If you thought all the droning on about fuel economy and emissions was boring, try Ford's Fiesta ECOnetic. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
If you find the automotive industry's current obsession with fuel economy, exhaust emissions and generally appearing to be greener than the Amazon rain forest an ideal cure for insomnia, then Ford's most frugal diesel Fiesta, the 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic, may not be your kind of car. Efficiency-minded families though will prick up their ears at the thought of 85mpg combined cycle and a CO2 return of just 87g/km.
Most people would agree that the moves being made by the automotive industry to clean up its act are important and largely laudable. Whether more could be being done and to what degree the car companies behind this drive to protect the planet are motivated by profit are moot points. Things are moving in a positive direction and cars like the Fiesta ECOnetic are in the vanguard. While we wait for hydrogen fuel cells, solar power, ethanol, chip fat, fermented onions or some other alternative to step convincingly into the breach currently occupied by fossil fuels, cars like the Fiesta ECOnetic are amongst the best options we have. They're small, light and aerodynamic so they can be powered effectively by small, economical engines. The problem is that so many of them are so boring. We all want cars that are affordable and economical but wouldn't it be nice if they were fun too? This desire for some excitement to get our teeth into as a side order with our green vehicles could play into the Fiesta ECOnetic's hands.
The 1.6-litre TDCi engine in the ECOnetic doesn't educe Goosebumps when you plant the throttle but it's reasonably punchy and it doesn't sound too gruff. We had no problem cruising at high speeds on motorways where the refinement remains perfectly acceptable and in town where you can surf around on the engine's bulging torque curve, it feels genuinely nippy. The best bit though is the Fiesta's chassis. Ford has a shining reputation for the driving dynamics of its cars and the Fiesta is pretty near the pick of the back. It feels alive and fast in its responses, cornering with barely a flicker of body roll and more grip than the ECOnetic's engine could hope to overcome. Despite the Fiesta's infectious verve through the bends, it still manages to deliver a compliant ride when cruising, the suspension dancing over the lumps and knobbles of the surface. Some are fractionally more comfortable but there isn't a supermini that's better to drive in its mainstream form than the Fiesta, while the ECOnetic outclasses most other economy-focused superminis by a distance. Variations on the Fiesta theme may come and go but before driving any version of Ford's definitive supermini, there's one thing you almost always know for certain: that it'll be a great steer. There's a deftness to the way this car responds, an agility to the way it nips around the bends that no other small car can quite match. Rest to 62mph occupies 11.2s on the way to 112mph.
Design and Build
Unlike, say, a Toyota Prius hybrid which is designed to look unusual and mildly futuristic so other road users know its driver is helping save the ice caps with every squeeze of the throttle, the Fiesta ECOnetic looks much like the average Fiesta. Only the ECOnetic logo on its rump risks giving the game away. In the interests of aerodynamic efficiency, the car also has the lowered suspension from the Zetec S models so, if anything, it looks sportier than the average Fiesta too. Otherwise, it's the usual recipe we're now familiar with from this improved seventh generation Fiesta range. As before, it's offered in both three and five-door bodystyles and both are tidy pieces of styling with a look these days dominated by a massive Aston Martin-like trapezoidal five-bar chrome front grille that's bracketed by a smarter set of laser-cut headlamps with LED daytime running lights. The bonnet also has a more aggressive 'power dome' shape Inside, the twin-cowled instrument cluster and boldly jutting centre console with its winged mobile 'phone-inspired layout for the minor controls remains and though a few areas of low rent plastic can still be found, overall, it's now a much smarter cabin, with a high-gloss finish for the upper instrument panel that flows to the lower centre console and is replicated in the door panels. If you're going to be using the back seats regularly, opt for the five-door version: in the three-door, the windows are small and set high up, so light isn't abundant. Either way though, you might be surprised at the space available: even a couple of six-footers should be reasonably happy here. Lift the tailgate and you'll find that as before, there's 276-litres on offer with the seats up and 960-litres with the seats folded flat.
Market and Model
Expect to pay in the £15,000 to £17,000 bracket for this 95PS 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic diesel Fiesta - so you're looking at a premium of around £900 over the 75PS 1.5-litre TDCi model. Seems like money well spent given the better performance and the extra 10mpg you'll get. Whichever flavour of Fiesta you choose, equipment runs to a six-speaker stereo with aux-in and USB compatibility, front electric windows, power mirrors, body-coloured bumpers, 60/40 split-folding rear seats and headlamps that stay on at night to guide you to your front door. One intriguing innovation is MyKey, a segment-first technology feature that allows parents to pre-programme a maximum speed and even the stereo volume if they lend the car to a young driver or a friend. Another interesting innovation is SYNC, an in-car connectivity system that features Emergency Assistance in an accident. Plus there's the optional Active City Stop system that at speeds of under 20mph, uses a radar system mounted in the top of the windscreen to constantly scan the road ahead for potential collision hazards.
Cost of Ownership
Modifications designed to enhance this car's efficiency include a special electric power steering system, low rolling resistance tyres and a gear-change light that prompts you to change up at the optimum time but these are fairly unobtrusive. Most important is a start stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck at the lights or waiting in traffic. These tweaks apart, the driver is otherwise free to get on with enjoying one of the best handling small cars in the business. As for the cost of ownership results, well this car's 1.6-litre diesel registers just 87g/km and a combined economy figure of 85.7mpg. For me, it's a far better choice than the not much cheaper - and much slower - 1.5-litre TDCi 75PS diesel variant (which manages 76.3mpg and 98g/km).
The push for more efficient cars is important but it can also be a bit of a turn off. People will always be inspired by cars that look good and can excite on the road, even if their heads and bank balances are lobbying for something economical. The Fiesta ECOnetic does a fine job of compromise between these different criteria. It neatly demonstrates that outright pace and power are not essentials in an enjoyable driver's car, while managing to be one of the most fuel efficient cars in its class into the bargain.