Ford Fiesta ECOnetic - The Eco Choice review

"On our long term test, we've averaged around 55mpg"

If you find the automotive industry's current obsession with fuel economy, exhaust emissions and generally appearing to be greener than Robin Hood's underpants an ideal cure for insomnia, I have some bad news for you. We've been undertaking a long term test drive in Ford's Fiesta ECOnetic. It's a normal Fiesta with all kinds of modifications designed to minimise its environmental impact and I'm going to tell you all about it. With a good proportion of the readership now snoozing contentedly, we can continue. 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 the best option 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.

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 wheel-trims and the ECOnetic logo on its rump risk 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. Other modifications designed to enhance the 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. 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. The design of the Fiesta reflects its sporty flavour with sharp lines outside and one of the more dramatic cabins you'll encounter in a supermini. The vibrant colour schemes and the sharply angled dash are a long way from the solid, simplicity you get from a Volkswagen Polo, for example. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but its tallies with the fun feel of the car. The control interface is easy to use after a little fiddling and there's decent storage space in cubbies at the base of the centre console and in the large door pockets. Rear leg room is pinched with a tall driver in situ but there's plenty of headroom, which you wouldn't necessarily credit when looking at the car's swooping roofline. 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. At risk of being boring, the bottom line of the Fiesta ECOnetic is CO2 emissions of 87g/km and official combined economy of 85.6mpg. On our long term test, we've averaged around 60mpg. That's with the Fiesta's sweet handling routinely goading us into being more liberal with the throttle than is strictly appropriate in a car with the ECOnetic's environmental conscience.

Facts at a Glance

CAR: Ford Fiesta ECOnetic PRICES: £14,595-£16,945 - on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 4 CO2 EMISSIONS: 87g/km PERFORMANCE: 0-60mph 12.9s / Max Speed 111mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: (urban) 74.3mpg / (extra urban) 91.1mpg / (combined) 85.6mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front & side airbags, driver's knee airbag, ABS WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/heightmm [5dr] 3958/1722/1481 WHO TO SEE: