What a difference one model year makes for the Fiesta. Last year, with its 120-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine it was zippy, and one of the best-handling, if not the perkiest, of the budget-priced subcompacts in its class.
Now, the 2014 Ford Fiesta offers that same engine, but two other serious upgrades this year round out the lineup for those willing to pay a bit extra for more performance, better fuel economy, or both. A new EcoBoost model eyes mileage figures and offers a little more kick, while the Fiesta ST is a full-fledged hot-hatch with 197 hp--which goes a long way in something so small and light.
One of them is an all-new engine for the U.S. market--a turbocharged, direct-injected 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine making 123 horsepower. But with its 148 pound-feet of torque made at just 1,400 rpm, this little engine is bound to feel considerably stronger than the base 1.6-liter four. It will only be offered with a manual transmission, while models with the 1.6-liter four come with a choice between a five-speed manual and six-speed PowerShift automatic.
We haven't been as impressed with the PowerShift automatic, which contributes to excellent gas mileage but doesn't always downshift promptly--or even upshift as smoothly (in the lower gears, especially) as a typical automatic.
With the standard four-cylinder engine, if you're willing to keep the revs up, you'll be happy enough with the performance you can extract from the Fiesta. It's plenty to move the 2,600-pound Fiesta quite rapidly. It's not quick by any gauge (we're talking about ten seconds to 60 mpg), but there's a sense of responsiveness you might not expect considering a car that can hit 40 mpg.
Much like the original Mazda Miata, the Fiesta does a great job convincing you it has more performance credentials than it really does, and good steering and suspension tuning is key to this. The electric power steering system has just the right amount of weighting and feedback, and the Fiesta feels responsive and nimble, but secure enough for highway trips. the Fiesta feels nimble around town, secure enough on the highway. This is a short car, and noticeable nosedive when stopping quickly is the only bothersome trait.
Opt for the Fiesta ST, and you won't be disappointed. This is a model with enough performance chops to excite serious enthusiasts on a budget. With the same basic layout at the other Fiesta models, plus a somewhat lowered, stiffer suspension, rear disc brakes, and a quicker steering ratio, as well as an eTVC (torque vectoring) system to help get all the engine's 214 lb-ft of torque (in overboost mode) to the road effectively (through grippy summer performance tires), the ST has the goods to challenge the likes of the MINI Cooper S and Hyundai Veloster Turbo--and possibly even win some buyers over from larger fast hatches like the VW GTI and Ford Focus ST.