Enthusiasts, rejoice! Ford has what you have been asking for – a low-priced economical vehicle with a proper manual transmission (it’s the only choice!) and turbo power. Those two important features are in a car that is not completely stripped down, either! Yes, you can stream music from your fancy phone and open the windows by pressing buttons. But does this combination make the 3-cylinder Fiesta a game changer?
For an extra $995 over the regular 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, the Fiesta SE gives you a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost (marketing term for a direct-injection and turbo/intercooler) engine. That engine produces three more horsepower and 13 more torques for a total 123hp and 125 lb-ft. Not surprisingly, the fuel economy increases to 31mpg in the city and 43mpg on the highway. While those are good numbers, they are certainly not changing any games. For comparison 2015 Honda Fit gets 31/41mpg, Toyota Yaris 30/37, Nissan Versa Note 31/40, and the Mitsubishi Mirage 37/44.
Even with the improved fuel economy, it is unlikely that the additional cost of the engine would make sense to most casual buyers. Furthermore, the lack of an available automatic transmission is likely to keep most buyers away, which leaves two kinds of potential buyers: cheapskates and enthusiasts. Cheapskates are out, they’ll just buy the Fiesta S. That leaves you, the enthusiasts who are reading this.
This is a slow car, yet the engine begs to be red-lined in every gear. You can drive it like a total hooligan and not get into an ounce of trouble. While this may have an adverse effect on the fuel economy, it is fun and perfect for those who treat the accelerator like an on/off switch. The shifter is smooth and the clutch pedal is light – if you stall out in this car you should just quit saving the manuals.
That said, the Romanian-built cast iron motor in this Mexican-built car is very slow reving, as if someone intentionally bolted up a heavy flywheel to it. Get caught in the wrong gear, especially around slow city turns where downshifts into first gear may be required, and you’ll be inching along with your foot to the floor. On the highway it is surprisingly frisky, but still requiring a lot of shifting.
Common sense would dictate that a vehicle designed with the enthusiast in mind would come with perhaps a sport tuned suspension, but that is not the case here. While the engine is not overpowering the chassis, there is nothing sporty about this car’s handling. Further confusing the potential enthusiast buyer is the fact that this engine cannot be combined with the upscale versions of SYNC (Aux and USB audio inputs are there), aluminum wheels, or an upgraded interior trim which is available on the four-banger SE. This should have you scratching your head.
The interior, even without the mentioned features, is surprisingly nice. All materials are pleasing to the eyes and to touch, the seats are well padded and generally very comfortable. There is plenty of room in the front but those over six feet tall will, not surprisingly, complain when seated in the back seat. The rear seats folds down, 60:40 split, but the opening to the trunk is rather small so only flat parcels will fit. There are some typical Ford-esque ergonomic issues with the Euro-flavored dash, specifically the tiny diamond-shaped radio buttons. The center radio display and its controls seem pretty dated, too.
The SE sedan starts at $15,580. This test vehicle had the SE EcoBoost engine for $995, comfort package (heated seats, mirrors, clime control) for $290, special Green Envy paint job at $595, and a destination charge of $825. The total comes to $18,285 but at the time of this writing Ford was offering a $750 incentive which brought the total price to $17,535.
After spending a few days with this car, I could not figure out who this car was for. If I was a cheapskate I would buy the entry-level model. If I was someone who just wanted an appliance I would get the four cylinder. A true enthusiast would spend a little more and get the superb Fiesta ST for only three grand more. And that car, my friends, is a game changer.
Kamil Kaluski is the east coast editor for Hooniverse.com. Read his ramblings on eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous car stuff can be found there.
Ford provided the vehicle for this review.