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Formula Ford EcoBoost first drive review

What is it?:

A cynic might argue that Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost-powered – but still just about road legal – Formula Ford is little more than a marketing exercise; a meaningless diversion from reality that's designed to showcase the talents of Ford's award-winning EcoBoost engine. And in one sense, the cynics might well have a point.

But from an engineering point of view, and also purely from a petrolhead's stance, this car is a whole lot more relevant than that. It's an intriguing gaze into the crystal ball in many ways, a machine that enables one to imagine what might be achievable for sports cars of the future.

In the tail sits a highly modified 200bhp version of the three cylinder, 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine from Ford’s road cars, and although there are headlights, indicators and even a handbrake to justify the numberplates, to all intents and purposes this is a racing car that will never be raced.

The gearbox is a six-speed sequential and the all-round double wishbone suspension is exactly as you’d find in the racing car, as is the stripped-out single seater cockpit, give or take an extra button or two to turn on the headlights.

What's it like?:

In a word, instant.

Everything this car does on the move, it does with immediacy and precision. The engine feels massively torquey (which is amazing considering its lack of capacity) and there is all sorts of mid-’80s touring car chatter from the wastegate when you come on and off the throttle, which is nice. But most of all, it’s quick. And when I say quick I mean just this side of bonkers - but only just.

Initially it feels quite weird to drive because, unlike most racing cars, the guts of the performance are at low-to-middling revs. In some ways it feels – and even sounds – as if there’s a highly tuned TDI engine back there, so much thrust is there available from so little revs. Conversely, at the top end it feels, relatively speaking, a bit weak, purely because it runs out of revs so rapidly – the limiter intruding at around 6500rpm according to the car’s digital dash.

But once you learn that the best way to get the most out of the three cylinder turbo engine is virtually to short shift it, the performance is both smooth and strong. And the gear changes, which require no use of the clutch up or down once on the move, are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast.

The steering is also fabulously precise; rarely if ever do you need more than a few degrees of lock to aim it accurately through a corner (although the turning circle is a complete joke). And the handling is, well, much like that of a racing car, except in this case you can use the throttle to influence your cornering line more than you can in a regular Formula Ford because there’s that much more torque to play with.

It's the headline figures that will send your imagination into hyperdrive however; 0-60mph in a whisker over four seconds, a Nürburgring lap time of 7min 22sec, a top speed of over 160mph and - and this surely is the number that will make you sit up and think hardest - 118mpg on the combined cycle.

None of which would be possible, of course, if the car didn't weigh just 495kg. But right there is the crux of the Formula Ford EcoBoost. Make a light car (a really light car in this instance) and you don't need a whole heap of poke to make it go properly.

No one in their right mind is going to suggest that Ford will make a production sports car that weighs less than a Caterham any time soon, but just say it made one that weighed 750-800kg in the future. Even that would go pretty well with this car's tuned but tiny turbo engine in situ. Scale up the numbers in each direction a little bit and there's no reason why a car similar to this couldn't be made to work properly for the road in the future.

Should I buy one?:

As it stands, the EcoBoost is just an exercise in the possible. And you can’t buy one because it’s a one-off.

But one day Ford should make a real car like this, and for the real world, not just as a gimmick in other words. And on that day the world of sports cars will never be quite the same again.

Formula Ford EcoBoost

Price n/a; 0-62mph 4.3 sec; Top speed 160mph; Economy approx 57mpg combined with 118mpg best; CO2 n/a; Kerb weight 495kg; Engine 3 cyls, 995cc, turbocharged, petrol; Installation mid, longitudinal, rear-wheel drive; Power 200bhp Torque n/a; Gearbox 6-speed manual sequential

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