Ford’s three-cylinder uses less fuel than most hybrids
A THREE-CYLINDER Ford Fiesta sounds like a new starter car to me. I’m thinking a $15,000 price-fighter, economy ahead of comfort, and a new drive to the bottom of the baby car class.
The reality is quite different, from the alloy wheels and Sports badge to an engine that’s loaded with 21st-century technology. Not to mention quietness and comfort.
So the Fiesta Sport goes down as the first big surprise of 2014. It’s a fair bit better than I expect and a couple of guest drivers have no idea that the Carsguide test car is one cylinder short of the regular roll call.
My own time with triples goes back to the very early 1980s, and the first Daihatsu Charade to hit Australia. It was a raw little beastie, fun for sure and costing less than $10,000, but also fully loaded with noise, vibration and harshness.
I recall clearly a romp around Canberra with Hans Tholstrup — a Danish-born adventurer then at the height of his powers — that included blasting across a bridge towards Parliament House with the cabin filled by the sound of alarm bells. “Nothing to worry about,” says Hans, conveniently failing to mention that the bells signal exceeding Japan’s 100km/h speed limit, while we’re in an Aussie 60 zone.
Anyway, this new Fiesta is nothing like that Charade. For a start, it rattles the scoreboard at $22,525 with a six-speed PowerShift automatic.
It’s also comfortable and refined, chock-full of features and fine for the sort of longdistance trip that Hans and the original Charade would have turned into a torture test.
It’s just landed as the flagship of the facelifted and improved Fiesta range, which now wears a frontal treatment similar to an Aston Martin and pricing from $15,825 for — ironically — a car with a larger 1.5-litre engine under the bonnet.
We’ll get to that. First, a quick look at how the power of three is bringing newgeneration super-frugal engines to the world of motoring.
There’s even a triple twist to Formula One in 2014, although it’s a double deal that means tiny 1.6-litre V6s — tweaked by turbocharging and twinned with hybrid technology — will be used for grand prix racing.
The new generation of three-cylinder road car engines is small, light and, thanks to modern turbocharging, capable of making good power and torque without sacrificing economy on a light throttle.
In the case of the EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta, we’re talking 92kW/170Nm with economy as frugal as 4.9L/100km.
It’s a similar approach to other EcoBoost family engines, which with reduced displacement and turbocharging power the Focus, EcoSport, Mondeo and Falcon in Australia, as well as the F-Series truck in the US.
The cylinder block of the Fiesta motor is so small it will sit on a single sheet of A4 paper and it weighs less than 100kg. The 1.0-litre has 25 per cent fewer moving parts and far less internal friction than a fourcylinder.
The new-age triple in the Renault Captur SUV, the subject of a solid Carsguide preview drive in Europe, is also fitted to the compact Clio. BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among the wide range of companies developing similar engines.
Renault has taken the usual economy track with its 900cc triple, attaching it only to a fivespeed manual gearbox and driving the base price of the Clio down to $16,990. It’s not confirmed yet for the Captur in Australia but that’s just a question of time and the demands of the cash-strapped Gen-Ys who are the target buyers for the city runabout.
As for the Fiesta, the Sport with triple replaces the previous Zetec model. That means it gets everything from seven airbags to Ford Sync with hands-free, voice-activated connectivity including Bluetooth.
The price is up by $35 over the old Zetec car but, says Ford spokesman Neil McDonald, there is extra equipment and the EcoBoost engine is not cheap.
The car is built in costeffective Thailand, although the powertrain package,