A mini mighty machine that only needs three cylinders to party
You might not realize it today, but down the road you’ll look back on this time and realize it’s a hell of a time to love automobiles. The horsepower wars are back and badder than ever thanks to the Ford GT500 and the Camaro ZL1. Supercars are being produced by the normal crew of mean machine creators while other nations are trying to get in on the outrageous fun. Luxury sports sedans are more powerful than the meanest muscle cars of the day. On top of all of that, automakers are giving us good small car options. Not just the danged furners either, as we’re seeing B and C segment vehicles roll into dealerships wearing American badges.
One in particular has my attention at the moment. It’s the 2014 Ford Fiesta, and it has a lot to offer. The standard version is a good entry in a segment that’s getting better by the second. Additionally, Ford has been showing off the all-new Fiesta ST, which is packed with a turbocharged four banger belting out nearly 200 horses. Sounds great right? The real star of the Fiesta fiesta, however, might just be the littlest entry: the 1.0-liter EcoBoost-powered version.
I spent a day with one… and we might just have a new slow-car/fast-fun hero in our midst.
Let’s get the tech stuff out of the way right off the bat. After all, this little engine is chock full of engine geekitude that will have even non engineers smiling from ear to ear. If you like motors, this tiny three cylinder manages to pack in a whole lot of interesting. It’s a 1.0-liter EcoBoost, which means it’s turbocharged and makes use of direct injection. Ford decided to throw in variable valve timing as well. That turbo, which is equally tiny, is of the low inertia and spins up to 248,000 rpm. The oil pump is a variable displacement unit, which alters the flow as necessary in order to meter out exactly what the engine needs at any given time. This improves fuel efficiency, eliminates excess oil flow, and reduces the energy consumed by the pump itself. Speaking of oil, the timing belt is immersed in the stuff, and that means it runs with less friction, is quieter, and never needs to be serviced.
We’re not done yet.
Ford stuck an offset crankshaft in here so that there would be less friction on the side skirts of the pistons. Additionally, since a three cylinder is inherently imbalanced, Ford set about making sure it was externally balanced to counteract any unpleasantness. An engine damper and the flywheel itself handle the fore and aft shimmy, while passenger side mounts take care of the lateral wobbles. The result? Nary a balance shaft in sight. From there, the engineers decided to integrate exhaust manifold right into the engine itself. This speeds up warm-up time and allows the turbo to feed directly to the cylinder head. Oh yeah… and the block only weights 52 pounds.
So what does all that tech actually do in the practical world? It creates surprising amounts of power while also returning excellent fuel economy. The 1.0-liter EcoBoost is rated to produce 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. All of that power, both the pony kind and the twist kind, is available from around 1,400 rpm up through over 4,000 rpm. On top of that, Ford expects this Fiesta to return over 40 miles per gallon out on the highway. After I spent a day flogging it, I saw over 32 miles per gallon in the display screen… and I wasn’t on the highway.
Instead, Ford planned a route which started outside a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, ran over Mulholland Highway, and eventually arrived at Camarillo Airport. Then at the second airport, we were treated to an autocross course on an active runway. Seriously… see below:
That prop-driven fellow above me is coming in for a landing further down the runway. Before we get to the results of the autocross course though, allow me to tell you about my drive over Mulholland. This, if you haven’t experienced in person, is a tight, technical road that demands attention. You want something sporty here, and I didn’t think it would be the right car for the job when I first slid into the front bucket. As soon as I was out on the road, however, I believed I had found something special.
The noise from the three cylinder when it’s pushed is addicting. It’s as if a tubocharged boxer engine had sex with the engine from a Peterbilt, and the result was a precocious turbocharged short kid that happens to know kung fu. This thing growls, the turbo whistles, and the power pull is always available. Ford reps told us that the 1.0-liter EcoBoost just won the International Engine of the Year award while receiving the highest score in the awards history. We can see why. Any gear, any rpm, floor it and the Fiesta fights forward.
Still, there have been great engines wrapped in horrible cars (Read: Camaro (minus the ZL1, but more on that later). It’s simply not the case here. The chassis is perfectly suited to the task at hand, be it running comfortably to the grocery store or being ham-fistedly hammered over the tight twists of Mulholland’s Snake. Suspension, brakes, and steering are all in sync here, and this car loves to be driven hard. Yet it’s not an overly firm performance machine… this is the fuel-efficient Fiesta for crying out loud!
While all of the exterior components are doing their thing, it’s inside the cabin where I’m the one working with the steering wheel, pedals, and gear lever. You’ll be happy to know that the 1.0-liter EcoBoost will only be offered with a five-speed manual gearbox. That’s almost shocking since this isn’t the performance Fiesta ST. It’s a slick transmission that slots confidently into each gear, and it’s a pleasure to work with. Steering is equally fine, which is actually a bit of a surprise despite being further proof that Ford understands how to tune electronic power steering systems. The feedback is there, and the weight is appropriate for the car.
Finally, I arrived at the autocross course. Here, Ford had lined up a Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Chevrolet Sonic so we could see how the competition felt on the course alongside the Fiesta. This was a Mike Tyson in his prime, proper beat down. I took the Fit out first, and it was a solid competitor but doesn’t make any power unless you’re revving it hard. Next up, the Yaris… it’s a car. Finally, the Sonic was nearly as good as the Fit, but nothing to get excited about. Eventually, I got to the Fiesta, and it’s three-cylinder wiped the airfield with the remaining cylinders found in the rest of the group. One of my favorite features of the car is that Ford goes easy on the traction control tuning, and allows the driver a little bit of room to continue to give the car throttle instead of turning it into a limp fish until you’re back on line. It makes for a much more enjoyable driving experience, and helped show that the Fiesta is the clear winner in this field.
On the ride back to Santa Monica, I was sitting in the shotgun seat. This gave me time to ponder other aspects of the car beyond the excellent driving experience. On the outside, Ford has given the Fiesta the familial face lift. It works nicely here, and I think it’s almost time we start referring to that front end as having a Ford grille rather than an Aston Martin one. It’s going to be on every product, and looks far less Bond-like when parked next to an actual vehicle from Gaydon, England. Inside, the Fiesta is fitted with tons of features that, just five years ago, would never be found in a sub-compact. You can now get the Sync system with MyFord Touch in the Fiesta, and it arrives with a more responsive LCD screen. Also, if you’re truly terrible at parking, you can equip the 2014 Fiesta with a rearview camera and reverse parking sensors. If you need those, however, you actually shouldn’t be allowed to drive.
Knowing how much the Fiesta has to offer, it makes me wonder how much Ford is going to charge for it. Currently, the 2013 Fiesta can be had for under $15,000. At the high end, a Fiesta will run you under $20,000. I imagine the three-cylinder will align itself more towards the bottom end, and that just makes it even sweeter. Let the Fiesta ST break the $20k mark, and I’ll happily motor on with $14,000 machine that makes me smile from ear to ear.
Ladies and Gentleman, meet the new king of the slow-car fast-fun driving experience: the 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0-liter EcoBoost.