Vince Pornelos / Author, Ford Press | November 25, 2013 12:24
Boosted to challenge the B-segment
Ask yourself one thing: how do you stay ahead of the game?
For some, particularly in championship teams, that involves daily practice, drilling yourself to do things constantly, consistently and competently.
Ford doesn't think that way, though, and the newly launched Ford Fiesta with 1.0 liter EcoBoost power is the proof. As we realized, EcoBoost is more than just a new engine on an existing car... it's a new way of thinking entirely.
Three years in
The first time the ASEAN region got a drive of the Fiesta was in 2010, the year that Ford decided to introduce the car here with manufacturing in their plant in Rayong, Thailand as both a 5-door hatchback and the 4-door sedan.
Needless to say, we liked the B car that they launched in October of 2010 given its fun drive, tech toys, design, and a host of other great selling propositions from the showroom floor. In fact the Fiesta at one point became the best selling hatchback in the country, overtaking the then two-year old and much larger Honda Jazz.
In terms of sales volume, however, the Fiesta didn't really gain as much traction as a B car should, especially the sedan version. People were still hesitant to the brand given their history from the 1980's and the 1990's. That's understandable.
But the Fiesta was just the beginning of a strong turnaround for the Ford brand not just in the Philippines, but globally. Right after the Fiesta, Ford came out with the Ranger pick-up, and people started lining up at dealerships to get one, especially the Wildtrak. Afterwards Ford introduced the Explorer and that's selling like hotcakes too, only arriving at dealerships one day and released to a waiting customer the next.
What was surprising was the Focus which, when it was introduced last year, got a rather lukewarm welcome. Is Ford still the brand known for just the big trucks and SUVs in the Philippines?
Perhaps this heavily upgraded and updated Fiesta can change that, and we flew to Chiang Mai in Thailand just to try out this new B car with a striking new look and an extremely innovative heart.
Inspired by AM?
One thing about the new Ford Fiesta is the new look, as it seems like the Fiesta took quite a bit of inspiration from another well known auto brand: Aston Martin. You may have heard of them, 007.
Even though the design team led by Craig Metros (who also designed the Ford Everest Concept) may not approve, there's nothing wrong with resembling the signature AM look, simply because if you're to take inspiration from something, it should be from a much higher level; inspire to aspire, so to speak.
The front end features a larger and very prominent chrome grille that, as Trevor Worthington (Ford's VP for Product Development for Asia Pacific) and his team calls it, the “Superman” grille, albeit inverted. The grille is flanked by the new headlamp profile that I actually quite like, and bordered below by a revised lower end that seems to evoke a more road-hugging look.
The front end is common to both the sedan and hatchback, though the rear ends are very different (for the obvious reasons). Ford also updated the rear of the hatchback with a new bumper, taillamps and other details; ditto for the sedan. Like before, the sedan's rather slim rear end doesn't appeal to me as the hatch is still the way to go, but having the option for a boot is a vital choice in the market.
The cabin hasn't changed much at first glance, but upon closer inspection, they've put in quite a few cosmetic changes. Designers tossed out the very plasticky matte silver panels and trim on the media console and steering wheel in favor of a piano black panel and polished chrome on the steering wheel. The 4-door sedan gets a two tone black/gray interior, while the 5-door hatchback goes all black. It feels far more premium than the price normally allows, and it doesn't end there.
The Fiesta's real trick, even back in 2010, was the introduction of features unheard of in its class in the Philippine market like Bluetooth Voice Control (BVC), a dual clutch automatic transmission and even an electronic stability program (ESP).
For the 2013 EcoBoost upgrade, Ford has leveled up their B car even more. Bluetooth Voice Control and the multimedia audio system found in the previous version have made way for the far better and far easier to use Ford SYNC system. The upgrade allows for more intuitive voice commands (i.e. Call Mom, Play Artist The Ting Tings) and better overall connectivity through Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input, bringing it in line with the higher end models in the Ford range with the Explorer and Focus.
On top of that, the new Fiesta EcoBoost comes standard with a new push start system, comfort access smart key, and ESP. Also, the standard Powershift dual clutch automatic transmission is now equipped with a manual selector switch. Point of contention though, as the +/- shift buttons are on the shifter and not on the steering wheels (i.e. paddles/buttons). The guys at Ford say that having paddle shifters would further raise the price of the Fiesta, and that it's not really a priority for customers.
Upgrades under the skin
Where Ford went to work on was the suspension. If you've driven the pre-update Fiesta (1.6L/1.4L hatch or sedan, 2010-early 2013), then you'll know that the suspension -damping, spring rates, etc.- feel a noticeably stiff, so much so that it could be uncomfortable on city streets; notorious as our pavement is for punishing suspension systems.
Ford worked to revise the suspension and further adapt it to ASEAN roads, which typically aren't as smooth as roads in most European countries where the Fiesta was initially developed. According to Michael Pilling, Ford worked on revised stabilizer/sway bars, a new bump stop design for the front suspension, and more robust bushings for the rear suspension.
The electric power steering system has likewise been given new functions with speed-sensitive variable steering (it gets stiffer as the Fiesta goes faster) as well as pull-drift compensation; a good feature to have on a long drive on a crowned (slightly banked for drainage) road or highway.
But that's not all, as they even revised the way the build the body of the upgraded Fiesta itself, particularly for improved noise management. For instance, Ford now uses a more complete sealing process when the Fiesta is still a 'body in white' (bare shell) and introduced add on sealing for the front doors; the two combine for less air leakage and wind noise, respectively. A new twist/torsion beam bushing makes for less road noise, an expanded floor mastic and more thorough tire tuning combine to dampen driving noise.
We'll drive it thoroughly to see if there really is an improvement.
The heart of a winner
We can go on and on about all the things Ford did to get the Fiesta to where it is now, but really, those are just the details. The biggest improvement aboard the blue oval's B-car is it's heart: a 1.0 liter, inline three cylinder, 12 valve turbocharged engine. It's called EcoBoost.
The numbers speak for themselves: 125 PS (metric horsepower) and 170 Newton-meters from just a 1 liter turbo engine is incredible, to say the least, as it typically surpasses much larger engines at 1.4, 1.5 and 1.6 liters of displacement. But it's not all about numbers.
The hallmark of the 1.0L EcoBoost is that it represents a paradigm shift in the way Ford conceives, engineers and builds engines. Normally a car manufacturer's R&D department works to improve an engine design by fitting new parts and components to an existing motor to increase output, bump up efficiency and reduce noise and vibration.
Not so with the 1.0L EcoBoost. By having to work to design an engine from scratch, Ford engineered the motor to maximize efficiency and power right from the beginning.
As briefed to us by Rob Sharples (Manage, Powertrain Controls, Calibration and NVH, Ford APA), some of the unique features of the engine include an exhaust manifold that is fused (not bolted on) to the cylinder head, a lubricated timing chain that runs inside the cast iron block and aluminum head, an unbalanced flywheel to counter the unbalanced nature of an engine with just three cylinders, as well as a split cooling system for the block and head for better heat control.
All this in an engine that can fit atop an A4 sheet of paper and weighs just 97 kilograms when dry. It was one of those briefings that get you to understand why the 1.0L EcoBoost engine was able to win the 2012 and 2013 International Engine of the Year awards.
The engine also makes use of Ford's existing tech like gasoline direct injection and variable cam timing, all aided by a low inertia turbo that generates 1.1 to 1.5 bar of boost. For you turbo tuning fans out there, we had to ask them if the EcoBoost engine can be safely tuned further, and of course they said that the turbo 3-cylinder EcoBoost motor was not designed to take bigger turbos, so play with the forced induction system at your own risk.
Now it's time to get behind the wheel of the new Fiesta EcoBoost.
A drive to beat
Meeting us in Chiang Mai is a veritable fleet of Ford Fiestas equipped with EcoBoost engines and Powershift transmissions, and we were given a route that will see the turbo Fiestas on long stretches of highways, long sweeping corners and tight (and blind) mountain roads. We were even warned of elephants crossing the streets. This should be interesting.
After the usual safety and radio checks, we settle into the car, first plugging in an iPod to test the SYNC voice command system; it works perfectly, detecting and understanding your voice with ease and without having to enunciate in an unnatural manner.
Initially we were assigned the 4-door version of the Fiesta, and we then set off onto the road. Around town, the engine felt smooth and quite peppy; 125 horsepower in a light B-car is a recipe for fun.
What I was really keen on testing was the smoothness of the Powershift transmission. In past iterations of the Powershift transmission, there seems to be a little shift shock when shifting at slow, city speeds. It's most evident when shifting from 1st to 2nd and from 2nd to 3rd, and can be felt in the current Focus (1.6, 2.0, previous gen TDCi) and Fiesta (current 1.5, previous 1.4 and 1.6).
The shift shock is not so obvious in the 1.0 EcoBoost, but it's there. This is due to the fact that the Powershift transmission makes use of dry clutches and electronic actuation instead of hydraulics like a torque converter in a conventional automatic. The behavior at low speed isn't as smooth as I would like, but the lower power output at lower RPMs tends to minimize that, and once the engine is revving up, Powershift works perfectly.
Out of city limits, we were given the opportunity to open up the tap and see what the Fiesta EcoBoost can do. It's respectably quick, being able to do a 0-100 km/h sprint in 11.4 seconds; pretty good for a B-car.
Where the Fiesta EcoBoost shines is in terms of response. Even without using the sport (S) setting for the transmission and the Selectshift buttons (it still feels odd to shift that way), the dual clutch transmission responds instinctively. Increase your pedal pressure during a cruise and the gearbox will kick down a cog or two, matching your right foot's command for more speed; something the spooled up turbo will oblige as well. Overtaking is a breeze and sustaining speed is easy.
After a stint with the sedan, I switch on over to the hatchback. Same as the car may be, the Fiesta hatchback is still a personal favorite over the sedan as far as design is concerned; and the all black interior looks better too.
The best part is that the ride and noise levels are improved over the old model; actually, it's a big improvement. As for fuel economy? For starters, the EcoBoost Fiesta does 100 km/h at 2250 rpm in 6th gear. After zeroing the trip computer on the highway (level road, some downhill portions) and onto one of the rest stops (light city driving), the readout was holding at 5.8 liters per 100 kilometers at an average speed of 72 km/h. After a bit of math, that comes down to 17.2 km/l; mind you, that's just a read out, and only a full-to-full test can really establish the proper figure.
From the driver's seat, the Fiesta hatch is simply fun, and it so happens to coincide with a stint on an exhilarating mountain road filled with tight, winding and blind exit corners. It's a good thing that the Fiesta EcoBoost handles, brakes and accelerates with confidence. And then some.
Boosted to lead
It's times like these that -as a car enthusiast- you feel for the Ford Fiesta EcoBoost. The Fiesta has sold reasonably well in our market, but not enough to significantly pose a challenge to the undisputed king of auto sales in the Philippines: the Toyota Vios.
During a casual conversation with the regional engineers and management behind the 2013 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost, we shared that technology, safety features and a fun drive have a tendency to take a back seat (a distant back seat, to be exact) to residual/resale value and design. The Fiesta has the latter in spades, but resale is a bit of a challenge.
Can EcoBoost-power have an impact on the Ford Fiesta's performance on sales charts? That's something only the market can decide, and it's Ford Philippines' task to demonstrate to customers what the Fiesta EcoBoost is really about.
In terms of driving performance, technology and safety features, the Fiesta EcoBoost has undoubtedly taken the lead.