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Editor's note: Ford revised its EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2014 Ford Fiesta. The new numbers show fuel economy of 28 mpg in city and 36 mpg on the highway. This review has been updated to reflect the new numbers.
Being a city dweller, I appreciate the small footprint of the 2014 Ford Fiesta. I was able to sneak this small hatchback down narrow streets, slip around double-parked trucks, and, most importantly, find parking.
However, the steep hills of San Francisco almost proved too much for the engine's meager 120 horsepower.
Ford updated the Fiesta's styling and cabin tech for the 2014 model year, but left the engine alone. Well, mostly. The company promises a Fiesta model with its 1-liter EcoBoost engine early next year. But more on that one later.
The front of the new Fiesta comes adorned with the big, wide-mouthed grille seen on the Focus and Fusion models. It's a signature Ford piece right now, and brings a cohesive look to the models. I had my doubts about whether the little Fiesta needed all this air intake acreage, as the previous model year, with the same engine, had the narrowest little slit for a grille.
The roofline looks a little less curved than the previous-model-year Fiesta. The liftback in particular seems more vertical, which should contribute to cargo space. Ford also offers the Fiesta as a sedan, but I'm a much bigger fan of the hatchback for its general practicality and sportier look.
An economy play
A sporty look unfortunately does not mean a powerful engine. Like the previous few model years, the Fiesta still comes standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, a mundane little mill that produces 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. With this engine, the Fiesta is purely an economy play.
The example I had in my hands came in the top Titanium trim, but also had the standard five-speed manual instead of the available six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission. I was happy with the manual transmission, as I could get the most out of the engine's limited power.
It may seem strange that, while Ford reports fuel economy for the manual transmission version as 28 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, the automatic transmission version gets 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. That similarity comes partly down to the fact the automatic has six forward gears, and that it is an automated manual transmission. Unlike traditional automatic transmissions that use a torque converter, Ford's PowerShift transmission uses two computer-controlled clutches, making it more efficient.
I was disappointed to see the manual transmission was only a five-speed, when a sixth gear might have improved the highway fuel economy figure a bit. As it was, the engine had to work a little harder, spinning above 3,000rpm, when I hit freeway speeds.
A little bolstering on the manually adjusted, leather-covered seats kept them comfortable, and I liked the soft-touch materials on the dashboard. As this Fiesta had the Titanium trim, I could keep the key fob in my pocket and start the engine with a button push.
Like just about all new cars, the Fiesta has electric power-steering boost. Ford tuned it for natural-feeling heft, and managed to dampen out the electric motor noise. With 16-inch wheels, the steering didn't need much boost, but I still appreciated how easily I could turn the wheel when the car was stopped.
When cornering or just heading down the road, I found a bit of looseness in the feel of the steering. The steering reacts to input, but it feels a little soft, probably something Ford tuned intentionally to keep the car from seeming twitchy. The Fiesta is aimed at more casual drivers, which covers most of the populace.
Similarly, the manual gear shifter's gate felt pretty sloppy. Instead of precise shifts into each gear, each slot felt as big as a garage door. It is a comfortable shifter to use, however, so might work well when training people to drive with a proper transmission.
On a freeway merge, the manual transmission let me keep the engine speed high, winding up to 5,000rpm before each shift. Running that fast, the engine drones like it's ready to pull loose from its mounts and shoot through the hood.
Given the lack of power, and the loose shifter and steering, the Fiesta feels designed as a suburban commute car and errand runner. Decent fuel economy increases its allure for these uses. With some significant highway stretches coupled with slow city driving, I easily pulled fuel economy in the mid-30s.
The firm but competent ride quality was fitting for a car in the subcompact segment. The car jounced around from rough patches in the road, but there was no sustained damper bounce. I was also impressed with how well the Fiesta handled some fast cornering, as the suspension refused to let the car lean over much. The suspension promised nimble handling, but the steering wasn't precise enough for the the task.
MyFord Touch standard
The Fiesta faces plenty of competition from the likes of the Chevy Sonic, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris. So how does it distinguish itself from the horde of sub-$20,000 subcompacts? Ford brought its big cabin tech gun to bear for the 2014 model, fitting the Fiesta with a 6.5-inch touch screen showing MyFord Touch, Ford's interface for infotainment electronics. Similar to the grille styling, the inclusion of MyFord Touch brings the Fiesta in line with Ford's other models.
The Titanium trim meant MyFord Touch was included as standard, along with an upgraded Sony audio system. Although Ford doesn't specify wattage for this system, I counted eight speakers around the cabin. The sound quality was very satisfying, with a rich frequency response. Bass came through with a moderate amount of power, but lacked a really strong punch, while treble was reproduced with good clarity.
It isn't true audiophile quality, but the sound is far better than what you often get in this class.
When MyFord Touch first came out a few years ago, it was a little buggy, but this latest version in the Fiesta responded very well to touch-screen input. This interface uses a quadrant paradigm, putting each major cabin tech feature -- phone, stereo, navigation, and settings -- in a corner of the screen.
Ford offers a ton of audio sources in MyFord Touch, and I particularly like that all those sources are shown on the stereo screen. Most infotainment systems from other manufacturers tend to put radio and in-car audio under separate entries, following the legacy structure of broadcast radio versus CD or tape deck. I think it makes much more sense to show all the audio sources, whether broadcast or stored, on the same level. On the Fiesta's stereo screen, I could choose AM, HD FM, and satellite radio, or Bluetooth streaming. I could also select whatever device was plugged into either of the car's two USB ports.
Thanks to Ford's Sync system, the Fiesta gets the best voice command system in the business. I could use it to initiate phone calls by saying a contact's name from my Bluetooth-paired phone, and tell it to play any music file from a USB drive or iOS device plugged into the car. Few other voice command systems offer this much control.
One key Ford feature this Fiesta lacked was Sync AppLink, Ford's system for integrating apps with the car. Ford has not yet worked out how to integrate both MyFord Touch and AppLink, so those features end up being an either-or proposition. To get AppLink, and be able to use its 30-plus apps integrated with the car, I would have to choose the Fiesta in SE trim or lower, and not choose MyFord Touch as an option.
The navigation system, which resides on an SD card, was included as an option in this Fiesta. I like how Ford made navigation a plug-in option, but it suffers from a few problems. It shows perspective and plan-view maps overlaid with live traffic, but they render too slowly. Especially in a crowded downtown area, I watched as the map slowly filled in the screen. With most systems, the maps render almost instantaneously. Likewise, it was occasionally slow to recompute a route.
This system also seems to lack a dead-reckoning feature, which would use an accelerometer or vehicle telemetry data to guess the car's location on the map when it loses its GPS lock. Driving through a forest, the system showed the car driving off the road, and when I went into a tunnel, the map pretty much froze.
When the system can keep up, its route guidance is good, as it can read out street names for upcoming turns and avoid bad traffic problems. I especially like that, with voice command, I can enter addresses by saying the entire street address in one string. Every time I entered an address with voice command, the car got it right.
One piece lacking from the navigation puzzle is any kind of online local search, either through Google or Bing. However, Sync does offer a voice-based telematics system that includes location help and emergency services.
The inclusion of MyFord Touch in the 2014 Ford Fiesta gives this subcompact a much-needed navigation option, even if it is flawed, helping it keep up with the competition. Sync remains the Fiesta's most compelling feature, offering phone and MP3 device connectivity -- with voice command -- unmatched by other cars. The dual USB ports is a nice and convenient touch.
The Sony audio upgrade also makes a nice addition to the Fiesta.
As for the drivetrain and performance features, the Fiesta doesn't show much tech flair, but it does get good fuel economy. The five-speed manual transmission feels a little primitive. The PowerShift transmission would be the techier option, and it brings in higher fuel economy.
You may want to wait for the EcoBoost option, which should be coming early next year. Although it uses only a 1-liter engine, it produces significantly more power than the 1.6-liter. Ford has not released fuel economy numbers for the EcoBoost engine yet, but its highway mileage should hit the low 40s.
|Model||2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback|
|Power train||1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||28 mpg city/36 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||34.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Flash memory-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, SD card, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Sony 8-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$19,095|