WardsAuto editors drove a lot of impressive engines during the course of our 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Engines testing, so the base engine in the least-expensive model of all cars tested was not an intuitive choice. 

Nevertheless, Ford’s gutsy 1.0L EcoBoost won the judges over for a second year with its 15 seconds of grin-inducing, 148 lb.-ft. (200 Nm) of overboost, throaty exhaust note and excellent fuel economy.

WardsAuto editor Dave Zoia sums it up when he declares our $17,530 Fiesta “one of the most fun-to-drive cars in the group.” The base price of our test car actually was $15,450, but its sticker soared to $17,530 after a $795 dealer destination charge and lavish upgrades such as heated front seats.

Once again, we find the car a hoot to drive despite the fact the engine has to motivate a car weighing 2,578 lbs. (1,169 kg) with motorcycle-like displacement.

No matter the price of our test vehicle, the 1.0L EcoBoost just isn’t an entry-level engine. It doesn’t drive like one, it doesn’t sound like one and there is nothing cheap about its engineering.

Most budget-car engines are outdated and neutered in an effort to call as little attention to themselves as possible.

The 1.0L EcoBoost stands up on its hind legs and barks. It loves to rev and a specific output of 123 hp/L puts it in the same league as some of the best mainstream engines available.

The strong throttle response and high output are achieved with the aid of a very small, low-inertia turbocharger, capable of spinning at up to 248,000 rpm, which greatly reduces lag. Supplier Continental developed it just for this application.

It also has all the latest engine design technology, including an exhaust manifold integrated into the cylinder head, variable intake- and exhaust-cam timing and a Bosch high-pressure fuel pump that can deliver multiple injections per combustion cycle directly into the cylinders through 6-hole solenoid sprayers at up to 2,176 psi (150 bar).

And, instead of solving the inherent vibration problem of a 3-cyl. engine with an expensive and efficiency-robbing balance shaft, Ford engineers found an ingenious solution to counter the pitch and yaw motion that creates vibration and a booming noise. They intentionally “unbalanced” the flywheel and crank pulley in conjunction with optimizing the engine mounts to offset the shaking forces. This solved the issue while avoiding extra parts, cost and friction. And that results in excellent and repeatable fuel economy.

“It’s hard to get below 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km) in any driving situation,” says juror Byron Pope. Indeed, we averaged 35.3 mpg (6.66 L/100 km) while flogging the Fiesta’s manual 5-speed for 351 miles (565 km) of mixed driving. After spanking the redline for 10 days, that number is shockingly close to the car’s official EPA sticker of 36 mpg (6.53 L/100 km) for combined driving.

The engine’s power density and efficiency has made it a huge hit in Europe, where one in five Fords now are powered by the 1.0L, including the European version of the Ford Fusion and the Transit Courier small van. After all, gasoline still costs real money across the pond.

We’ve pointed out that given the strict cost constraints, developing a great engine for entry-level vehicles can be more challenging than creating one for a new luxury car. Once again, it’s time to tip our hats to Ford engineers and designers for what they’ve accomplished.

dwinter@wardsauto.com