By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
I’ve got a triple in my garage.
It’s loud and fast, but spews oily smoke — and gets terrible gas mileage. Probably why Kawasaki stopped making triples. Well, this kind of triple triple. (Two stroke triples.)
Then there’s the kind that gets great gas mileage — but makes you pay for it in other ways.
The Geo Metro kind of triple. Remember?
The crippled triple.
Ford’s got a new spin on the three cylinder concept: Great gas mileage and great performance.
Without the noise or the smoke.
It’s a turbo triple (four stroke, full emissions legit) and it’s available in the 2014 Ford Fiesta.
WHAT IT IS
The Fiesta is Ford’s entry level subcompact — sold in sedan and hatchback sedan versions.
It’s in the same class, size-and-price-wise, as the Kio Rio and Chevy Sonic. And like the Mitsubishi Mirage, it’s available with an extremely fuel-efficient three cylinder engine.
But unlike the Mirage, the Fiesta — dial up the Underdog song — is not slow. Push down on the gas pedal — and away you’ll go!
Base price is $14,100 for an S with the standard 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. The five-door hatchback version starts out slightly higher at $14,355.
To get the “triple,” you’ve gotta step up to the SE trim — $15,585 for the sedan and $15,580 for the five-door — and then check the box for the 1.0 liter EcoBoost engine, which adds another $995 to the tab.
This hurts the Fiesta’s cause a little — if your primary desire is economical transportation. Mitsubishi will sell you their triple — sans turbo (and sans balls) — in the Mirage — for $12,995. Its 37 city, 44 highway is untouchable at this price point.
Just don’t be in a hurry to get where you’re going.
40-plus MPG — and zero to 60 in the eights — courtesy of the new 1.0 liter “Ecoboost” turbocharged three-cylinder engine that’s now optional in SE trims.
Ford’s programmable MyTouch electronics interface is also available — and there’s a new high-performance version of the Fiesta — the Fiesta ST — which will be reviewed separately.
Turbocharger endows three cylinder engine with four cylinder performance — but only when you need it.
When you don’t need it, you’ll enjoy three cylinder fuel economy.
Mini-me Aston Martin styling.
Doesn’t feel flimsy — or look sad sack.
Base trim (cheapest version) isn’t a stripper. AC, most needful power accessories, a six-speaker audio system and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel are included as part of the standard equipment package.
SE adds keyless entry, cruise, leather trim and ambient interior lighting.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
The 1 liter turbo triple is not offered even as an option in the base S trim Fiesta — and it costs extra once you’ve moved up to the more expensive SE trim Fiesta.
A manual (five speed) is mandatory with the triple. No automatic is currently available.
Mirage costs thousands less — and gives you even better gas mileage.
Back seat is brutal, compared with Sonic’s.
Cargo area is cramped — compared with the Mitsu’s.
UNDER THE HOOD
Base Fiestas are powered by a conventional 1.6 liter four cylinder, a typical economy car powerplant. It produces 120 hp, gets the Fiesta to 60 in a shave less than 10 seconds (manual versions, that is; if you go with the optional automatic, you’ll go considerably slower) and delivers 28 city, 36 highway (the slow-motion automatic versions give you 27 city, 37 highway).
It’s the classic case of one — or the other. You get pretty decent gas mileage with the 1.6 liter engine.
But not much else.
Enter the triple.
With a turbo bolted to its side, the 1 liter triple that’s optional in SE trims makes 123 hp — three more hp than the larger 1.6 liter four — and 125 ft.-lbs. of torque vs. 112 ft.-lbs.
Result? You’ll get to 60 sooner — 8.8 seconds — and enjoy better mileage than the four manages: 31 city and 43 on the highway.
That’s having your cake and eating it, too.
Well, except for one thing. As mentioned earlier, to get the turbo triple, you have to first buy the higher-priced SE version of the Fiesta. And then spend another grand to get the 1 liter engine. Which brings the base price up to $16,575.
Turbos are wonderful — but they aren’t cheap.
Same deal, by the way, over at your local Chevy store. The Sonic offers a similar concept — plus one more cylinder. The base car comes with a 1.8 liter, 138 hp four but you can opt up to a turbo 1.4 liter four that gives better mileage (though nowhere near as good as the Ford’s) while matching or beating the acceleration capability of the base non-turbo engine. But, to get it, you have to buy the more expensive LT trim — and then pay another $700 on top of that to get the isn’t slow (and doesn’t suck) turbocharged engine.
Meanwhile, there’s the Mitsubishi Mirage triple.
Standard equipment — and 37 city, 44 highway. For not quite $13k — sticker price. And given Mitsu’s desperate straights right now — the brand could be a goner any day now — you could probably haggle your way into one of these A to B units for $11k out the door.
You can also order the Mirage with an automatic (CVT) transmission.
For now at least, Ford only sells the Ecoboosted Fiesta with a five-speed manual transmission.
If you want to hyper-mile your triple, buy the Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package. It includes low rolling resistance tires and aerodynamic tweaks to the exterior bodywork. Ford does not claim a specific MPG uptick, but it’s probably worth another 1-3 MPGs, depending on your driving.
It only adds $95 to the car’s price tag, incidentally.
ON THE ROAD
Remember the Geo Metro?
Well, forget about it.
Though the Fiesta is similar in some ways — small car, small three-cylinder engine, gets great gas mileage — it is also nothing like the Metro, which was last sold new back in 1997.
Fo openers, the Fiesta’s quick.
Well, it isn’t slow.
Ecoboost dialed up, it gets to 60 about four seconds sooner than a Metro (8.8 vs. 13-ish for the Metro) and can do things in third gear — like reach triple digit speeds — that the Metro couldn’t do in any gear. Yes, you read that correctly. An EcoBoosted Fiesta triple turbo is capable of reaching an indicated 100 MPH in third.
And you’ve got two more to go.
Not that you’d ever actually do something like this . . . well, here in the U.S. But Ford sells this car in Europe — where it is necessary to be able to move at faster-than-Metro speeds. We get the benefit of that, plus even better mileage than the Metro ever managed.
Real world driving-wise, getting going — and getting by road Clovers — is no problem in this car. The turbo three pulls like a much larger four when you need it to — courtesy of the instant (but temporary, only as long as you need it) displacement increase that the turbo provides. This is the beauty of turbochargers (and superchargers they do the same thing but instead of being driven by the pressure of exhaust gasses, they are driven by a pulley and belt, just like an alternator or water pump). Turbos and superchargers make an engine bigger on demand — increasing its airflow capability via the miracle of boost — eliminating the proverbial deadweight (and pumping/friction losses) that would otherwise attend having more cubic inches (or liters, these days) under the hood to achieve the same output sans boost.
And the boost is invisible.
There’s no audible whistle, no noticeable surge of power — preceded by the typically turbocharged flat spot. This is a very flexible engine, with torque enough to allow relaxed — even lazy — driving. This makes it perfectly pleasant in stop-and-go-driving, as well as better-than-merely-competent out on the open road. It is fun — but not necessary — to rev it up and work the five-speed to maintain momentum, to keep up with traffic. The turbo steady torque delivery makes it possible to keep the transmission in fifth or even fourth at road speeds of less than 40 MPH, without lugging the engine.
Don’t try that in the Mirage.
Let alone a Metro.
The one hair in the soup is that the turbo triple comes only with the five-speed manual — at least, for the moment. There is a rumor that Ford will make the six-speed automated manual that’s currently available with the Fiesta’s 1.6 liter four cylinder engine available with the EcoBoosted three in the 2015 Fiesta.
Why isn’t it available right now, though?
Good question. The three produces more torque (and sooner) than the four — 125 ft.-lbs. vs. 112 ft.-lbs. — which means the three ought to work better with an automatic than with a manual. The usual issue with small engines and automatics is torque deficiency, which results in sluggish off-the-line acceleration because of the Long Second (or three) it takes for the small engine to rev into its powerband. Note that the automatic-equipped 1.6 liter Fiesta takes almost 10 seconds to get to 60.
It’s very possible that Ford is leery of any Metro-ish associations and decided — at least for now — to offer the turbo triple with the manual only in order to keep its performance numbers as respectable as its fuel economy numbers.
AT THE CURB
One of the great advances of our age is that inexpensive cars are no longer pathetic — either to drive or to view. They are so appealing, in fact, that they make more expensive cars seem like a rip-off. What do you get for your money, after all? The inexpensive car has all The Stuff: air conditioning, a good audio system, power windows and door locks — and in the case of the Fiesta, a standard tilt and telescoping wheel, Bluetooth wireless and voice command.
For a few bucks more you can add ambient interior lighting (including a cool-looking glowing accent light just above the latch for the glove box), leather trim, heated seats, 6.5 inch touchscreen display, et cetera.
It’s got Aston Martin-esque styling, too . . . on a pint-sized scale.
The one thing it hasn’t got — and which some of its competitors do — is back seat (and cargo) room.
Ford was only able to carve out 31.2 inches of rear seat legroom — vs. 34.6 inches in the Chevy Sonic and 34 inches in the Mitsubishi Mirage. This renders the Ford’s back seats a tight squeeze for larger adults. Cargo capacity is also lower-than-average: 12.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats in the hatchback — vs. 14.9 in the Chevy and a very impressive-for-the-class 17.2 cubes in the Mitsu.
The available hatchback layout gives you room to work with — or rather, passenger room that can be used as cargo room. Assuming you don’t have passengers to carry. But if you do need to carry passengers, there’s not much you can do about the second row legroom situation. Or the headroom situation. It’s also a little tight back there — due to the sexy rearward slant of the Fiesta’s roofline: 37.1 inches vs. 37.8 in the Sonic.
Backseat crampedness is the Fiesta’s chief objective deficit relative to its rivals.
It’s a shame, because other than this, the Fiesta could serve as a family car — in addition to being an economical car.
It has the power to pull not just itself, but also itself plus passengers.
If only there were adequate room for them. . .
I am not a fan of the “euro” (or RV) style two-piece outside rearview mirrors Ford now installs on all its U.S. market cars. They confuse the eye, unless you look at one, then the other — which can be awkward. Look at both at the same time and you get a skewed view that’s harder to process — or at least, is for me. Your mileage may vary.
I am a fan of the capless fuel filler system Ford is now installing on all its cars — the Fiesta included. Just pop the door and insert the nozzle. Nothing to screw on — or off.
Also, the capless system pretty much eliminates a fairly common Modern Car problem: The “check engine” light coming on because you didn’t sufficiently tighten the fuel cap — which triggers a fault code because gasoline vapors are venting to the air. It’s no big deal, but it does mean having to get someone with an OBD scanner tool to re-set your car’s computer.
The Fiesta’s “center keyboard” and mouse input — and the fairly small — and recessed — digital display that goes with it — could be improved.
To turn off the traction control or change other settings, you have to push the fairly small button — menu, for instance — and then scroll using the also-small mouse, then select and push to get it to do what you want. It’s not hard to understand, but it can be hard to use… at least, while the vehicle is moving.
I also wish Ford — anyone — would figure out a way to make the fixed front quarter glass that is becoming a very common item in small cars functional — like the wing vent windows that used to be common in cars made back in the ’70s and ’60s. If they were, it would be less necessary to turn on the AC to keep cool. In fact, you might be able to do without AC entirely — which would be a money saver up front as well as down the road. The atrocious passive ventilation (no flow-through air) in all modern cars has made AC a de facto essential, which is why it has become a de facto standard, even in low-priced cars.
Functional wing vent windows could fix that — but it’d mean less profit for the car companies, which is probably why they aren’t available.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ford does little to tout the turbo triple qua turbo triple.
Which is probably due to the legacy of the Metro and its well-known reputation for being a road toad. There’s no boost gauge, no “turbo” badges. If it were my call, I’d make more of an issue of it. There is a lot to be proud of here.
If only this car were lighter.
An empty Fiesta weighs just under 2,600 pounds — which used to be what mid-sized cars weighed. A subcompact like the old Geo Metro weighed in at just over 1,800 pounds. If the EcoBoosted Fiesta weighed closer to 2,000 pounds, it would likely clear the 50 MPG hurdle with ease — and be even quicker than the current car.
But, you can’t have it all.
Or rather, you have to have what Uncle says you must have — including crash test survivability on par with (no, better than) the survivability of yesterday’s mid-sized cars . . . in a subcompact car package. This requires more steel, which means more beef — and 40-something MPGs rather than 50-something.
My gripe isn’t with the improved “safety” of new cars. It is with government taking the choice away from us. Crashworthiness only matters if you happen to have a crash. Many drivers manage to avoid crashing. Excellent fuel efficiency, on the other hand, happens every day . . . or not, as the case may be.
That grumble aside, this one’s a winner.
Geo Metro, get thee behind me!