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First Look: 2010 Ford Start Concept

When it comes to addressing the need to design eco-friendly urban transportation, automakers have proposed everything from bubble cars or automated pod-like appliances. Ford's approach, exemplified by the new Start concept, is near and dear to our hearts: create an ultra-small hot hatch.

"Our ambition was to design a car that transcends the practical realities of commuting in these mega cities, and goes beyond just dressing the technology," said Freeman Thomas, design director. "We wanted to design a car you would also love."

There's little not to love about the Start, Ford's first concept in three years, and the first developed under the global auspices of the "One Ford" mantra. Although the Start shows traces of Ford's "kinetic" design language, its rounded form is much more elegant. Angular edges are limited to both the shoulder lines and the slender, LED-powered headlamp and taillights. Thomas says the Start features "refined surface language" usually found on premium vehicles, and we'd agree -- from some angles, the Start almost resembles Audi's new A1.

Function doesn't necessarily follow form, however, as stylists made an effort to improve the car's aerodynamics. Many surfaces, including the windshield, side window glass, and center stop lamp, are flush with the body, while an underbody aero pan further reduces the Start's drag. The interior is as equally stylish and functional -- the floating dual-cockpit dashboard lends a sporty look, but a conceptual infotainment system, billed as "MyFord Mobile," incorporates a multi-function touch screen to simplify the center stack.

While the Start's form allowed Thomas' team to flex their creative muscle, the mechanicals beneath the car are firmly rooted in reality. Ford's teased the idea of an EcoBoost three-cylinder, but this is our first look at such an engine. The turbocharged, 1.0-liter I-3 utilizes a cast-iron block, but a cylinder head and sump fabricated from cast aluminum. Ford won't talk power figures, saying only that early tests suggest it can produce power on par with its 1.6-liter I-4, which is rated at 120 horsepower in North America. Power is routed to the front wheels via an ordinary five-speed manual transaxle.

Ford says the EcoBoost three-cylinder would allow the Start to emit well under 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. That's not a crucial figure here in North America, but it is in Europe, where Ford sells the similar-sized Ka. We doubt the Smart is destined for production anytime soon, but look for the turbo-three to land in some small European Fords in the near future.