Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost 1.0 Powershift. Fun… if you insist.

DSC_5563 I like my cars to be visceral, possibly brutal. I like to feel the car fighting back as I wrestle it around my favourite backroads route. I like to feel as if I’m working as part of a team, the car and myself acting in unison to cover ground as entertainingly as possible. The car doesn’t have to be totally reliant on muscle and it doesn’t have to have racetrack credentials to provide fun, a grunty lightweight like a Z4M or a heavy old horse like a Bentley Turbo R are equally adept at making me grin. On the face of it, a low-powered Ford Fiesta with an automatic gearbox should be pretty much the opposite of what I love in a car. Take the jump to see whether this really is as miserable  a combination as it sounds. DSC_5561 The Ford Fiesta has a lineage which runs way back to 1976 and have become as familiar on European roads as broken glass and discarded McDonalds wrappings. It’s not always been held in the highest of esteem; there was a dark period around the late ’80s and early ’90s when the MK2 was too old and the MK3 was, well, a bit underwhelming in its earliest iterations. From the mid 90’s onwards, though, it underwent something of a magical metamorphosis. For twenty years it’s had a series of chassis that have been close to the top of the class for driving fun and games. The current shape, now in its face-lifted form, has been around since 2008 and is once again blessed with a highly capable set of underpinnings. Ford have been doing whatever they’ve needed to do to keep the Fiesta relevant and to maintain its appeal. You could also say that it’s the most innovative Fester since, well, ever. The Blue Oval has a history of eking out literally every minute of useful life from their engine designs; the old Duratec-E Cross-flow engine was first used in the time of the Pharaohs and was only pensioned off in 2002, sixteen years after the first Valencia-built Fiesta pointed its cute little nose into the Spanish sunshine. Focusing on the future, 7th Generation Fezzy now plays host to the EcoBoost engines which have been impressing a global audience since 2010. One of the headline statistics about the 1.0 three-cylinder version of the EcoBoost engine is that its cylinder block would fit onto a sheet of A4 paper. Of course, my first thought is the possible opportunity to put maybe two or three of these things under the same bonnet, because I’m greedy. My next thought was that such a dainty, and therefore probably light unit, should bode well for handling characteristics. DSC_5559 Neat looking thing, this. Somehow the Aston-esque grille treatment on the Generation 7.5 Fiesta suits it just as well as it does on bigger Fords, although the effect is ruined if you allow the Aston Martin Cygnet to creep into your mind for just a second. Dammit, that just happened, and now I think the Fiesta looks contrived and desperate. So quickly change the viewing angle and look from the side or the rear three-quarters, and the Fiesta is still blessed with the buxom, energetic look it was born with in 2008. In silver it looks quite classy, this hue serving well to display light and shadow created by the many well-judged creases and hollows that announce Ford’s Kinetic design language. It gives the visual impression of a car which looks worth driving. Good. That’s what I want, so I install myself while mentally sidelining the whole “I’ve only got three cylinders and a hundred horsepower, and there is one less pedal than I’d like to have” thought process. 20140522_115944 I survey the cabin; it reads well. There is a lot of design going on in here, the majority of it being nicely cohesive. In this mid-range Zetec model things are accented to suggest sportiness, and the matter it’s hewn from comes up to scrutiny quite well. The centre console is dressed with a glossy black material which extends upwards to surround the stereo controls, which still seem over-styled and remind me too much of Lt Worf’s forehead. No idea why. I enjoyed the texture of the seat facings- the last time I handled a material this ribbed, the safe sex that followed was all the more rewarding for it. The gauge cluster is visually appealing, too, with needles highlighted in blue and numerals in a racy italic font, unfortunately marred by the big blue PRNDS shouting to remind me that some strict Nanny was going to be changing my gears for me. Buzzkill. 20140522_115954 Well, I wasn’t going to be told. Like sneaking into a club underage or eating the last chocolate from somebody else’s box, I was going to have fun irrespective of The Man’s say-so. The bubbly Ford PR lady waved me away, safe in the knowledge that this was a nice, pedestrian vehicle for undemanding drivers. So I rammed the stick straight into Sport Mode and headed for the high speed bowl. “High speed bowl!” I laughed to myself with a sinister, Frankensteinian delight. “HIGH SPEED BOWL!!” The irony of what I was going to put this car through was deep enough to bathe in. I’ve driven many a Fiesta in my lifetime and recent experiences with the breed have left my jaw in danger of separating from the rest of my skull. They’ve been great. Chuckable, nimble, generally terrific. Surely, surely the paucity of poke and severely limited gear change impetus couldn’t conspire to completely ruin the Fiesta fandango? Well, yes. And, more importantly, no. DSC_5560 When I arrived at the high-speed bowl there was a GT-R, an NSX and countless Porsche and Mclaren projectiles doing circuits in glorious, fluid loops. The arrival of a slow moving Fiesta on track would have caused cataclysmic things to happen, so I nailed the accelerator through the firewall and beyond, to give this little shopping car all the encouragement I possibly could. Legendary auto-journalist Kami Kaluski recently reported of the US spec Fiesta Ecoboost 1.0 (albeit in a strange sedan shape that we don’t get here) “This is a slow car”. And that was the 125hp version, with the manual ‘box. [Ed. Note: Less-than-legendary Jeff Glucker drove it as well.] Well, yes. In absolute terms, this 100hp one is a slow car. But as slow cars go, this is a damn quick one. The written numbers tell us that 62 takes 10.8 seconds to arrive from a standstill, but from a rolling start it feels a load more immediate than that, and I would have expected that yawning chasm of time to feel even longer considering I had no gear-changing to be getting on with. Nope. Without time for even the swiftest of shaves, I had reached a hundred, which is where I sat for a few laps, watching the supercars circling from a safe viewpoint. And, you know, I could have sat there all day long. That tiddly little three-pot mill didn’t sound the least bit upset by the experience, what noise there was could be easily drowned out by the capable stereo. I would expect the intergalactic touring range that EcoBoost brings to be snuffed out somewhat at a 100mph cruise, thus nullifying the concept a tad, but it was nevertheless a test that I didn’t expect it to pass with such flying colours. DSC_5564 Shedding speed and readying myself to exit the bowl I was able to try some quick lane changes, and the Fiesta displayed the same immediate responses it’s always enjoyed. Thank goodness. In fact, chassis behaviour was always going to be the deciding factor in whether a person who enjoys driving could still find thrills in this car, despite the low pedal-count. Let’s skip back to my earlier yes and no as regards Fiesta fun enruinment. For much of my time in this car, I really missed changing gear. This is because changing gear in a Fiesta is a fun thing to do. Combined with revvy, spinny engines, keeping the revs on the boil by rowing ratios is an important ingredient in the Fiesta driving recipe, and one whose absence actually feels wholly odd. So yes, this whole experience just doesn’t add up in Fiesta terms. However, if you think laterally and accept it as something different to what you were expecting, then the clouds evaporate and the doubts clear. 20140522_120540 Everything that connects the Fiesta with the road is the same as, and as good, as ever it was. The turn-in is dart-like, the steering is pin-sharp and the cornering attitude is level without resorting to the firmness of ride you get in a Fiesta ST. This Fiesta is as good a back-road blaster as it should be. On the one hand the interactivity of changing gear is sorely missed, but this Powershift box, with its twin clutches, serves up fresh gears with lightning speed and no loss of drive; the measured performance figures are actually better for the auto than for the manual. So, you keep both hands on the wheel and just point and squirt. I’d love to try this car out on some of my local roads. With the gear changes being looked after by a ‘box that really knows what it’s doing, the driver is free to concentrate on managing direction and trajectories. Grip is delivered in amounts plentiful to assure corners are despatched with alacrity, understeer can be beaten by either backing off slightly or even just dialing in a little more lock. It’s utterly foolproof. It’s like a big twist ‘n go scooter with two extra wheels and a good stereo. The lack of a third pedal to push ends up reminding me of playing Sega Rally in automatic mode- something that I always thought was tantamount to cheating because it made playing so easy. ‘Cos that’s what it is. Easy. Really, really easy, even if you’re pressing on. DSC_5558 I could have written this whole review at the same time as making a cross country dash. I actually could have done that while frying an omelette on the passenger seat and steering with my teeth. With Powershift, things are so easy I actually struggle to think of it as driving at all, and while that in itself sounds absolutely horrible, perversely it encourages you to drive harder and then you end up covering ground at breakneck speed with a massive, demented grin on your face. So, No. The economy-orientated, low-power, automatic Fiesta isn’t fun. Unless you recalibrate your definition of that three-letter word. And you should, because that opens up a whole new strata of driving enjoyment. [Disclosure: Ford were daft enough to give me the keys and let me loose around Millbrook. Thanks. I’m glad you did. I feel I’ve learnt something.] (Images copyright 2014 Chris Haining / Hooniverse)

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