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Car reviews - Ford - Fiesta - Econetic 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Economy, low emissions, torque, contemporary styling, cabin presentation, handling, grip, safety, refinement, comfort, affordability
Room for improvement
No auto option, no rear power windows, rear cushion won’t fold down flush any more, restrictive rear vision, no 6th gear, a bit of road noise intrusion

18 Mar 2010

TO paraphrase a famous line from a so-so film, can YOU handle the truth that is Ford’s Fiesta Econetic?

After all, this five-door, five-seater hatchback – Ford’s first diesel in the light-car class – delivers a better combined-average fuel consumption figure than any other newie on the Australian market. It almost matches the Toyota Prius for low carbon dioxide pollution, and – at under $25,000 driveaway – undercuts the hybrid by about $18,000.

The similarly priced Fiat Punto Dynamic Multijet 1.3L and upcoming Volkswagen Polo 66TDI diesels get within range of the eco Fiesta but neither are quite as focussed on parsimony as the German Ford.

However, for all the latter’s many and varied good stuff, you need to change gears yourself, put up with manual rear window winders, and rely on only a puncture-repair kit.

Furthermore, a Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are both significantly larger than the supermini Fiesta. But they’re also heavier and far less chuckable.

As with the Honda, only different wheel designs and badges set the thriftiest Fiesta from more mundane models. We reckon Ford is missing a trick by not going for more visual titillation, but then we concede that affordability and brand building are probably key Econetic objectives.

If you’re familiar with a Fiesta CL or LX, the cabin is pretty much identical too – save for a recalibrated tachometer and ‘upshift’ instrument arrow to inform the driver when the optimum time is to move up a gear. Strangely, though, there is no shift-down prompter.

So, as with all versions, entry and egress is easy on this five-door Ford. There’s more than the usual front-seat legroom. Seats are thin but supportive, even on longer trips, with an absolutely first-class driving position that is enhanced by ample forward vision, a seat-height adjustor as well as a thinly-gripped but nicely sized and good looking three-spoke steering wheel, which tilts but won’t telescope. All are fine Fiesta traits.

More praise is warranted for the mobile phone-like design of the audio/car settings interface, grouped in the upper part of the console. Flanked by air vents on either side, a visual ‘Dumbo’ effect is going on here, giving the Fiesta’s interior more personality than you might expect in a light car.

The wide door pockets, big glovebox, various cupholders and myriad storage slots available up front mean this car can virtually double up as your mobile hand (or ‘man’) bag.

Ford of Europe has been building Fiestas for almost 35 years, and it shows.

But while the front part of the cabin is mid-spec Fiesta LX bordering on Zetec sass, the rear is where the base CL cost cuts come into sharp focus.

Having no rear power windows is perhaps the biggest omission – and this will be a deal breaker for many. We can forgive no centre armrest and just one backseat map pocket, but why no overhead grab handles? At least Ford fits coat hooks.

The rear seat accommodation itself is pretty exemplary for a littlie, with a comfy backrest and cushion, lap-sash seatbelts for all three occupants, a reasonable amount of space for legs and heads and pleasant cloth trim.

But too bad those windows do not wind all the way down – a mystery considering the shallowness of the glass area. And, as with all current-gen Fiestas, the rear cushions don’t tilt forward like they used to in the boxier WP/WQ ancestor, which allowed for the backrest to rest flush with the rear boot floor.

Speaking of the hatch, Ford deserves credit for fitting an exterior door release, and there is an appreciable amount of depth in which to load things into. That wheel-repair kit is a kilo-cutting move to help the Ecotec eke out its maximum economy potential. Tidy – until a flat happens.

Overall though, the Econetic’s packaging is fine for four adults, a tight squeeze if a fifth squeezes in, and up-to-the-minute contemporary in a manner that helps make living with it a breeze.

And while those AWOL rear power windows still has us shaking our heads, that $25K ask seems reasonable with inclusive Bluetooth connectivity, voice control interface, LED screen for all the car’s functionalities, steering-wheel-mounted buttons, lane-change indicators, cruise control, MP3/iPod/USB jacks, (just OK in our high-mileage test car) air-con, remote locking and trip computer. An AU Fairmont Ghia of a decade ago would seem bare by comparison.

Happily enough, you don’t get much engine noise intrusion either, after a typically diesely start-up phase, and on the move the 1.6-litre TDCi powerplant continues to impress with its quiet refinement.

This four-pot belts along too. With just 4500rpm on the rev counter before the red line appears, the diesel relies on the turbo to help plump out the available torque. It succeeds too, since the driver can tootle about in a higher gear than might be wise in the (sweet) petrol sibling and still have sufficient tractability to keep ahead of the traffic.

Which is exactly the way the Econetic has been geared for.

In first gear, a change up is suggested by that eager little green arrow in the tacho from about 1500rpm in second it comes on at about 1700rpm, and then continues that way until you’re in fifth gear – and yet the Ford can still only be travelling as slowly as 65km/h when that call comes.

We were in the high-5s litres per 100km when guided by the eco light in inner-urban areas, which is quite astoundingly low fuel consumption when considering the amount of stop-starting undertaken (now that would certainly come in handy here too), and with the not-very-cold air-con going the whole time to boot.

Aiding this all is a short, sweet and precise five-speed manual gearshift – a trannie that goes a long way to compensate for the AWOL auto ‘box. Still, we couldn’t help but think what an appealing proposition an Econetic fitted with Ford’s dual-clutch Powershift would be. It might prove even more frugal too.

And then we gladly decimated our miserly ways by revving out the flexible TDCi beyond the 5000rpm no-go zone – this is a diesel after all. Yet driven like a petrol engine (that is, revving the sombrero off the Fiesta), the Econetic is surprisingly responsive and far swifter than a greenie weenie ought to be. Predictably, our fuel figure soared past 7.5L/100km even after a short spurt of such spirited driving.

Now, being a modern European Ford, there is plenty to be said about the way the Econetic steers, handles and rides.

Even on the Michelin 175/65/R14 low rolling-resistance rubber rimming our test car, the Econetic tips confidently into corners, with sufficient roadholding abilities to put a smile on your dial should a series of interesting corners beckon.

Ford has tuned the stability control to come in gently, and the brakes are defined by their ability to retard the Fiesta quickly and cleanly, and the whole ebbing and flowing of speed is smooth and predictable.

Downsides? We lament Ford’s decision to ditch hydraulic for electricity in its rack and pinion steering system, since the result is a direct but perhaps a jot too light feel.

Furthermore, the Econetic’s lower ride height means a tad more scraping of the undercarriage when traversing larger speed humps than you might expect. The ride can seem a bit sudden on rougher roads, and there’s quite a bit of tyre noise entering the interior on certain surfaces.

And here’s the rub about this particular eco warrior.

We found ourselves wondering ultimately if we would prefer the petrol engine, since it is such a delightfully eager and revvy unit that can be quite economical anyway. It is one of the regular Fiesta’s best features actually.

So, the question begs again: how strong is your environmental resolve?

At under $25K, 3.7L/100km and 98g/km of CO2, the Fiesta Econetic is king, offering virtually all the compromise-free eco motoring – bar an auto and rear power windows – that a modern new-car buyer with a conscience can hope for.

But if you can’t handle what the Ford lacks, then buy a Fiesta LX petrol and pocket the $5000 saving, or start saving more for the Prius or Mini D.

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