Capsule Review: Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

No alloy wheels. No automatic transmission. No fancy infotainment system. From the perspective of the Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost really doesn’t have a lot going for it – at least that’s what Kamil Kaluski thought when he tested a 4-door sedan earlier this summer. The three-cylinder Fiesta is certainly an odd duck. That’s part of its charm.

Due to scheduling circumstances, we spent just 36 hours with the newest Fiesta, but it was enough to get a general idea of what this car is all about.

In late 2012, Ford held media previews for the 1.0L Fiesta with European-spec cars, but it took nearly 2 years for the car to hit showrooms in North America. In between those two events, we learned that a 1.0L Fiesta with the 6-speed Powershift automatic gearbox was canned by Ford for failing to meet NVH and driveability targets. Ford was similarly vague about sales targets, refusing to give an exact number for the 1.0L.

Our powers of deduction indicate that a major product planning shift was required for the change to a manual-only 1.0L car. Cognizant of the fact that a three-pedal configuration would restrict sales of the car to a certain demographic, Ford was subsequently unable to amortize the cost of the engine’s certification over a greater volume of sales. The apparent solution was for the 1.0L to be a lower trim “SFE” package with the increased cost of the 1.0L engine offset by the lower equipment levels.

Aside from the missing automatic transmission, the 1.0L does not have alloy wheels or the revised Fiesta’s MyFord Touch system, which might be missed on a subcompact car that costs $18,285 (less a $750 dealer incentive that is available in many markets). The upshot for Ford? Bragging rights. At 43 mpg on the highway, the 1.0L Fiesta is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle on the market. For enthusiasts, it gives them an interesting and quirky alternative to the usual slate of subcompacts.

The centerpiece of the SFE is the 1.0L Ecoboost, a turbocharged triple making 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, a gain of three ponies and 13 lb-ft over the standard 1.6L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Even so, this isn’t any kind of performance oriented option package, though it does accelerate quicker than the lethargic 1.6L mill. While the Ecoboost engine in the Fiesta ST gives you the grunt to accelerate even when you’re one gear higher than you ought to be in, the SFE requires constantly shifting to maximize the tiny turbo mill’s low-end torque. Your reward is a reserve of real, usable shove that can be called upon to shoot through gaps in traffic, while merging and overtaking on the highway no longer you to cross your fingers and hope for the best. The 5-speed transmission is neither vague nor particularly engaging, with long throws and a shift quality typical of most transverse gearboxes. The abundance of torque at low rpms and the clutch’s high engagement point make it an ideal candidate for someone to learn how to drive a manual transmission on – whether that’s a friend, family member or someone buying their first stick shift car.

The SFE’s handling characteristics involve a similar set of tradeoffs. The electric power steering is sharp, speedy and direct, though the chassis is marked by excessive bodyroll, a soft suspension and tires that are as sporting as the captain of the Mathletes. One can only wonder how the SFE would fare with some lighter alloys, halfway decent rubber and the Ford Racing Handling Pack. Even so, it’s hard not to be charmed by the off-beat three-cylinder thrum, pointy steering and a performance envelope that is entirely within the grasp of the average driver (and the limits of the law).

Lacking the MyFord Touch system available in other Fiestas, the SFE makes do with the basic SYNC system, which was tougher to master than one would expect. The regular SYNC unit is a maze of buttons, knobs and menus that never quite makes itself transparent. Previously, the MyFord Touch system was the lesser of two evils, but a series of improvements to its response time has made it the preferred choice on Blue Oval products. Unfortunately, the SFE doesn’t really give you a choice.

Understanding the value proposition for the 1.0L Fiesta is a bit puzzling. As Kamil noted, the lack of an automatic transmission or a rock-bottom sticker price will alienate the vast majority of North American subcompact buyers. But that may not be the best way to look at the three-cylinder Fiesta. Instead, think of it as a taste of the small-displacement economy cars that were once restricted to the other side of the Atlantic, and a test bed for future applications of boosted three-cylinder engines. The efficiency, character and quirkiness are just bonuses.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review. We didn’t use very much gas.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Tassos Jong-iL The Peninsula of One Korea.
  • Eric No, I just share my opinions. I have no use nor time for rhetoric from any side.
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  • Clark The Ring (Nürburgring) is the only race track I've driven on. That was 1985 or 1986 with my '73 Fiat Spider (and my not-so-happy girlfriend). So I made the Karussell (today: Caracciola Karussell, which I believe the author meant; there is another one: Kleines Karussell).
  • AZFelix This article takes me back to racing electric slot cars with friends on tracks laid out in the basement. Periodically your car would stop due to lost connections or from flying off the track and you would have to dash over to it and set it right. In the mean time your competitor would race ahead until faced with a similar problem. It seemed like you were struggling harder to keep from losing than trying to win. Fun times.“History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Mark Twain