Ford Fiesta 1.0 — Driving with three cylinders

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The little Ford Fiesta SFE (Super Fuel Economy) 1.0-liter three-cylinder was a hoot, fun to drive, and as swift as needed for all occasions. The tiny powerplant, winner of the International Engine of the Year award for the third straight year, invites you to simply pick the right gear and be unafraid to flirt with the red line. The smallest Ford EcoBoost engine moves out while delivering 32 mpg city, 45 highway and 37 combined — no battery packs or diesel engine necessary.

Shifting is easy and the car can be operated in third and fourth gears up to and including highway speed because it runs more efficiently above the 3,000 rpm level; trekking through mountain roads in second gear is a blast and the well-tuned suspension allows for spirited driving; and when a quick start is needed it can be rewardingly achieved by pushing up the rpm through the gears.

Other things that made driving easier were a steering-wheel mounted cruise control that worked well, an exceptionally quiet interior for a small car in this price range, and a good seating position for the driver and front passenger with optional heated seats.

The three-cylinder engine is amazing when you factor in the fact that it has more horsepower (123) and torque (125 lb.-ft.) than the standard Fiesta 1.6-liter EcoBoost (120 and 112), boasts better performance (8.7 seconds from 0-to-60 compared to 9.3 seconds), and has better mileage ratings (32/45 compared to 27/37).

The one big problem with the Fiesta 1.0 that will keep it a niche vehicle within the Fiesta lineup despite its considerable attributes — it can only be purchased with a five-speed manual transmission. That will keep most would-be buyers on the sideline. Also, the extra performance and fuel economy comes with a $995 price premium.

Ford has refreshed the entire Fiesta lineup for 2014 that includes an exterior face-lift with all models now wearing the Aston Martin-derived Ford front. A revised interior includes upgraded materials and a new list of optional features includes MyFordTouch, navigation, heated seats, leather upholstery, power moonroof, and a rearview camera.

The Fiesta is available in two body styles, a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback, and in S, SE and Titanium trim levels, while the high-performance ST model is available only as a hatchback.

Although the Fiesta 1.0 proved to be a perfect companion for two people, space continues to be one of the small car's shortcomings. The Fiesta's cargo capacity trails its chief competitors. And what is lost in load capacity is not made up in passenger space. Rear seating accommodations are tight at best. Adult passengers will have to enter into serious negotiations with those in the front to gain any sort of comfort.

But Ford has noted these shortcomings and sought to make things more acceptable in several ways. For instance, the second-row seatbacks in the earlier Fiesta five-door model would not recline taking a toll on comfort. Ford was quick to point out that the seatbacks in the 2014 do indeed recline. Even the hatchback design with the second-row seatbacks folded forward, cargo space is a scant 26 cubic feet. But if your cargo needs run to the normal stuff like grocery buying, or loading up a couple of  overnight bags for a weekend getaway, storage is adequate.

Noteworthy is an upscale-looking interior carrying Ford's progressive styling theme that gives the driver the feeling that he is piloting a more expensive car. Fit and finish is good and materials are better than what we have come to expect in entry-level transportation.

In the safety department, every Fiesta comes standard with antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), traction and stability control, tire pressure monitoring, hill launch assist, an integrated blind-spot mirror, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. Missing from our test car was a backup camera.

Our test car had only a couple of options checked off. One, of course, was the $995 EcoBoost 1.0-liter engine package and the other was a $295 Comfort Package that included the heated seats. We would have also opted for a $995 package that includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen, 16-inch painted aluminum wheels and satellite radio with a six-month pre-paid subscription. As outfitted our test car carried a bottom line of $18,585.

What we quite convincingly discovered was that the 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine is very much up to the task of moving the Fiesta in more than adequate fashion. So don't you wish you had learned how to drive a manual transmission?

Base price: $14,925; price as driven, $18,585
Engine: 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder
Horsepower: 123 @ 6,350 rpm
Torque: 148 pound-feet @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 98 inches
Length: 159.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,537 pounds
Turning circle: 34.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 26 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 45 highway, 32 city, 37 combined
0-60: 8.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit

The Good
• Outstanding fuel economy
• Sporty driving dynamics
• Attractive interior layout

The Bad
• No standard rearview camera

The Ugly
• Tight rear-seat passenger space