It used to be that there was \"no replacement for displacement.\" Ten years ago, the Ford to have was the F-150 Lariat or the Expedition: a ton and a half of American steel, powered by a 4.6-liter Triton V8. It wasn\'t the biggest V8 in Ford\'s lineup, but it was the biggest one to be shipped over here. The only thing bigger was the 5.3-liter Vortec in the Chevrolet Suburban and Silverado. At a time when 1.6-liter engines were the norm for passenger cars and 2.0-liter was considered upscale, having more than twice that displacement was a novelty, gas-guzzling issues aside.
These days, small engines are all the rage, particularly at Ford, which is trying to squeeze every last drop of performance from the smallest possible engine. It recently launched the 1.0-liter Fiesta EcoBoost with an introductory price of P898,000, officially making it the most expensive, three-cylinder car in the market today. Traditionalists may get over that shock when they consider that it makes 125hp while at the same time offering stellar fuel economy, theoretically better than most 1.5/1.6-liter cars of similar output since it has 40% to 50% less displacement.
But since I\'ve yet to drive the EcoBoost, I decided to try out the more conventional 1.5-liter Ford Fiesta Sport, updated with a facelift this year. Yes, that\'s 1.5, another \"downsize\" from the previous 1.6. And strange as it may seem, the 1.5 now takes second-banana status to the mighty mini 1.0-liter. It has a rather modest 112hp, but makes up for it with 140Nm of torque at 4,000rpm.
Much has been said of its Aston Martin-esque fascia, and I find that it grew on me after several days. I absolutely loved the sportiness of the pre-facelift Fiesta Sport, and the updated version trades some youthfulness for a little more maturity. The fascia with the powerdome hood looks quite British, but I miss the five-spoke wheels, which honestly wouldn\'t match the slatted theme of the new car. The grille has deleted the rather tacky, chrome parallelograms on the lower grille of the old model, instead opting for a clean treatment. The silhouette is still a lovable ovoid with its sharp accent lines and sleek roofline. Still, it\'s a toss-up as to which model is better-looking; methinks buyers of the old model won\'t love their Fiestas any less.
Without putting the Fiesta on the track for some proper acceleration tests, I really can\'t tell whether it\'s faster or slower than the old 1.6-liter. What I can say is that the drivetrain is very eager to get going, especially as Ford seems to have refined the software of the dual-clutch transmission for better responsiveness and less chance of gear-hunting at speed. The car creeps more easily in traffic, although it still tends to get \"clunky\" at low speeds. If your speed is highly variable in stop-and-go, cut-and-thrust traffic, the transmission tends to get confused between first, second and third gears as it tries to anticipate the gear you really need. To its credit, gearshifts are very quick, if not especially quiet. There is now a rocker button on the gearshift so you can hold or select a gear. Just like in the Explorer, the Focus and the Mustang, this is a very frustrating setup as you must leave your hand on the shifter if you want to go manual mode. You can\'t steer with both hands and quickly tug/push the shifter like with other manumatics. Instead, you either grope for the rocker when it\'s time to shift if you steer with both hands, or leave your hand stuck there and drive one-handed.
Still, I have to admit that the drivetrain works fine 90% of the time; it\'s just that 10% of the time when you\'d like to take things in your hands, the car is a killjoy. The engine has a throaty, very un-Japanese growl that\'s quite refreshing from the usual high-pitched snarl. Lightly loaded, it will get you up to highway speed rather quickly but begins to lose steam at around 120kph. Just like its bigger brother Focus, the Fiesta has the handling chops to really make you want to throw it around. Firm suspension, quick and communicative steering that doesn\'t feel too much like it\'s electric, and good, strong brakes. The chassis has such a naturally zippy feel that I found myself in \"hurry up\" mode even though I didn\'t really have to.
The cockpit is unchanged and is a nice place to be in for guys who like that cozy feeling. The seats are firm and supportive, and the dashboard has big, easy-to-read gauges and intuitive buttons. The LCD screen on the center of the dash washes out if you\'re wearing polarized glasses, though. And the Ford SYNC is still more of a novelty to me. I found that just dialing straight on my phone was much faster than using the voice command, although the hands-free feature is admittedly nice if you just have to call people up while driving. Props to Ford for not scrimping on the stereo bits; it\'s powerful and clear, and will only be upgraded by hardcore audiophiles. The backseat is a bit tight and best left to kids and tweens. Cargo space at the back is okay for a few bags, and you can fold down the seatbacks to free up more room. However, the king of cargo space among B-segment cars is still the flat-bottomed Honda Jazz.
Downsizing the engine a bit may have also been a bid to boost fuel economy. I had the car during All Saints/All Souls weekend and spent many hours stuck in traffic. The car still returned a low of 7.2km/L and a high of 10.42km/L on the highway, no fuel-saving techniques employed. With a price of P868,000, the Fiesta Sport is priced the same as a Hyundai Accent CRDi, is P30,000 less than the top-tier 1.0-liter EcoBoost, but P11,000 more than a Honda Jazz 1.5V. The Fiesta has a more upmarket feel than the Accent, but gets trumped by the latter\'s fuel efficiency. It\'s also pricier than the Jazz and trades utility for chic ambience.
And for those who can\'t come to grips with a 1.0-liter Fiesta that costs nearly P900,000--no matter how good that engine may be--then the 1.5 is a savvy marketing move.
Photos by Andy Leuterio