2010 Ford Fiesta ECOnetic Review
CLEVER MOVE FORD AUSTRALIA... on the day that Toyota rolled its first hybrid Camry off its Altona production line last week, Ford launched Australia's most fuel-efficient car - the Fiesta ECOnetic.
And, as many of you will know, there is not a lithium-ion battery nor electric motor in sight.
Ford's Fiesta ECOnetic simply relies on a super-efficient diesel engine, a unique transmission with tweaked final-drive ratios, low rolling-resistance tyres and a bit of fiddling with the ride height and basic aerodynamics to take the bacon.
In fuel efficiency, with an official fuel economy rating of 3.7 l/100km, the Fiesta diesel is a mile ahead of the much larger Camry Hybrid. It also pips the Prius at the post. So, who needs the technical complexities of tandem drive and a battery pack when a simple but very clever oil-burner can whip 'em?
Even in CO2 emissions, the ECOnetic is the first 'conventional-engined' car in the Australian market to come in under the magic 100g/km, sneaking in with 98g/km. This compares with the MINI Cooper Dâ€™s 104g/km - which is next best of the conventional brigade - and the Pruis with top spot, emitting just 89g/km.
Yes, we tried it, and it works. Driving to maximize fuel efficiency but covering a mix of roads and conditions, including a relatively light urban commute (through Canberra) and a longish stint through the ranges north of the national capital, we recorded a planet friendly 3.1 l/100km.
The consumption of the Fiesta ECOnetic, with urban cycle fuel consumption of 4.6 l/100km and a highway cycle figure of a mind-bending 3.2 l/100km, is little short of astonishing. But perhaps more surprising is the way it performs.
Forget pre-conceived notions about how a â€˜fuel-miserâ€™ is supposed to drive. The Fiesta sacrifices nothing at the wheel in delivering its extraordinary economy figures. If anything, for its tractable, effortless and under-stressed diesel power, the ECOnetic is the pick of the Fiesta stable for performance.
So, here is your car if saving the planet is on top of your "to do" list today.
More to the point, here is your car if you simply don't like fuel bills but want a small car that looks good and performs well.
Externally, the ECOnetic shares its styling with the rest of the Fiesta range.
That, of course, is a good thing. The dynamic and modern lines of the WS Fiesta give it real verve and personality. In our view, for aesthetics, it is the segment leader and a high point in modern Ford design.
Available in five-door hatch form only, the ECOnetic is, to the casual observer, not greatly different to a base model Fiesta CL (though it is specced to align with the Zetec).
The 14-inch steel wheels and their aero-optimised hubcaps are unique (and also the smallest wheels in the Fiesta line-up), and a prominent ECOnetic badge on the tailgate is another hint at its environmentally-friendly credentials.
The ECOnetic also rides lower than the standard Fiesta (a feature designed to cut aerodynamic drag).
As we have noted in earlier reviews, â€œthe Fiestaâ€™s interior works. The â€˜transformerâ€™ dash and console are just right. Smart, distinctive, as modern as next year, with good quality materials and everything right at hand.â€?
That impression remains. There is a very nice marriage of function and crisp styling in the Fiesta range. The trim, fit and â€˜feelâ€™ throughout is impressive and a distinct step up from the Yaris, Getz and Barina.
It is also a place where you can get settled very comfortably behind the wheel, not something always achieved in a smaller car.
The seats are good, not especially 'grippy', but comfortable and well shaped (at least for this frame).
And, as we've noted in earlier reviews, access to both front and rear is good with quite long doors tucked into its swoopy but compact dimensions. Boot space with all seats in place is limited, but the split-folding seats add versatility and a lot of extra cargo room when needed.
It can carry four adults in comfort and with reasonable leg-room, five at a stretch for shorter trips (three kids will have no trouble fitting across the back). No doubt many of us are praying for the day when we see more cars like the Fiesta ECOnetic doing the school run and less gargantuan four-wheel drives.
Equipment and Features
The ECOnetic's standard specification is a grab-bag of what's available on other Fiesta models in the range. Air-conditioning is offered as standard, along with a trip computer, cruise control and electric front windows.
The rear windows wind up manually, but, unlike the CL, the ECOnetic features the same six-speaker premium sound system as the LX and Zetec.
The head-unit incorporates an AM/FM tuner and a single-disc CD player, which can read MP3 file formats. A 3.5mm auxillary audio jack and a USB input for external music players are provided, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls are standard.
As a weight-saving measure, the ECOnetic features a tyre inflation kit instead of a proper spare tyre. All other Fiesta models use a 14-inch steel space-saver.
While the Fiesta CL and LX only offer dual front airbags and ABS as standard safety equipment, the Econetic also gets dual side and head airbags for the front seats, a driver's knee airbag, stability control, traction control and electronic brake assist.
Such safety gear is only offered as part of an option package on the LX and CL; the only other Fiesta model to be fitted with the extra airbags and electronic systems is the range-topping Zetec.
The ECOnetic is powered by a 1.6 litre Duratorq TDCi common rail diesel engine producing maximum power of 66kW at 4000 rpm and peak torque of 200Nm at just 1750 rpm. It is specially calibrated for maximum fuel efficiency and features a coated particulate filter to keep emissions low.
Manual only at present, it comes with a nicely-weighted five-speed with a tall fourth and a very tall fifth. (There is no automatic currently available, but inside word suggests that a twin-clutch version - similar to the slick Focus PowerShift - will arrive in this market next year.)
There are other engineering refinements to the transmission to reduce drag, but as far as the driver is concerned, it has a nice sporty feel and begs to be snapped through the shortish 'gate'.
We've commented in earlier reviews of the manual petrol-engined Fiesta that reverse was sometimes a little elusive, occasionally needing to be pulled in firmly to slot home. There are no such quibbles with the ECOnetic diesel manual.
Australian Fiestas get a slightly softer suspension setting than the Euro models; the ECOnetic, as mentioned, sits a little lower than its stablemates.
This has not affected its comfort nor on-road performance. If anything, it seems to have improved it. Though lower, the ECOnetic hasn't lost the initial compliance of the petrol-engined models, giving a quite surprisingly good ride over broken surfaces (without noisy jarring and pitching) and firming progressively for handling response.
There is nothing sophisticated about it - McPherson strut front suspension with twin-tube shocks and torsion bar rear with monotube shocks â€“ but, as we have commented in earlier reviews, it is hard to find fault with the way the chassis, damping and steering works.
When Ford Australia boss Marin Burela described the Fiesta ECOnetic as â€œa greener vehicle that delivers economy without compromiseâ€? it may have sounded more like PR fluff than something youâ€™d take to the bank.
But after a day at the wheel, weâ€™re convinced. In fact, take it to any bank you like, this is one decent drive.
Ford's experience with diesel engines shows in the understressed triumph of engineering under the bonnet. This is a seriously capable unit. It goes about things with a nice rounded diesel humm, and even when lugging at low speeds in higher gears, diesel clatter is barely perceptible and will pass by most drivers completely unnoticed.
And although the output numbers are modest, it feels very strong and will hang onto fifth gear tenaciously up hill and down dale if kept above 1500rpm (peak torque is at a low and very tractable 1750rpm).
Putting a robust diesel â€“ even one with its output clipped for maximum economy â€“ into a car the size and weight of the Fiesta was always going to result in something interesting. In the Fiesta ECOnetic, you get a vehicle that is as close as weâ€™ve found to the best of both worlds for light cars.
Because it feels so incredibly robust (with the low-down torque of a tractor), it completely changes the character of the Fiesta without losing the good bits. It feels less like a small car; it can be driven lazily and effortlessly simply by letting the torque of the engine haul things around.
The handling at the wheel hasn't changed though. It is just as sharp as its class-leading 1.6 litre petrol-engined siblings; it tracks with the same accuracy and with the same go-kart balance and agility, and is at least as much fun to drive.
If anything, perhaps because it sits a little lower, it seems to sit a little flatter when being pushed. We had it nowhere near its outer margins of performance, we were driving to stretch the economy, but we have no reason to doubt that it would be a near match point-to-point, perhaps quicker, than its petrol-engined confrers.
Like nearly all modern diesels, it really hauls through the midspeeds if you tap those 200Nm on the shoulder. For overtaking, or for driving with a load up, few in the class will come near to matching it.
Though it can be rowed along and snapped through the five-speed transmission, the real story is in its remarkable consumption figures. When on the road, either on city streets or the highway, it seems to use no fuel.
It is so good it starts to mess with the head. Few drivers will be able to resist the challenge of trying to stretch it out - it becomes a battle with the car: "How low can this little jigger go?"
There is an arrow that lights up on the rev-counter to tell you when to change gears for best fuel economy. Whether you drive taking its advice, or without it, only the heaviest and most unsympathetic foot could affect the fuel consumption.
In our hands, the gauge seemed to remain firmly stuck on â€˜fullâ€™. Drive it for three hours, and, as the consumption readings drop â€“ from 4.1 l/100km, to 3.6 l/100km, to 3.2 l/100km - the â€˜distance to emptyâ€™ readout starts becoming faintly ridiculous.
Even after nearly four hours of driving, it was still showing more than 900km to empty. Anyone can save money driving this car. Most could at least halve their fuel bills.
Importantly, they will also enjoy the experience at the wheel while they're doing it.
If you were to think that the Fiesta ECOnetic was all about its astonishing fuel efficiency, and nothing else, you would be mistaken.
Itâ€™s a Fiesta, and it drives like one. That means superb balance, brilliant underpinnings, precision at the wheel, and willing performance.
As we have noted in previous reviews, the Fiesta is the benchmark for the light car sector in handling. In manual form, petrol or diesel (the ECOnetic is currently available only in manual), it is a responsive and enjoyable steer. (It remains such a pity that the petrol auto lets the team down with a struggling 1.4 litre and off-the-pace automatic.)
If the Powershift twin clutch auto-shifting transmission makes it into the ECOnetic as some reports suggest, it will be a world-beater. End of story.
For its purchase price, $24,990 drive away, internal space efficiency (its interior dimensions are not far shy of the Prius), its running costs and inherently simpler engineering, the ECOnetic is a hybrid crusher. We havenâ€™t seen any pricing scales for all-electric vehicles (EVs), but chances are itâ€™s an EV crusher too.
The affordable Fiesta ECOnetic is a very important car and, make no mistake, the direction for the future. What it achieves in fuel economy was unthinkable just a few years ago.
For small families wanting to save on fuel bills without sacrificing performance, or, for that matter, anyone wanting a sharp handling and appealingly-styled car that uses less fuel than a hybrid, the ECOnetic deserves a very very close look.
The ECOnetic, Australiaâ€™s most fuel-efficient car, is a landmark achievement for Ford. In being priced squarely for the average buyer, it is perhaps the most important release of the year.
It is an exceptionally appealing package and will, in time, redefine the light car sector. (Meanwhile Ford, get a wriggle on with the twin-clutch auto transmission).