"The impressive all-round package promised on paper is being delivered in reality.."
I don't know about you, but I get distinctly disillusioned by most car manufacturer economy claims. I was driving Vauxhall's Ampera the other week and without driving the thing as if I'd stolen it, I recorded 45mpg - which seemed a long way from its claimed 235.4mpg figure. With this fresh in my mind, I was distinctly sceptical when I was informed that my next long term test car would be Ford's eco champ, the Fiesta ECOnetic. Was I setting myself up for more disappointment? Straight away there are compensations that I kept rolling over in my mind as I waited to take delivery. I can't remember the last time that Ford made a Fiesta that didn't drive well. Actually I can, but it was a long, long time ago. For the last ten years at least, the Fiesta has been the dynamic benchmark for superminis to take a tilt at. So I doubted I was going to get a car that was a duffer to drive, eco pretensions notwithstanding. So what's the deal with the ECOnetic? In short, it's all about the 87g/km emissions reading and the 78.5mpg fuel economy figure. I got the calculator out and figured that it only needed to do 15mpg to be proportionately closer to its manufacturer-claimed numbers than the much-vaunted Ampera, something even I was confident of achieving. As you might have surmised from those rather precise numbers, it's only available with one engine and you won't be shocked to learn that it's a diesel. Under the bonnet lies a specially calibrated version of the 1.6-litre, 94bhp Duratorq TDCi engine featuring a complicated longer final-drive-ratio that I won't trouble you with. By comparison, a Fiesta 1.4 TDCi, with 15bhp less, manages 68.9mpg and 107g/km. This ECOnetic stuff is more than just a marketing wheeze and some badging then. It really seems to work.
As suspected, there's an Auto-Start-Stop system to cut then engine when you don't need it, such as when you're in stationary traffic or waiting at lights. A no-maintenance, coated Diesel Particulate Filter (c-DPF) is also fitted, designed to regenerate automatically during normal driving conditions. We've heard stories in other cars of DPFs clogging up during prolonged urban use, so I'll make sure that it gets a good stretch of its legs on the local motorways. This ECOnetic model is also helped to its frankly incredible emissions rating by its steering system. Rather than run a hydraulic pump all the time, which is wasteful of energy, this Fiesta features a more efficient electrical power assisted steering (EPAS) set-up. This operates only when required and delivers its fuel savings by operating only when steering assistance is needed. Although it's one of the first things you notice in this car when you pull away, it's a good system of its type. I used to love the weightiness of the old Fiesta's steering but was never so keen on it when trying to park. This time round, the ECOnetic offers more steering assistance at parking speeds and couples that with a smaller turning circle to make it easier to inch the thing into a tight place. Just as well, because at 395cm long and with a relatively high rear end, the Fiesta isn't otherwise the simplest car in its class to park. If there was one area where Fiestas have traditionally been some way off the class best, it's been in interior design. The exterior styling of this model is spot-on, with none of the gawkiness you expect from eco cars. In fact, it adopts the lower ride height of the sporty Zetec-S model for aerodynamic efficiency they say, but I'm certainly not complaining. I'm not quite so struck by the plastic wheel trims but needs must. They're apparently very aerodynamic. The cabin seems quite well screwed together, but I wouldn't put it on a par with the latest Peugeot 208 or Renault Clio. It's far from the biggest car in the supermini bracket too, with reasonable, if not outstanding, stowage space, the boot capable of swallowing 295-litres (or 979-litres with the seats folded). Still, clever storage areas abound throughout the cabin, including charging points for mobile 'phones and MP3 players. Equipment-wise, all the basics are there. That means stability control, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, electric windows, an immobiliser, front, side and knee airbags, a CD player with wheel-mounted controls, central locking and electric, heated mirrors. I really liked the EasyFuel cap-less refuelling as when chopping and changing between cars, it's sometimes scarily easy to pick up the wrong pump. It's not a girl thing either. I can name and shame a couple of the male members here who've had to make That Call to the press offices! The low-rolling resistance tyres gave me a little cause for concern at first as I was worried that they might be very firm, offering longer braking distances and poor ride quality, but I've had a good go at them in the wet and dry and they're not at all bad. Okay, it's fairly easy to overwhelm the fronts in damp conditions, but that's only to be expected. Drive sensibly and you'd never know they were anything different to a standard tyre. Economy? I did better than 15mpg you'll be pleased to hear. In fact, I've been managing a figure well into the sixties and that's with a fair smattering of urban driving and also travelling four-up. Okay, so it's not 78.5mpg but I'm still impressed. Overall then, it's a promising start to our tenure with our long term Fiesta ECOnetic. Other rivals may have the edge in certain areas but the impressive all-round package promised on paper is being delivered in reality.
Facts at a Glance
FACTS AT A GLANCE CAR: Ford Fiesta ECOnetic PRICES: £14,445-£16,795 - on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 11 CO2 EMISSIONS: 87g/km PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 12.9s/ Max Speed 111mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 78.5mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: six airbags / ABS & EBD /ESP WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Height mm 3950/1787/1481 WHO TO SEE: