Add the 1-liter EcoBoost engine option to the Ford Fiesta and you get an average of 40 mpg, but this car is tricky to drive.
Editor's note: Ford revised its EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2014 Ford Fiesta SFE EcoBoost. The new numbers show 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. This review has been updated to reflect the new numbers.
Small-displacement engines are familiar in Europe, but something of a novelty in the US. And three-cylinder engines are about as rare as a rude Canadian. Up until now, three-cylinder cars in the US came from overseas, but now Ford is getting into the game, with the 2014 Fiesta EcoBoost.
This version of the Fiesta is identical to the standard Fiesta in form and cabin appointments, with a few option limitations. However, the standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder makes way for Ford's mighty 1-liter EcoBoost engine.
This engine illustrates two interesting points about drivetrain tech. First of all, it highlights the effectiveness of direct injection and turbocharging, the two main elements of Ford's EcoBoost engines. Where the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque, the 1-liter EcoBoost posts numbers of 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet, an astounding gain.
As the second point, it also shows how output numbers don't tell the whole story. Driving the Fiesta EcoBoost requires a close attention to the engine speed. At initial throttle tip-in, it felt like those peak horsepower and torque numbers were far, far away. Each start proved a lesson in getting the revs up, while hills and crawling traffic added to the challenge.
More than simply lopping off a cylinder, Ford applied some unique engineering to make this new engine run smoothly in the Fiesta, designing a unified exhaust manifold and head to keep the exhaust gasses from overheating the engine. Ford had to compensate for the unbalanced nature of three cylinders partially by timing the piston firing, and also by incorporating a flywheel and front pulley system that counterbalances vibration from the engine.
Ford offers the 1-liter EcoBoost engine as a $995 option in its 2014 Fiesta SE model. The Fiesta SE comes standard with remote locking with the key fob, and this model also had the bargain-priced $290 Comfort package, adding automatic climate control and heated seats. The car can also be had in sedan or hatchback body styles.
However, there are some limitations. A big one is that the 1-liter engine is only available with the five-speed manual transmission, no automatics allowed. While three-pedal fans may rejoice, mainstream buyers will shy away, as take rate percentages on manual transmissions are in the single digits.
While the automatic transmission option available in other Fiesta models may not be a good match for the 1-liter engine's output, the second limitation is more difficult to understand. Navigation and the MyFord Touch interface are not available in the Fiesta EcoBoost.
Of course, the Fiesta EcoBoost is designed for fuel economy, with Ford posting EPA numbers of 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway. During my course of driving, which involved a majority amount of highway travel broken up by some bad stop-and-go traffic, I achieved over 40 mpg, almost what you would expect from a small hybrid like the Toyota Prius C .
Behind the wheel, I found the same comfortable electric-power-steering tuning that Ford uses in its standard Fiesta models. The turning radius runs a bit wide for such a small car, but at speed the wheel assumes a comfortable heft. When stopped, I could turn the wheel with the palm of my hand.
Steering response in the Fiesta EcoBoost is responsive without being twitchy.
Likewise, the ride dynamics are similar in the Fiesta EcoBoost to those of a standard Fiesta model. The car proved reasonably comfortable on the freeway, although its light weight made it susceptible to wind buffeting.
The tiny EcoBoost engine starts up so quietly I always found myself double-checking the tachometer to see that it had caught. The clutch didn't require much effort to engage and the five-speed shifter had a comfortable looseness about the linkage. Shifting lacks some precision, but the Fiesta EcoBoost isn't a sports car.
Idling, the engine doesn't have enough power to move the car, so the challenge came in getting the revs suitably high for a start. The light clutch action let me ease it into gear, adding throttle if it started to lug. As with any manual transmission car, once under way the shifting became a lot easier.
Hill starts were made easier by a hill hold feature, which kept the brakes on for a couple of seconds while I got the revs up to a suitable speed. Despite the 148 pound-feet of torque, the Fiesta EcoBoost didn't quite have the guts to charge hills, taking a more leisurely pace for each climb.
Even on the flats, I found the need to shift all the way down to first when traffic brought my speed down below 5 mph. However, with the right amount of engine revs and clutch work, I could get a little chirp out of the front wheels from a first-gear start.
The Fiesta EcoBoost shines at speed on the freeway, with the tachometer holding 2,500rpm in fifth gear. It certainly keeps up with traffic and it is gratifying to watch the average fuel economy rise on the trip computer. I was less inclined to attempt a passing maneuver on a two-lane highway, as the engine just doesn't have much overhead.
In the Fiesta EcoBoost's cabin, I was actually pleased to see the canted stack of buttons and 4-inch monochrome LCD of the base head unit, as most of the examples of the model I have tested recently came with the MyFord Touch interface. The base head unit supports Sync AppLink, with a long list of integrated apps, not available with MyFord Touch.
Eagerly looking over a list of the integrated apps, however, I found that the three navigation apps available were only supported on Android, and not my iPhone 5. Well, at least I could use a variety of music-oriented apps, such as Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, and Pandora. As a further sign that Sync AppLink works better for Android phones, I had to cable my iPhone to the car's USB port, and prelaunch any app I wanted to run. Android users get the convenience of Bluetooth streaming for Sync AppLink.
Hitting the voice command button and saying the magic words "mobile apps," I could use voice to request and control music from my streaming-music apps.
Pairing my phone with the car through Bluetooth allowed hands-free phone calls, of course, and basic audio streaming. I could use voice command to make calls by contact name, but had to handle the phone to select any stored music. With my iPhone cabled to the car's USB port, I could use Sync voice command to request stored music by name.
The head unit's buttons and four-way controller made accomplishing any of these music or phone call tasks much more difficult. As an example, merely changing onboard audio sources from Bluetooth to USB involved hitting the Menu button, pushing the four-way controller a couple of times to find the Select Source menu, then scrolling down to the desired audio source. Pushing the voice command button and saying USB was much, much easier.
Music played through the Fiesta's standard six speaker system -- the Sony premium audio system available in other Fiesta models isn't available with the EcoBoost option. I found the basic audio acceptable for bass and midranges, but highs had a hollow timbre.
Hypermilers who haven't embraced diesels or hybrids seem the most likely buyer for the 2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost, as the manual transmission will throw off mainstream buyers. Fans of manual transmissions tend to be sport drivers who will be much more interested in the Fiesta ST .
The 1-liter engine is certainly an impressive engineering feat, but requires more care and skill to drive than a typical manual-transmission-equipped car. Given the equipment limitations and the extra cost of this engine option, it is hard to imagine the sort of buyer who will step up for the Fiesta EcoBoost. The fuel economy numbers should serve as a hook.
Ford's decision not to include much in the way of cabin tech options with this engine suggests the company realizes it will only fit a niche buyer. However, Sync, the core of useful Ford cabin tech is here, making it easy to control a smartphone with voice command and get some integrated app connectivity.
|Model||2014 Ford Fiesta|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 1-liter 3-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||31 mpg city/43 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||40.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, auxiliary input|
|Price as tested||$17,690|