Small cars. Some people love them, some hate them. They are a necessity for the market, but oft reserved for consumers who care little about them. Manufacturers market them as being fun because they are small, but as a car enthusiast, my experience hasn't often been the case. Thankfully, after trying Ford's latest Fiesta, I can say the marketing gimmicks are finally becoming a reality.
Testing Ford's latest little party machine, I find out I'm driving one of the most scenic routes in this side of the rockies, through the rolling hills and barren country roads along the St. Lawrence River just outside of Gatineau, Quebec. It's a beautiful place in any occasion, filled with evergreens and rally-like terrain, so I'm hoping to make the most of it so long as the car can keep up.
As my driving partner and I make my way from our hotel, the Hilton Lac Leamy on the Gatineau/Ottawa boarder, I find out I will be driving the automatic instead of the manual, which will actually provide me some added insight to what the majority of the Fiesta market will be buying and experiencing.
Typical of what I expect, the first portion of the drive through the city streets is fairly uneventful, aside from a coffee stop at a local market called the Happy Goat where we break for an early debrief. One thing I note is the car is extremely quiet compared to similar compacts on the market. Even with low-level music and uneven concrete, the cabin noise and conversation level is peaceful and comfortable.
Leaving with a caffeinated boost, I pop the transmission into S mode to see the sportiness this Titanium Edition has to offer. Unfortunately, the gear shift point changes are far less than I expect – almost unnoticeable in fact - and the awkward positioning of the PowerShift 'manual' shift button (where my thumb rests on the gear selector) ultimately detracts from wanting to use manual mode altogether.
To drive in 'manual,' the setup basically encourages you to keep one hand on the wheel and the other to control the shift button; all the more apparent when the car neither upshifts or downshifts as I purposely miss my shift point. I am revving as high as 6,000 rpm before I decide the transmission isn't reacting. It was more than off-putting to say the least, and could be potentially hazardous for unsuspecting or inexperienced drivers. To return to automatic mode, I shift back into Drive, then back to Sport for the remainder of the drive.
This allows me to focus purely on the handling aspects and performance of the car. The Fiesta we are driving has the 1.6L inline four-cylinder, the same displacement as the high-performance ST model sans EcoBoost technology and the turbocharger. Available later this year is Ford's championed 1.0L three-cylinder engine, which is expected to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency even further. Ford Europe recently announced that demand encouraged the company to double 1.0L production to as many as 200,000 units in 2014 alone. The 1.6L offers 120 horsepower which doesn’t make the Fiesta a rocket, but that's not what buyers of the car are looking for. Instead, it's about comfort, reliability and dependability.
Winding through the hills, I push the Fiesta at a healthy rate, keeping safe but seeing what it really has to offer. The car is built fairly standard for a compact: tall (1,476 mm), short (2,489 mm wheelbase) and relatively skinny (1,722 mm wide), but it handles surprisingly well on the various surfaces of pavement, country road concrete and tight gravel. The independent front struts and non-independent twist beam rear suspension keep the car balanced, with less lift and dive than what's expected of entry-level compacts. On a few occasions the rebound damping seemed slightly soft, but the majority of the drive felt surprisingly connected.
Ford's new design trend toward a large open-mouthed grill and sporty styling does well to enhance the Fiesta's appeal. Our Titanium version has 16-inch nickel-painted aluminium wheels, and the colourful paint options are sure to attract young buyers looking for something with personality.
Inside, the Fiesta is more of the same, offering great styling, technology and accessories not always associated with the compact segment. The MyFord Touch system offers voice connectivity, navigation and easy phone pairing; a necessity among young car buyers worldwide. But what surprises me most is the new 6.5-inch in-dash centre screen – complete with touchscreen control to make navigating between the various menus quick and easy. On the 5th anniversary since introducing Ford's highly-successful SYNC technology, MyFord Touch takes communication and entertainment integration a step further. The company reports 65% of its buyers take the technology into consideration when purchasing a new vehicle.
“Technology features are important to all of our customers including small car buyers, and MyFord Touch continues to drive up purchase consideration of our vehicles,” says Michelle Moody, Ford cross-vehicle marketing manager. We’re excited to bring it to the small car segment, where it will really help Fiesta stand out from the crowd.”
As we clock over 100 km on our country portion of the trek, I can't help but think how enjoable the Fiesta is to drive, and how much more engaging it would be if it were the ST. But I'm almost positive there are few compacts that can offer as much fun, driving comfort and features for the price. The Fiesta starts at an incredible $14,499 while using only 7L/100 km of fuel in the city, and 5L/100 km on the highway with the PowerShift six-speed automatic. The 1.0L EcoBoost (again, available this fall) is set to push those numbers even further down with a projected 123 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. While it would have been nice to test the smaller displacement, I think both versions will give their buyers more than enough to be happy about.
2014 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch (Titanium)
Base Price: $14,499
Price as Tested (before taxes): $19,999
Engine: 1.6L Ti VCT inline 4-cyl.
Horsepower / Torque: 120 hp / 112 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed PowerShift
Fuel-Economy: 7.0L / 5.0L/100 km (city/hwy)
Fuel-Economy as Tested: 7.1L / 5.4L/100 km (city/hwy)
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
5 years / 100,000 km (drivetrain)
5 years / unlimited (corrosion)
5 years / 100,000 km (roadside)
+ Great value
+ Plenty of technology
+ Quiet, comfortable drive
+ Heated seats & mirrors
- PowerShift button location
- PowerShift transmission reaction