Mountain Wheels: EcoBoost adds fuel-sipping oomph to tiny Fiesta
Special to the Daily
2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0L EcoBoost
MSRP: $16,080; as tested, $18,190
Powertrain: 123-HP 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission
We live in an increasingly international world, whether you like it or not. And as globalization begins to spread the load of manufacturing to countries you might not necessarily have even heard of in the past, Americans are slowly beginning to realize they’re not exactly alone on one giant island.
Well, sorta. But when it comes to automobiles, the days of grumpily relying entirely on a “Made in America” standard are pretty hard to come by. I will suggest, instead, that you consider the benefits of that trans-national kind of world — and maybe even think about the notion of saving fuel, despite this current petrochemical cost holiday we’re enjoying.
Ford’s new Fiesta is a good example of searching the world for the best bits and cumulatively creating a pretty decent little car — though, it’s a pretty tiny little car, by Western American standards.
And with the new, optional 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine, the Fiesta also heads into vastly uncharted territory: I drove around in one in mixed conditions earlier this year and it was cracking the 50 mpg mark, yet is not a diesel, a hybrid or obviously powered by unicorns or magic. My 2014 model had an EPA highway rating of 45 mpg; that appears to have been downgraded to 43 for 2015s, though you can, quite clearly, do better.
The diminutive Fiesta, assembled in a plant in Mexico, gets this new, quasi-mystical powerplant from a factory in Romania; if you go with the car’s standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder, that’s built in Ford’s Brazilian engine plant.
The new EcoBoost does start to take the car toward the goal that all of the auto manufacturers are desperately trying to achieve — that is, reaching the federal CAFE standards for fuel efficiency, which call for automakers to boost their fleets’ overall standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025. It’s also the reason you’re seeing some seemingly egregious technology emerge, such as the nine-speed automatic transmission in Chrysler products.
In Fiesta’s case, that very small engine is a good development in a number of ways. Though the revving and idling feels and sounds a little unusual — most of us haven’t been exposed to three-cylinder engines since the days of the Suzuki Swift — but it spools up quite nicely and is fast to react to throttle inputs, with no lag.
The engine is rated for 123 horsepower and given the car’s 2,500-and-change curb weight, in pounds, the humming little power plant does a pretty good job of getting the car going. It doesn’t make it any larger, though; Fiesta’s relatively austere footprint is going to be just a little too small for some folks.
And if you can suspend your disbelief and your prejudices of scale, the Fiesta is also a pretty stylish, responsive and moderately comfortable automobile. Its less-than-obviously Aston Martin-inspired nose is now entirely consistent with the family from Focus to Fusion, and on the inside you’ll find a suite of controls and instruments that are entirely European, occasionally a little confusing at first.
In an urban setting, Fiesta is easy to use and park, and you can drop the rear seats and their futuristic headrests and yield a good cargo area.
Out on the road, there is indeed pronounced buzziness at prolonged speeds above 65 mph, and in the five-speed manual build, first gear is so low that it was almost easier to start in second gear and not waste my energy with an upshift. Accelerating to highway speed at an on-ramp was actually pretty impressive, and even more so with the turbo’s push.
I should mention that you can go an entirely different route with the same platform and get a Fiesta that’s one of the most fun cars I drove all year — the Fiesta ST. It takes the 1.6 liter engine platform and turbocharges it instead, yielding 195 horsepower and … creating a successful enterprise in budget-friendly brutality.
The standard Fiesta chassis has been considerably tightened up, and with the optional Recaro seats, a $2,000 option, you’ll very quickly see why this car forms the platform for the race machine at Internet video driving king Ken Block’s own performance school. Add a slick six-speed manual and amped-up brakes with red calipers, and it’s affordable fun like nobody’s business.
It’s all delightfully easy to use, as well. You’ll get a big chunk of the ST’s torque at just 1,700 rpm, so you don’t have to rev and chuff like a dragon, like one of those dorks in their STIs. The full burst — 202 foot-pounds — comes on at 3,500 rpm; I consequently found myself keeping the car in a lower gear and holding revs at about that point as I then engaged in despicable acts of side-road tomfoolery.
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