2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium Econetic in Depth Look
Ford’s ECOnetic Fiesta Gets 65 MPG. You Can’t Have One.
BY BEN MACK02.10.09
The ECOnetic Fiesta that Ford sells in Europe is a sporty little five-passenger hatchback that gets 65 mpg and emits less CO2 than a Toyota Prius. It is the greenest family car sold in Britain and just the thing to boost Ford’s sales – and image – at home. But Ford has no plans to bring it to America for one simple, stupid, reason.
It’s a diesel.
The Fiesta sports a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection. It produces just 88 horsepower, so acceleration is, shall we say, relaxed, but European customers don’t seem to mind. They’ve snapped up more than 42,000 of them since the car’s debut last fall.
But we can only look on with envy.
Diesels are huge in Europe, where they comprise about half of all cars sold. They’re slowly catching on in America as European automakers like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz bring them here and the IRS offers tax credits to make them more attractive. Even Japanese automakers plan to roll them out in America. But the Big Three – which make and sell diesels in Europe – have shown little interest in offering them here because they don’t think it’s economically viable. They don’t see people buying them, so they can’t see making money on them.
“We don’t have a full scale energy policy in place in the U.S. that promotes the usage of diesel fuel,” Ford spokesman Said Deep told Wired.com. “So, we will bring the Fiesta to America in the most affordable manner.”
The US-bound Fiesta will arrive in 2010 with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas-burning engine with fuel economy in the high 30s. Nice, but less than half what the diesel gets. It’s hard to stomach considering the ECOnetic has exploded on the EU market like a pinata full of pesos. Aside from the stellar sales figures, the car – which starts at less than $13,000 – has been lauded with awards from the likes of What Car? and CleanGreenCar.com. The Sun predicts it will be Britain’s best-selling car this year.
J.D. Power and Associates predict that diesel sales will account for as much as 14 percent of the
U.S. auto market by 2017. European automakers Mercedes-Benz and VW are leading the way with cars like the E320 Bluetec and the Jetta TDI, which was named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. BMW may bring a diesel Mini to America in 2010. It helps that this new generation of clean diesel cars is eligible for a federal tax credit of $900 to $1,800.
Yet most Americans still associate diesels with 18-wheelers and buses, and taxes can make diesel as much as a dollar more a gallon than gasoline. Detroit is also committed to electric vehicles partly because American consumers don’t find diesel as sexy as hybrid or electric vehicle technology, even if diesels can deliver the same fuel economy at much lower cost.
“We have to change the perception of diesel in America and make sure it is not left out,” said Jeffrey Breneman, Executive Director of the U.S.
Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars. “It’s here today, not tomorrow.”
The 65 mpg Ford the U.S. Can’t Have
Ford’s Fiesta ECOnetic gets an astonishing 65 mpg, but the carmaker can’t afford to sell it in the U.S.
If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. Oh yes, and the car is made by Ford Motor (F), known widely for lumbering gas hogs.
Ford’s 2009 Fiesta ECOnetic goes on sale in November. But here’s the catch: Despite the car’s potential to transform Ford’s image and help it compete with Toyota Motor (TM) and Honda Motor (HMC) in its home market, the company will sell the little fuel sipper only in Europe. “We know it’s an awesome vehicle,” says Ford America President Mark Fields. “But there are business reasons why we can’t sell it in the U.S.” The main one: The Fiesta ECOnetic runs on diesel.
Automakers such as Volkswagen (VLKAY) and Mercedes-Benz (DAI) have predicted for years that a technology called “clean diesel” would overcome many Americans’ antipathy to a fuel still often thought of as the smelly stuff that powers tractor trailers. Diesel vehicles now hitting the market with pollution-fighting technology are as clean or cleaner than gasoline and at least 30% more fuel-efficient.
Yet while half of all cars sold in Europe last year ran on diesel, the U.S. market remains relatively unfriendly to the fuel. Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. “Americans see hybrids as the darling,” says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, “and diesel as old-tech.”
None of this is stopping European and Japanese automakers, which are betting they can jump-start the U.S. market with new diesel models. Mercedes-Benz by next year will have three cars it markets as “BlueTec.” Even Nissan (NSANY) and Honda, which long opposed building diesel cars in Europe, plan to introduce them in the U.S. in 2010. But Ford, whose Fiesta ECOnetic compares favorably with European diesels, can’t make a business case for bringing the car to the U.S.
TOO PRICEY TO IMPORT
First of all, the engines are built in Britain, so labor costs are high. Plus the pound remains stronger than the greenback. At prevailing exchange rates, the Fiesta ECOnetic would sell for about $25,700 in the U.S. By contrast, the Prius typically goes for about $24,000. A $1,300 tax deduction available to buyers of new diesel cars could bring the price of the Fiesta to around $24,400. But Ford doesn’t believe it could charge enough to make money on an imported ECOnetic.
Ford plans to make a gas-powered version of the Fiesta in Mexico for the U.S. So why not manufacture diesel engines there, too? Building a plant would cost at least $350 million at a time when Ford has been burning through more than $1 billion a month in cash reserves. Besides, the automaker would have to produce at least 350,000 engines a year to make such a venture profitable. “We just don’t think North and South America would buy that many diesel cars,” says Fields.
The question, of course, is whether the U.S. ever will embrace diesel fuel and allow automakers to achieve sufficient scale to make money on such vehicles. California certified VW and Mercedes diesel cars earlier this year, after a four-year ban. James N. Hall, of auto researcher 293 Analysts, says that bellwether state and the Northeast remain “hostile to diesel.” But the risk to Ford is that the fuel takes off, and the carmaker finds itself playing catch-up—despite having a serious diesel contender in its arsenal.
Business Exchange related topics:Global Auto IndustryU.S. AutomakersGreen CarsElectric CarsHybrid CarsDiesel Cars
Kiley is a senior correspondent in BusinessWeek’s Detroit bureau.
| Week at the wheel | Ford Fiesta ECOnetic | 4 Out Of 5 Stars Rating ****
Inside & Out: 4 Stars ****
At first glance, there’s little to distinguish the ECOnetic model from other Fiestas in the ranks of Ford’s supermini range. It has the same neat styling and crisp lines. However, peer closer and you’ll see the ECOnetic sits 10mm lower to the ground, which is the same amount as the sporty Zetec S model, though in the ECOnetic’s case it’s to do with improving efficiency rather than handling. There are also rear wind deflectors to better manage the flow of air over and around the Fiesta for less drag to help with fuel economy, while underneath there’s a shroud around the engine to also help lower drag. Take a peek at the tyres and you’ll see they are low rolling resistance items.
On the inside, the ECOnetic again looks much like any other Fiesta, with its cleverly detailed dash, comfortable seats and plenty of space in the front. Adult rear seat passengers will find legroom a little tight, but otherwise the Fiesta is a match for any rival on the space front. The only giveaway for the ECOnetic model inside is the gear shift indicator on the dash to tell the driver the optimum time to change gear for the best economy. As for the boot, there’s no spare wheel as Ford deems it excess weight and an enemy of economy, but the boot itself is the same size as any other Fiesta’s.
Engine & Transmission: 4 Stars ****
The 1.6-litre turbodiesel powering the ECOnetic model is not the full bore 109bhp unit we’ve been used to seeing in other Ford models. In its place, we have an 89bhp common rail turbodiesel that makes a relatively relaxed 150lb.ft of torque. In not overstraining the engine for ultimate power and push, Ford has pulled off a masterstroke. It may not be lightning quick off the mark – 0-62mph takes 12.3 seconds and top speed is 111mph – but the ECOnetic feels incredibly flexible and relaxed. The acceleration is sufficient to stay with traffic away from the lights and on the motorway there’s no need to swap down a gear to keep up.
Let the Fiesta ECOnetic do its stuff in the top ratio of its five-speed manual gearbox and it will happily propel you along with no fuss, no drama and barely any noise. Use the gears a bit more and the engine remains refined and it’s quite happy to spool up to the red line without recourse to coarseness. The five-speed manual gearbox is every bit as slick, light and accurate to operate as we’ve come to know and love from Ford gear shifts. A revised final drive ratio helps lower the revs at any given speed compared to a standard comparable Fiesta.
Ride & Handling: 5 Stars *****
It’s a Fiesta, so the ECOnetic does corners better than any other fuel miser supermini. This is a fact of life. The Fiesta is the best driving supermini money can buy and switching the suspension to economy settings by lowering it 10mm has done nothing to undermine this. If anything, the ECOnetic feels even more sublimely sure-footed around corners than other base model Fiestas so you can carry more speed, brake less and save more fuel. What a brilliant principle: make a car that’s more fun and involving to drive to save fuel. Ford, we applaud you.
Along with the twinkle-toed handling, the Fiestas steering is spot on. The electric assistance doesn’t rob it of feel yet it gives just the right amount of help whether parking in a tight space or swapping lanes on the motorway. Throw in a ride that offers superb control with top rank comfort, as well as excellent refinement, and you have a supermini package that can easily fool you into thinking this is a car from one or two classes above.
Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: 4 Stars ****
To endow the ECOnetic with its superb 76.3mpg combined economy and 98g/km carbon dioxide emissions, Ford has made some changes to the spec. There’s a reprogrammed ECU, low rolling resistance tyres, altered final drive ratio and the various aerodynamic aids mentioned above. However, the ECOnetic also does without standard air conditioning, which helps lower the price when compared to a 1.6 TDCi Zetec model. Go for air con as an option and the price is the same as the Zetec, though the Zetec has standard alloy wheels where the ECOnetic makes do with steel wheels and plastic trims.
However, we’re not going to carp on too much as the ECOnetic can manage more than 750 miles between fuel fills and during our week with the car the fuel gauge needle moved oh-so slowly over more than 400 miles of driving. Group 4 insurance is reasonable too and choosing the five-door model over the three-door only adds £300 to the final bill. The Fiesta ECOnetic is more expensive than some rivals, but it also looks set to hold its value very well to help offset this.
Overall: 4 Stars ****
We were already big fans of the Ford Fiesta thanks to its natty looks, comfort and, of course, the class-defining way it drives. With the ECOnetic, Ford has retained all of the essential bits we love about the Fiesta while bringing superb economy and emissions to the mix. Our only reason for not awarding the Fiesta ECOnetic a coveted full five-star rating is the price: it’s notably more than rivals from SEAT and Skoda. That said, if we were to put our cash where our cakehole is, we’d plump for the Fiesta.