Ford's latest minor-change subcompact may have a few drawbacks, but this "pocket rocket" is more fuel efficient and has excellent handling and cornering capabilities
Ford is planning to launch the minor-change version of its popular Fiesta subcompact, which comes with a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder engine, but don’t think of it as an eco-car engine just yet.
The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which won the International Engine of the Year Award in 2012 and 2013, produces 125 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 170Nm of torque from 1,400-4,500rpm and replaces the 120-horsepower 1.6-litre engine offered in the outgoing model.
It was first used in the Focus compact car two years ago in Europe, and is now being offered in other models across the globe, including the Fiesta.
The pricing of the facelifted Fiesta, which bears a new front grille that makes you think of Aston Martin, has not been finalised, but it is expected to be the in same range as the old 1.6-litre model – somewhere in the Bt700,000 neighbourhood. The car will be officially launched at the upcoming Thailand International Motor Expo at the end of this month.
There will also be a 1.5-litre engine with 112 horsepower and 140Nm that’s slightly less fuel economical, but all the goodies will be offered in the range-topping EcoBoost version.
Boasting an average fuel economy of 18.9km/litre and carbon dioxide emission of 121g/km, the award-winning EcoBoost engine is mated to a 6-speed dual clutch transmission to give the Fiesta best-in-class performance.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes slightly over 11 seconds, while the top speed is claimed to be move than 190km/h.
Well, this doesn’t sound like eco-car performance at all. In fact, the Fiesta is a subcompact with a high fun factor. The steering, suspension and engine all team up to make the car something that can almost qualify as a “pocket rocket”. The smaller number of cylinders means that the engine, which is imported from Europe for assembly in Rayong, is smaller and lighter, as well as more economical than a conventional 4-cylinder engine.
The Fiesta features a super-small and high-speed turbocharger that whistles power into the tiny gasoline direct-injection 1.0-litre motor, and it is such an irony that it beats the larger engines in every area thanks to its flat torque delivery. In fact, there is also an overboost function that raises the maximum torque to as much as 200Nm for a few seconds, such as during overtaking, making the Fiesta even more athletic.
The new 6-speed PowerShift gearbox is similar to the one used in the larger Focus, and features a “sport” mode as well as a manual-shift mode, a function I had felt the Fiesta should have after driving the 1.6-litre model several years ago, since the car was so entertaining to drive. But I still haven’t gotten used to the up/down shift buttons on the gearshift knob, which seems to be a popular choice among American automakers.
During a test drive event in Chiang Mai on Monday, the winding mountain roads required lots of manual shifting and I wished the Fiesta had shift paddles behind the steering wheel, something that many of us test drivers have become used to. But that is added cost, and this is something Ford does not want.
There are several areas where you’ll find cost-cutting in evidence. For example, there is no plastic engine cover. Ford says that the engine is quiet enough and doesn’t need one, but I’d like to see the reaction of anyone popping up the hood of the Fiesta and looking at the engine for the first time: “Yuck!” or “ewwww!” would be appropriate in describing that feeling.
Meanwhile, the electrically powered steering and suspension team up to give the Fiesta excellent handling and cornering capabilities. It was the right decision for Ford to stage the test-drive event in Chiang Mai, since the mountain roads there bring out the best of the car as it zooms through corners with awesome precision, particularly for a car in this segment.
The suspension is solid, something which is hard to find in Japanese subcompacts that are tuned for potholes rather than performance. But the Fiesta’s suspension isn’t harsh by any means, and it’s the right one for an agile car like this.
There is ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), which may often intervene when you are trying to shift down, for example from third to second for a sharp corner, if it detects large amounts of wheelspin potential. You really need to brake the car hard and lower the speed significantly before it allows you to shift down a gear. Yes, this got me startled a few times on that mountain road, and this is another reason why I miss manual gearboxes.
The Fiesta also comes with smart entry and a push-start button, which is practical and a feature that everyone has these days. What other models don’t have is the drawer under the front passenger seat in which you can store or conceal valuable objects. The steering wheel is multi-function and has the right dimensions for sporty driving. There is a rear backup sensor, Hill Launch Assist that holds the car still on a slope for up to three seconds both ways.
Now for the drawbacks. The cabin of the Fiesta isn’t roomy, and some eco-cars offer more space.
The seats are rather narrow as well, and the backrest adjustment latch is located in a position that is hard to find. There is just enough storage space for mobile phones, wallets and a box of cigarettes between the front seats. And the plastics for the glove compartment and door panels aren’t inspiring. The display screen on the centre console is small and outdated when compared to Japanese rivals, and although Ford offers the Sync system that connects to smartphones and features voice control for a large number of functions, the display reminds you of the Nokia 3310 of yesteryear and the buttons of the 8250, rather than the iPhones and Samsungs of today. The voice commands work only in English, and although Ford claims that it has been working with many different accents such as Indian or Chinese, Thai doesn’t seem to be on the list as my co-driver found out. Unless Thai language is offered, I don’t see this function to be much of a help.
Getting into the menu manually via the joystick on the console is also a headache, and after 15 minutes of attempting to play music from YouTube via a smartphone Bluetooth, I gave up and turned off the music system completely.
Ford has high hopes for the Fiesta EcoBoost, which is one of its best-selling vehicles worldwide, including Thailand. But apart from educating potential customers of the difference between the EcoBoost engine and other 3-cylinders offered by Japanese brands in the eco-car segment, Ford needs to quickly shed the rather poor image of its after-sales service, which may drive many customers away from this mighty little Fiesta.