Diminishing displacements are just one element in an automotive age of profound change, but even so, 999 cubic centimeters ain?t much. There are many motorcycles with bigger engines, and for most of us who didn?t grow up with Japanese Kei cars, Messerschmitts, or BMW Isettas, a car propelled by a 1.0-liter powerplant has very limited appeal.
So we?re pleasantly surprised by the acceleration of this Fiesta with its tiny three-cylinder turbo, particularly after we spent some time in a Euro-spec 2012 Ford Focus equipped with the same engine, which tipped the scales some 300 pounds heavier than our Fiesta. The Focus 1.0L EcoBoost comes stateside for 2015 in the five-door hatchback and four-door sedan models. Focus or Fiesta, there?s a price premium for the EcoBoost triple, and the Focus buyer who forked over the extra green might suffer buyer?s remorse the first time the light turns green and surrounding traffic rockets off into the middle distance.
As we noted in our 2014 Fiesta first-drive report, this SFE EcoBoost version of the smallest of Fords is not to be confused with the Fiesta ST, another force-fed Fiesta. Face-distorting launches aren?t part of the deal with the 1.0-liter; the idea is respectable performance with outstanding fuel economy. The only gearbox available is a five-speed manual.
In terms of acceleration, respectability is defined here as 8.3 seconds to 60 mph and a quarter-mile slip reading 16.7 at 84 mph. The combination of modest curb weight, early-onset peak torque, and adequate horsepower get the Fiesta out of the blocks with decent vigor?you can even get the front tires to chirp, which is guaranteed to surprise your fellow motorists. In terms of acceleration, it measures up favorably against the previous-generation Honda Fit, a frequent Car and Driver 10Best Car and subcompact comparison-test champ.
The EcoBoosted Fiesta also enjoys an edge in EPA fuel-economy ratings?32 mpg city and 45 highway, tops among non-hybrids. The fuel-stingiest 2013 Fit (there was no 2014 gas model) was rated 28/35 and the freshly introduced 2015 Fit, when equipped with a buzzkill continuously variable transmission, grabs a 33/41 EPA estimate. Our real-world mileage for this test was 32 mpg. With a lighter right foot, it likely would be substantially better.
Ford?s new three is devoid of the vibrations inherent in triples, thanks to clever engineering. Ford avoided employing power-robbing counter-rotating balance shafts by selectively adding weight to the flywheel and drive pulley, and the engine revs freely enough. About the only clue that this is something other than your standard-issue four-valve-per-cylinder four is an engaging growl when the driver demands max effort.
Although the Fiesta 1.0 is just a bit quicker than the previous-gen Fit at the drag strip, it?s not quite as adept at back-road boogying. The all-season Hankook Optimo tires (185/60-15) deliver better-than-expected grip (0.83 g), despite tall sidewalls and a low-rolling-resistance rubber compound. But that?s offset by substantial body motions, which inhibit transient response and quick turn-in. It?s the price paid for the car?s smooth ride quality.
The tires also contribute to the Fiesta EcoBoost?s so-so braking distance, although 179 feet from 70 mph isn?t bad for this class, and the Fiesta?s front-disc/rear-drum system was fade-free. The electric power steering gets higher marks; while it?s not as tactile on-center as some, it?s commendably accurate and race-car quick at 2.4 turns lock to lock.
Another pleasant surprise: While the Fiesta 1.0 will never star at an autocross, it gives a very good account of itself at high speeds on back roads. The little Fiesta inspires confidence in fast corners, and if there?s understeer there?s also precision?the driver can place the car exactly as desired, a comforting trait in 80-mph sweepers.
Those 80-mph sweepers had something to do with our fuel-economy results. The Fiesta?s top gear is strictly a downhill ratio (0.756:1), and acceleration isn?t the word for what occurs when the driver depresses the go pedal when in fifth. It?s more like accumulation of momentum. Which meant a lot of downshifts to fourth and even third gear. The shift quality could be a little more snick-snick, like that of the Honda Fit, but we?ve certainly experienced worse.
$ and Triple Threats
As noted, opting for the 1.0-liter turbo adds substantially to the bottom line. Fiesta pricing starts at $14,925 for a four-door S sedan. The base price for an SE hatchback (the only trim you can add the EcoBoost engine to) is $16,905, and a modest collection of options on our test car raised the as-tested sticker to $18,785. $995 went to the EcoBoost Fuel Economy pack (the 1.0-liter engine, taller final-drive, a spoiler, and 15-inch steel wheels in place of the standard aluminum ones). The Green Envy metallic paint added $595, and our car also had the $290 Comfort bundle, with its heated front seats and heated power side mirrors.
That doesn?t qualify as bargain-basement pricing, but think of it this way: The Fiesta 1.0 delivers an exceptional blend of fun and fuel economy?okay, potential fuel economy?that?s rare.
In any case, Ford seems to have nailed it with its triple, an increasingly popular layout. At least six other carmakers?Mini Cooper, Opel, Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Smart, and Toyota?have three-cylinder engines either in showrooms or in the works, ranging from 1.0 liters up to 1.5. Now we just need someone to follow Morgan?s lead and go V-twin.