First Drive: 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0-liter Ecoboost

These days, just about every auto manufacturer talks about streamlining products and downsizing engines. No one has pushed toward these goals as persistently as Ford. The Blue Oval has brought a wide range of globally developed products to the United States, from the quirky Transit Connect cargo van to the bread-and-butter Fusion (which shares its design with the European Mondeo). It has concurrently expanded its portfolio of small-displacement, "Ecoboost" engine options with near messianic fervor -- even the red-blooded F-150 has one.

In case you're not convinced Ford is serious about all this, consider the 2014 Fiesta and its optional 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder. A tiny car with an even tinier engine and a not-so-tiny price -- it will cost more than the base four-cylinder -- the Fiesta 1.0-liter is the epitome of what would once have been considered a "not for America" product. Only, here it comes. Is it ready?

Good vibrations

Ford applies the full Ecoboost treatment to eke power out of three diminutive cylinders. Turbocharging, direct-injection, and variable valve timing yield 123 hp and an impressive 148 lb-ft of torque -- considerably better than the Fiesta's base 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Ford isn't yet providing fuel economy numbers, but promises they too will surpass the 1.6-liter model, along with every other non-hybrid sold in the United States. Given that the Volkswagen Passat TDI achieves 43 mpg on the highway, we can expect 44 mpg or better.

The U.S. market has started to accept the idea that a small, turbocharged engine can be as good or better than a larger, normally aspirated one. But three-cylinder engines face other hurdles, which is a nice way of saying they're awful. Inherently off-balance and out of sync, they rock violently and generally make a racket. Not surprisingly, these engines have traditionally occupied a small, unpleasant niche, serving as cheap motivating power for unloved b- and a-segment cars like the Geo Metro and Smart ForTwo.

Ford engineers, working mostly in Germany, developed some new tricks to address these issues. They canceled out the rocking motion by placing weights on the flywheel and the front pulley. Specially designed engine mounts, a stiff iron block, and an enclosed timing belt that constantly passes through the engine's oil reservoir further reduce the noise and vibration.

As a result, the Fiesta's new 1.0-liter is decidedly not awful. In fact, it's quite pleasant. At low rpm, there is a faint rumble, almost like a modern diesel. As it winds out, though, it lets out a mellow growl that's more interesting and more masculine sounding than the typical modern four-cylinder. It backs up the sporty noise with impressive thrust. It feels at least as strong as a comparable four-cylinder-powered car.

You would expect such a tiny turbocharged engine to suffer from low-rpm lag, and you'd be right. Widely spaced gears don't help. The first time we came out of a slow right turn in second gear, we wondered if we'd shifted into fourth. As the day wore on, we learned to work the light clutch and smooth five-speed manual gearbox to keep the engine in its happy zone. Those who cannot or do not want to deal with three pedals are out of luck, at least for now, as the 1.0-liter will not be offered at launch with an automatic. For the record, that means two out of the three engine choices for the 2014 Fiesta will come exclusively with a manual transmission (the other is the upcoming ST model).

The smaller engine has little effect on the rest of the Fiesta driving experience, which is just as well. The Fiesta feels small and light when you want it to, such as when you're slicing through traffic or pushing the pace on a narrow canyon road. Unlike many of its subcompact competitors, the Fiesta is just as happy loafing along the highway at 80 mph. The electric power steering is hyper-quick but benefits from more natural weighting and better on-center feel than most competitors (it no doubt helps that the European-spec example we drove wore seventeen-inch wheels). An upscale interior further contributes to the overall sense of substance and solidity.

Conclusion: The numbers game

Ford has not yet announced specific pricing or fuel economy figures for the 1.0-liter Fiesta. These numbers will be key to its success in the United States, where buyers face no taxes on engine displacement. Put another way, it's hard to imagine people paying a sizable premium for this powertrain unless there's a sizable payoff at the pump. What absolutely should not turn people off, however, is the cylinder count. With its refined new 1.0-liter Fiesta, Ford has once again proved that smaller -- and more global -- really is better.

On sale: Fall 2013
Engine: 1.0L turbo 3-cylinder, 123 hp, 148 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Drive: Front-wheel
EPA Fuel economy: N/A

I own a 1993 GEO Metro as well. I average 52+- MPG Hwy. I cant honestly believe the industry has ignored the need for commuter cars for so many years in the last decade especially. I owe nothing, save an incredible amount of money yearly, The car has 300K miles and with proper maintenance which is replacing almost everything :) it is flawless and a money machine. I have a large BMW, a Large Ford custom high top, and the college kids all drive 2000~2004 Focuses. I could drive a real car but why I only need a commuter. I travel 75plus miles a day. Thank you Ford for taking a affordable step toward common sense. People are having to choose between, food, bills, vacation or feed these machines that only average 23~35 MPG. If they travel 50~100 miles a day and quite a few in America do then the fuel bills are enormous. The other joke is hybrid or electric. The industry sells them at 30~40k they only get 35~50 miles per gallon. I can by a Focus that gets 40MPG at around 14K why would anybody buy a hybrid or electric. Let's be honest with ourselves and stop blaming folks for "not liking these cars" are you kidding. People would by them like hot cakes if they were affordable. We have the engineering, industry claims these cost less to manufacture? Something does not add up. Ford keep up the good work and continue to lead the way!
Ford is making a big mistake not offering this car in an automatic. The real market for high mileage cars like this is with baby boomers like myself. Too bad,  I would have bought one.
I've already made up my mind... I'm buying one next fall. I currently drive a 94 Geo Metro that I bought for $700. it gets 40+ mpg every day with its 65hp 1 liter engine witch happens to be a 3 cylinder as well. I make really good money an am considering chopping up a perfectly good fiesta and dropping the updated engine, powertrain, steering, brakes, and electronics into my 1,600 lb 94 Geo Metro... being that it is 1,000 lbs lighter it should get mpg's that would satisfy everyones thirst for amazing economy on the most readily available fuel source... Gasoline!!! Now if Ford would simply build a body that only weighs 1,500-1,600 lbs like my current 1994 Geo Metro...
Veritas Anakrino
I can't wait until this car debuts with the 1.0L engine. If some of the early tests are true and it does get 40 mpg in the city and in the mid to high 40's on the hwy, this is going to be one stellar car, mainly because it's already well-known for it's excellent handling and overall good quality. I'm glad Ford decided to give the new engine the greenlight for production in the U.S. 
@Juston Safety standards make building a car that light nearly impossible. I like your idea though. The best way to be safe on the roads is to drive safely and not to load our cars down with gas hogging equipment.

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