I'm a fan of the Ford Fiesta; it's fun to drive and has always offered good value-for-money. 2014 sees the Fiesta's first update along with a sizable price bump -- and this as it faces a host of new (and strong) competitors. Can the Fiesta keep up? Read on.
First Glance: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Let's start with a quick look at the Ford Fiesta's dossier: This subcompact car was developed by Ford's team in Europe, where the Fiesta has been a staple since the 1970s. When they brought the Fiesta to the US in 2011, Ford developed a sedan body style to complement the hatchback preferred in Europe, and they were careful to preserve the Fiesta's European road manners -- this despite a slight weight gain, a consequence of beefing up the car to meet American safety standards.
For 2014, the Fiesta gets a mid-life refresh: A handsome new front fascia (complete with the Aston-Martin-esque grille (link goes to photo) seen on the Ford Fusion) plus new taillights and back bumper for the sedan. The color palette has been expanded, including the rather unfortunate shade of green you see on my test car. (Amazingly, this is an extra-cost color -- $595. Wouldn't it be cheaper to tattoo "I CRAVE ATTENTION" on your forehead?)
Inside, some of the interior bits and bobs have been updated, but the biggest change is a small color touch-screen -- part and parcel of the newly-optional MyFord Touch system, which I'll complain about in a little bit.
In the Driver's Seat: MyFord Touch gripes
I'm about 30 lbs lighter than the last time I tested a Fiesta, so I'm surprised I didn't have a problem with the front seats back then -- this time around I found them a little short on thigh support. The back seat is quite good considering the Fiesta's small size, and the trunk is surprisingly big and deep, although the opening is small.
Visibility for the driver is good to the front, and the back seat headrests fold down to give a clear view through the rear window. But the tall trunk makes the Fiesta tricky to park, which ought not to be a problem in a car this small.
My Fiesta, a mid-level SE model, had the aforementioned MyFord Touch system. Bashing MFT has become something of an industry pastime, and for once I am going to go with the flow. MFT usually pairs an 8" four-section touch-screen with steering wheel buttons and a dash display, but since the Fiesta lacks the latter two, that leaves it with three functions (phone, stereo, optional navigation) jammed onto a smaller (6'5") screen. It's not as distracting as the full-on MFT system, but with such tiny "buttons" crammed onto such a small screen, it really is a pain to use.
The Fiesta's SYNC feature should make things better, but it doesn't; once one of the best voice-activated systems in the biz, it's now falling behind, and now that the system has had more commands added to its vocabulary, it seems to have a harder time telling them apart.
On the Road: Same ol' Fiesta... and that's a good thing
One thing hasn't changed, and that's the Fiesta's fun-to-drive nature. This is where the Fiesta's European roots show: Responsive steering, good body control, and a comfortable, quiet ride.
The big news for the 2014 Fiesta (beside the hot-rod Fiesta ST) is supposed to be the 1.0 liter three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine that I previewed a few months back. That engine isn't due to materialize in showrooms for a few months, so my Fiesta had the plain ol' 1.6 liter four-cylinder. My Fiesta also had the "Power Shift" automatic transmission -- that's Ford trade name for their twin-clutch transmission, which is supposed to deliver better acceleration and fuel economy than a traditional automatic. Ford has re-tuned the transmission in response to complaints about a laggy take-off and harsh shift quality. The updated trans does behave more like a regular automatic, aside from an occasional (and rather worrisome) clunk.
Acceleration from this 120 horsepower engine is strong enough for my liking. EPA fuel economy estimates are 29 MPG city and 39 MPG highway for both the 5-speed manual and the 6-speed Power Shift. The optional SFE package -- exclusive to the mid-level SE trim -- boosts the EPA estimates to 30 city/41 highway, and it's priced at just $95, though it deletes the SE's snazzy alloy wheels. My non-SFE car averaged 32.4 MPG, and probably would have done better were it not for a couple of devastating Los Angeles traffic jams. On highway runs with the cruise set at the 65 MPH limit, the Fiesta easily topped 40 MPG; slow city traffic is apparently its Kryptonite.