2014 Ford Fiesta- Along With Change Comes A Party

DSCI1721Winston Churchill once stated “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  Maybe not as profound, but Sheryl Crow also proclaimed that a “change will do you good.”  During my time with the Ford Fiesta, I couldn’t help but think about how change can be profound.  The car itself is a reflection of how subcompacts, and specifically Ford’s subcompacts, have modernized in the past twenty years.  During the first initial years of the last decade, I was fortunate enough to own a used 1995 Ford Aspire during college.  It was a cheap set of wheels that I had earned after an arduous summer of busing tables and I was proud to have the aspiring little car.  For those of you who can’t recall the Aspire, it filled the minicar gap in Ford’s lineup left behind by the Festiva and was a Mazda design built by the fine folks at Kia in South Korea.  It was a cheery enough design and surprisingly flaunted the best velour seats I have ever encountered in any car.  Not only that, this particular Aspire was luxurious by mid-1990’s subcompact standards, boasting every option available; power steering, a cassette radio, air conditioning, a rear defroster, and those terrific seats.  Some of these weren’t available on the Aspire’s direct competitors or standard on some larger cars of the time.  But when it came to performance, the Aspire was a dog.  A little 1.3 liter with 63 horsepower could barely tote the small car around and a three-speed automatic would lurch while handling the timid power delivery.  And forget about power windows, cruise control, or power mirrors; they were unobtainable on any Aspire.  Yes sir, driving around in the comparably sized, and marketed, contemporary Fiesta was a reflection on how much has changed.

DSCI1728The Ford Fiesta was introduced for 2011 to compliment the larger Focus and vaulted Ford back into the subcompact market; where it had been absent since the Aspire’s demise in 1997.  Unlike the tiny Korean-sourced Ford’s of the 80’s and 90’s, the Fiesta speaks with a German accent having been designed in Europe as the sixth generation of the nameplate and introduced over there in 2008.  Our stateside version was virtually untouched in the transition across the Atlantic and is built-in Mexico.  However, like the Aspire, the Fiesta has some Mazda mechanicals and shares its platform with the Mazda 2.  But Mazda may have drawn the wrong straw in this deal, as the 2 has less technology, a weaker engine, and lower fuel economy. I tested a 2 earlier this year and came away unimpressed; calling it a modern-day penalty box.  Things looked bleak for the 2’s Ford cousin.  This year for 2014, Ford has refreshed the Fiesta’s fascia with a Fusion-inspired grill, headlights, and some new trim details and repackaging of options.  As Churchill mentioned; continually changing is a good thing.

DSCI1705Today’s Fiesta faces some stiff competition in the heated subcompact battle; the versatile Honda Fit, well-rounded Chevrolet Sonic, value-packed Hyundai Accent, and handsome Kia Rio.  But the Fiesta’s drawcard is technology and now for 2014, standard features on the base model include advanced goodies like Bluetooth, USB/Aux, and Ford’s voice-activated SYNC system, as well as air conditioning, a CD player, and tilt/telescoping steering wheel.  Higher end models can have leather, Ford’s much maligned MyTouch system, a sunroof, and automatic climate control.  Some of these features were not even available on luxury cars in the 1990’s and are now obtainable on an economy car.  We’ve come a long way in two decades.

CAM00316The Fiesta is trying to market itself as a more grown-up small car by offering high build quality and a long list of high-tech features.  Indeed, the materials on the dashboard are upscale with soft touch plastics that are a rarity in the segment and tight panel gaps.  Most of the contact points for the driver and passengers are padded and add to an opulent feel.  However, dig a little deeper and there are some cheaperCAM00330 details.  The plastic on the door panels and lower dash have a hard grainy surface that is contradictory to the dash top, and the headliner around the sunglasses holder feels fragile and buckles inward with minimal pressure.  But given the price point, all of this can be forgiven as it all seems solidly constructed.  Where the Fiesta really does shine is with the thoughtful creature comforts that were only dreamt of in an economy car even five years ago.  The headlights can be set to come on automatically and the driver’s side window has the usual auto-down, but unexpectedly also auto-up, capability.  Newly standard on the SE trim is ambient lighting, which can seem like a gimmick at first, but really adds to a fun, lively feel in the cabin with about eight different colors that light up the footwells and cupholders.  I personally liked the Virgin America inspired purple that set a relaxed mood.  In terms of cabin ambiance, compared to the Fiesta, many other subcompacts feel cheap.  My, how we have changed!

CAM00326One aspect of being a subcompact that the Fiesta can’t escape is its small dimensions.  Although slightly shorter in length than the Fit and Accent by a matter of two inches, the Fiesta feels like it’s had several feet lopped off.  Up front, the story isn’t too dire.  Headroom is pretty decent and the driver’s seat has height adjust; something that can’t be taken for granted in this price range.  Leg room is moderate, although front passenger knees will barely clear the dash.  The driver may find their left leg rubbing against the cupholder that’s molded into the door panel.  Unlike the larger Focus, the center console isn’t too wide and doesn’t infringe as much on precious space for legs.  Strangely, the Fiesta doesn’t feel as claustrophobic up front as its big brother.  Front seats are comfortable for short trips, but there is too much lumbar support that jabs into backs during longer trips.  I continually found myself searching for a knob or lever to decrease the lumbar but had no such luck.  Lastly, Ford was kind enough to place some cloth padding on the armrest of the hard plastic-trimmed door panel, which in effect works, but the back edge of the armrest is too short and can rub against elbows where bone and hard plastic meet.

CAM00319In the back, things are pretty bleak.  The front seatbacks have been aggressively scalloped to allow leg room for rear passengers, but it’s not enough.  Taller passengers in the back will find themselves in the awkward legs-spread-out around the front seat position.  But even worse is headroom, which is almost into sports car territory.  Taller passengers will not be able to rest their heads completely back without bumping CAM00321the roof or cocking their heads into a “confused dog” pose.  Proof of how invaluable space is in the back seat are the rear headrests that rub against the headliner, and must be tilted forward with a specially designed release button to be removed.  The Fiesta is perfect for a young couple or single driver, but placing anybody extra in the back seat for long periods could be considered cruel and unusual.  A word of social advice; don’t shoe-horn friends back there otherwise you may wind up defriended on Facebook by the end of your trip.  The Fiesta is that bad in this regard and embarrassingly outclassed by many competitors that have found more ingenious solutions when it comes to packaging passengers.

CAM00317Cargo space is yet another Fiesta weak point.  With the seats up, it’s pretty decent with 14.9 cu ft. but all of the Fiesta’s main competitors outclass it by at least five cubic feet.  Things get even more grim once the seats are folded down.  The small Ford’s expanded 25.6 cu ft. of trunk space sounds pretty good, but shamefully pales to the Sonic and Accent’s 47 cu ft. and the crafty Fit’s amazing 56 cu. ft; all of which are in a similarly sized exterior packages as the Fiesta.  That low, sloped rear hatch is partially to blame, but the folding rear seat doesn’t help matters much and Ford could’ve invested more time in designing it.  Once folded, the load floor is far from level and the seat does not stow or flip out-of-the-way; hatchback manufacturers came up with better solutions than this decades ago.  Luckily, wheelwell intrusion is minimal and the opening itself is relatively wide.  The side walls are nicely trimmed and there is a spare tire under the floor. If you intend on taking the Fiesta solely for grocery shopping, it’ll serve its purpose well.  But if this is your only car and you need to haul a bike, musical instruments, or furniture, then look elsewhere.

CAM00322But enough somber news, let’s move onto some more positive attributes.  That finely crafted dashboard is creatively styled and exuberant.  The eye is drawn to the numerous swoops and curves, but it’s restrained enough not to seem overdone.  The ventilation controls are simplistic and even though they are mounted low, are easy to operate.  It would be nice to have a “0” setting on the fan speed, as turning the air flow off completely requires turning the large, center airflow knob.  The radio is extremely chic with a cell-phone inspired keypad for the majority of controls.  One perk is that it allows for nine preset stations and the centrally placed volume tuning knob is convenient.  What’s not-so-great is that the various buttons are all the same size and they arc away from the driver toward the windshield, making it difficult to decipher the different functions.  The long reach across takes too much attention from the road.  Also an odd touch is that when the radio is turned off at night, all of the radio buttons are no longer backlit, leaving a huge, blank empty space in the center of the dash that’s reminiscent of when I once had an entire radio unit stolen out of my car.  The information screen near the base of the windshield is easy to read and Ford has dropped the odd red lighting for a more tasteful and intuitive bluish hue this year.  Some of the buttons on the radio are unmarked and are tied-in with the menus on the screen; which can be frustrating as they are far apart from each other, resulting in the operator continually bowing their head up and down like a Japanese hotel clerk.  Like many Fords, the Fiesta’s control panels can be personalized in countless ways with a sea of menu options.  The traction control, strangely, can only be turned off by swimming through that list of options.  The power door locks are controlled by one single button mounted at the base of the radio, another odd European touch. but frustrating when logic, along with instinct, states that the switches should be on the doors.

CAM00323There’s no tricks with the gauges and they are clear and crisp.  In fact, after the cheerfulness of the cabin, some testers stated that they looked downright bland and the blue font didn’t win some people over.  Regardless, all of the important information is easily read at a glance and the notches on the speedometer were a nice touch when trying to stay at one particular speed.  Visibility is very good to the front and sides and the front triangular CAM00331glass panels near the base of the A-pillar assist with a clear view.  The rear is somewhat difficult to decipher thanks to the rear headrests and rising greenhouse, but being such a small car, it isn’t too much of a guessing game when reversing.  The Fiesta also has large sideview mirrors along with convex insets that offset blind spots; a very thoughtful touch!  The steering wheel is an appealing three spoke design with meaty, leather wrapped grips and unlike some of the latest Fords, the controls on the steering wheel were minimalist and simple to use.  The Fiesta is obviously geared as a driver’s car from that stand point.

CAM00324And drive well it does.  Carried over this year is the same 1.6 liter four-cylinder with dual-overhead cams and 16 valves that’s been offered since 2011.  It’s a relatively modern engine with variable valve timing that produces 120 horsepower.  That’s smack-dab in the heart of econo-car territory and decent for the 2,537 pounds of car that it’s hauling around.  Initially it doesn’t feel very fast off the line, but due to a higher torque curve, it picks up steam as the speeds increase.  New for 2014 are a turbocharged 1.0 three-cylinder geared toward fuel economy and another turbocharged variant of the 1.6 liter on the ST trim that pumps out an impressive 197 horsepower.  Regardless, this particular car felt adequate around town with the aspirated non-turbo 1.6 and was even sprightly on the freeway.  This is one of the few economy cars that feels spirited at 70mph and has no trouble vaulting to 90mph where it still felt well-composed; a trait from its German heritage.  Engine noise is surprisingly hushed at freeway speeds and during accelerations.  In fact, the cabin remains isolated from most wind and road noise; a very uncommon characteristic in this segment and one that makes the Fiesta feel like a larger car than it is.

DSCI1727Mated to the little four-cylinder is Ford’s advanced PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission.  Essentially, it is similar in concept to two manual transmissions working in conjunction and each operating three of the six forward gears.  The two clutches alternate shifts and unlike the similar setup in several Volvos, the Fiesta uses a dry clutch and an electric motor.  The end results are mixed.  The transmission’s behavior is sometimes unpredictable; hesitating to accelerate from a standstill, and sometimes causing a jerk into second gear.  Tapping on the accelerator pedal lightly whether from an idle or while cruising seems to confuse it and the car will lurch much like someone learning to drive stick shift for the first time.  Some of the metallic and rattling sounds that were audible from the tranny weren’t reassuring either.  Due to complaints from the press and owners about the transmission, Ford has been continuously reprogramming the transmission since the Fiesta’s launch.  However, when tackling hills or needing to downshift while passing, the automatic is quick to respond and does so with smooth, well-timed shifts.  It’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation with the PowerShift, but it is better behaved than the nearly identical gearbox in the Focus.  A five-speed manual is standard on all trim levels and worth a look in this case.

DSCI1707 (2)Handling is the big Fiesta strength and it doesn’t disappoint.  The electronic power steering is nicely weighted and communicative.  It’s light around town and gains heaviness as speeds increase.  Take a Fiesta through a windy road and it can be a joyride.  It may not be the quickest car, but it grips tenaciously through curves and is unfazed by sharp corners.  There’s no intention of sliding and no matter how hard I tried, the 15-inch tires refused to squeal.  Where other economy cars would be begging for mercy, the Fiesta just wants more.  It has a stable and refined feel on mountain roads that is synonymous with vehicles wearing a Bavarian badge.  The sole reminder that this is indeed an economy car is a sensitivity to cross-winds and passing trucks.

DSCI1726A well-executed torsion rear beam axle with stabilizer bar and front independent MacPherson strut suspension do a commendable job of keeping the Fiesta planted on the road.  Bumps and road imperfections are absorbed with no drama and the car behaves like a much larger vehicle.  Only large potholes will make their way to the cabin and throw the car off course.  Otherwise, the Fiesta rides like a much more expensive and sophisticated car.

DSCI1710Speaking of advanced cars, it wasn’t long ago that placing an immense Aston Martin influenced hexagonal grill to the snoz of an economy car would’ve been gaudy.  But the Fiesta’s new front styling wears it well and has a family resemblance to the handsome Ford Fusion.  The rest of the body remains basically unchanged for 2014, which is a good thing, since it still looks fresh after all these years.  The elDSCI1722egant rear hatch and back-end echo the big-brother Focus and from all angles the Fiesta is an attractive, sleek machine.  New color choices for this year hope to add more life to the design.

My test Fiesta only had 200 miles at the time of rental and thankfully, everything felt solid and well built.  There were no defects at all.

DSCI1725Another Fiesta promise is excellent fuel economy and the Fiesta doesn’t disappoint.  EPA estimates for the 1.6 liter are 27mpg city and 38mpg highway.  Due to some conservative driving, I averaged an amazing 45mpg during a 200 mile freeway run, which only cost $16 in fuel.  Amazing!  Even with some mixed city driving, mountain driving, and some aggressive testing, the Fiesta still returned an average of 37mpg.  Thinking back, my poor underpowered, minimalist Aspire could only get 34mpg at best on a freeway run.  Once again, how times have changed for the better.  Like all other Fords, the Fiesta comes with the nifty capless fuel filler.  It’s a little detail, but adds to the premium feel of the entire car.

DSCI1711Prices for the Fiesta start at $14,000 for the awkward and ungainly looking “S” trim four-door sedan.  Moving to the smaller, but more versatile and stylish “S” hatch moves the sticker to $14,600.  The S trim comes with a generous list of standard equipment: 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, power locks and mirrors, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, various Ford Sync DSCI1723functions (iPod/USB audio  interface, Bluetooth phone connectivity, voice controls, some app-based services and certain safety communications functions), an auxiliary audio jack  and, for hatchback models, a rear wiper.  Moving to the next level SE, like ours, adds keyless entry, power windows, exterior mirrors  with side marker lamps, cruise control, upgraded cloth upholstery, a trip  computer, 15-inch painted aluminum wheels, metallic interior trim, a front center console with armrest, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and ambient lighting.  The SE hatch starts at $16,050 and the PowerShift automatic tacks on an extra $1,095 to the cost.  Once destination is added, the grand total for our Ingot Silver tester was $17,940 .  It may seem like a lot, but other economy cars are cashing in at about the same price and lack the technology and driving experience that the Fiesta offers.

DSCI1724I’m very torn on the Fiesta.  As a driving enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed scooting all over California with it and felt pampered by its thoughtful touches.  It is, without doubt, the most enjoyable and solid economy car I’ve driven in a long time.  But being a hatchback, one of its main purposes in life is to be versatile and carry as much gear that can be wedged within its tiny dimensions.  In this regard, the Fiesta comes up woefully short compared to its most direct competitor, the Honda Fit, as well as almost every other similarly sized hatch.  I still highly recommend the Fiesta yet that acclaim comes with a large (almost Sir-Mix-A-Lot sized) “but”…..  If this is to be your sole car and you intend on hauling your gear or laundry to Mom’s often, or plan on carting friends that you care about, then this isDSCI1717 not the best choice.  The Fit, Accent, and Sonic will do that better. But if it is only you and a passenger, and you don’t mind treating this car as a two-seat coupe most of the time and enjoy driving while on a budget, then absolutely look at the Fiesta.  There’s a lot of compromises, but also plenty of rewards in return.  At the very least it shows how change can be a double-edged sword.  A very mixed and perplexing 3.0/5.0 boomerangs

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