford says, but that wasn't possible within the time constraints. The Mountune boys that dropped the engine in did say that left-to-right weight distribution was nigh on perfect, however.

Not enough noise from here!
Not enough noise from here!
Enough torque
Right, enough chat. Let's drive the thing. The first tweak a standard fitment would need is something to fix the noise. There's not enough it. That three-cylinder off-beat thrum doesn't come through loud enough and it lacks drama.

That makes the acceleration surge even more bizarre. Here's a Caterham that doesn't require lots of gearbox manipulation to keep it in the power band, simply because the band is so wide. Yes we've driven we've the SP/300.Rthat shares its supercharged two-litre with the new R600, and the development hack for that car too, but down at entry level, this access-all-areas, drama-free muscle is a strange experience.

Frankly, it doesn't seem right. A Caterham should be a constant exploration of power at the top of the rev range - shifting the stubbiest gear lever known to man is one of those great joys in life. Even Ford engineer Ratley wasn't convinced. "I've got an old Caterham - you just want something that revs, not something that wafts along on huge amounts of torque."

Huge power band takes some getting used to
Huge power band takes some getting used to
Thing is, this is just the start. There's plenty you can do with this ultra tuneable engine. According to Ratley a lighter flywheel will take the maximum revs from the mid sixes to past 7,000rpm. It'll even clear 8,000 with stronger valve springs. And of course there's more power to come, given that the application in the Formula Ford made around 220hp, largely achieved by strapping on the bigger turbo from the 1.6 Ecoboost.

Cost is an issue of course. We spoke to Ford UK's parts outlet Power Torque and discovered that a crate 1.0 Ecoboost costs £4,500 (ex vat), versus £1,700 for a 1.6 Sigma. That's a fare whack to pass onto a customer. But smaller turbocharged engines are becoming a fact of life when even small scale manufacturers have to reduce their average CO2 emissions. As it stands, the Ecoboost needs work for satisfy the enthusiast, but relatively small tweaks to improve power, revs and aural drama would make this Ford unit into a winner.


CATERHAM ECOBOOST TEST CAR
Engine:
999cc, 3-cyl turbo
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 120
Torque (lb ft): 147
0-62mph: N/A
Top speed: N/A
Weight: 588kg
MPG: N/A
CO2: N/A
Price: N/A

 

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Comments (60) Join the discussion on the forum

  • DeeLtd 08 Aug 2013

    Leamington based DEE-Ltd are doing something very similar with a supercharged version of Toyotas 1.0L 3 cylinder engine - which is 30kgs lighter than the Ford Ecoboost, and cheaper.

  • TonyRPH 20 Feb 2013

    clonmult said:
    Captain Muppet said:
    PHMatt said:
    rpms
    :sigh:

    Revolutions per minutes?
    I've seen this a few times of late. Where the frack has it come from?
    Has anyone noticed that Clarkson has been referring to "horsepowers" on TG recently?

    WTF.

    ETA: corrected stupid error.

    Edited by TonyRPH on Thursday 8th August 11:44

  • kennyrayandersen 10 Feb 2013

    AER said:
    It's more like a function of economies of scale. The sigma engine has more of the same (simple) parts whereas the ecoboost has fewer of the same but more of the different, expensive, fragile parts. Aside from a turbo, intercooler, plumbing and direct injection, I bet it also has a balance shaft, although I'm not 100% sure there.

    All this to meet some EU bureaucrat's expectation of how the world should be. Spend a thousand to save a hundred is never good economics...
    I think there is even more there than that. The right-sized engine is the right-sized engine. When you under-size it [rather than right-size it] to save a bit of fuel, the costs come out somewhere else i.e. more expensive hardware up-front, or shorter life over the long run [since it's working harder over it's life] -- whatever the direction is shouldn't cost more than it's worth. So, I agree it looks as though the decision to go that direction isn't necessarily based on a rational technical or purely economic basis, but one what looks good on a superficial level. That's not to say that technology is a bad thing and that progress shouldn't come, but it should be based not on political whims, but on what makes either overall economic sense or a technical sense.

  • AER 02 Nov 2012

    ohtari said:
    Okay, then consider this. The sigma is many years old, with millions of units produced. All development costs were accounted for yonks ago. Production lines have been honed to near-as perfection, and so they can be produced and sold cheap.

    Considering the costs involved in designing, testing and building a new engine line, it's no wonder that initial costs are high. Besides, weren't the costs for crate engines? Why would ford want to sell their new baby for a premium, whilst keeping the costs down on their own cars?
    It's more like a function of economies of scale. The sigma engine has more of the same (simple) parts whereas the ecoboost has fewer of the same but more of the different, expensive, fragile parts. Aside from a turbo, intercooler, plumbing and direct injection, I bet it also has a balance shaft, although I'm not 100% sure there.

    All this to meet some EU bureaucrat's expectation of how the world should be. Spend a thousand to save a hundred is never good economics...

  • Captain Muppet 24 Oct 2012

    britsportscars said:
    Captain Muppet said:
    clonmult said:
    Captain Muppet said:
    PHMatt said:
    rpms
    :sigh:

    Revolutions per minutes?
    I've seen this a few times of late. Where the frack has it come from?
    It was all over the place when I worked in the states, and when I came back it was over here too. Maybe I'm a carrier. Or maybe it's because of the "torques" Clarksonism.

    Maybe ignorance is fashionable all of a sudden. Dunno. [/irony]
    I hate it when he says "Torques". I can't tell if he's stupid and he doesn't realise or if it's some kind of "in joke".
    He isn't stupid. Whether it's an in joke, pandering to an ignorant audience or deliberate to annoy beards is anyone's guess. I suspect it might be all three.

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