DEARBORN, Mich. -- Driving the Ford Fiesta's cousin, the Mazda2, I was left dumbfounded that such a diminutive car was an unbridled blast to drive.
It is well-known that these two B-segment compact cars share many components, ergo, it's also safe to expect they share the same fun-to-drive chromosome, right?
Well, sort of. Their respective underpinnings, the Mazda DE and Ford B3 platforms, are mutual. But major components, specifically engines and transmissions, differ. That's not to say the Fiesta, which has just gone through the requisite mid-life refresh, does not have the chops to be a blast to drive.
For 2014, much of the Fiesta's powertrain is a carry-over. Powered by the same 1.6-litre in-line four-cylinder engine since its North American debut three years ago, it pumps out 120 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and 112 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm Later this year, however, Ford will introduce two additional turbocharged engines to the Fiesta's roster -- a 1.0-litre three-cylinder mill and a high-potency version of its 1.6-litre four-cylinder.
Available in Canada around Christmas, the 1.0L -- you know, the one with an engine block that can fit into a carry-on bag -- is good for an impressive 123 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. Ford says it will best the fuel economy of its 1.6L normally aspirated four while pumping out more torque, but that's yet to be determined. For the record, Natural Resources Canada rates the normally aspirated Fiesta at 6.9L/100 km in the city and 5.1 on the highway.
If that does not quench your turbocharging thirst, the Fiesta ST should, using a turbocharged version of the base 1.6L four-cylinder. Mated only to a six-speed manual, the ST sends 182 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels. Flick the Overboost switch and horsepower and torque is upped to 197 and 214, respectively, for 20 seconds. This feat of hot hatch engineering will hit dealers about September, while the 1.0L EcoBoost Fiesta will roll in around late December.
In small-displacement, smaller-output engines, the row-your-own gearbox is typically the way to go. In the 1.6L normally aspirated application, the clutch is light, making the Fiesta feel rather sprightly and quite easy to toot around town with. The shifter, however, is slightly on the tall side and hindered by the same spongy feeling as that of the Honda Fit. It's nowhere near as direct and notchy as the Mazda2, but this particular combination is a prerequisite for any other subcompact car, let alone the Fiesta.
For those who prefer to let the transmission do the shifting, a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is optional.
Running the Fiesta on a tight autocross course further enforces the Fiesta's sprightliness. Yes, the diminutive tires screech and protest around tight corners and the car itself bobs from side to side with body roll, but the steering is direct and rather responsive.
This is also where the Fiesta's featherweight capabilities shine, tipping the scales at just 1,015 kilograms (the sedan is 19 kg heavier). It proves quite easy to manoeuvre with a delightfully small turning radius -- essential for any sort of city driving.
Outside, the Fiesta earns Ford's new corporate styling first seen on the Fusion. It translates rather well to the Fiesta, giving the car something of a snarl. Tick the option box on one of Ford's bright hues and the Fiesta can't help but appear cartoonishly intimidating.
Front end aside, much of the car remains the same, with new wheels across the lineup as likely the second-most noteworthy changes. In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The minor changes continue inside. Ford has made great strides over the years in interior quality, and the Fiesta is no exception. One cannot expect a tomb-like atmosphere, devoid of wind and road noise, but for a subcompact car, the Fiesta's interior ranks toward the top end of the spectrum. The dashboard is finished in textured material that is soft to the touch and the layout in general is logical, but that does not mean the interior is without its pitfalls. Hard plastics adorn the door panels, and the buttons operating the HVAC controls are rather small and crowded.
As with the rest of Ford's lineup, Sync and MyFord Touch are optional. Already an improvement over those of years past, the Fiesta's SYNC system is fairly intuitive and -- thank goodness! -- embraces physical buttons rather than a touch-sensitive pad. It's available on all models, including the base Fiesta S as a $500 option. Air conditioning, incidentally, will set you back an extra $1,200 on the S.
The top-dog Fiesta, the Titanium, starts at $19,999. While not the most affordable subcompact, it does offer a slew of goodies as standard, including heated seats, a push-button start, automatic climate control and Sirius satellite radio. Opting for the Luxury package adds leather trimmings on the seats, shift knob and steering wheel, as well as a power sunroof for a $1,400 premium.
With navigation bringing the total to $21,899 before taxes and whatnot, the Fiesta is undercut by the likes of the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit and the bewilderingly spirited Mazda2, though none of these alternatives are as equipped to the brim as the Fiesta, except for one particular Korean -- the Kia Rio.
Optioned out to nearly identical equipment levels, the Rio SX rings in at $21,129, $770 less than the Fiesta Titanium with the Luxury package and navigation. Whether this is a testament to how far the subcompact segment has progressed over the years is anyone's guess, but upscale goodies are best complemented with sprightly, fun-to-drive characteristics.
The Fiesta, at least for now, fares the best at peddling a happy medium between the two.
-- Postmedia News