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Sedan or Hatchback? Either Way Its A Sporty Small Car

The model-year 2014 Ford Fiesta is the best economy car for you if can sacrifice subcompact roominess for subcompact sportiness. The car gets a restyled nose for model-year 2014, and under the hood is a big surprise in a small package.

It’s a three-cylinder engine displacing just one liter. But it’s turbocharged and makes more power for its size than a 12-cylinder Lamborghini. It rates 45 mpg on the highway, too.

But naturally, there is a catch. Today’s Fiesta is essentially the same car Ford sells around the world. It’s a design collaboration between Ford of Europe and the company’s former partner Mazda, which sells its own version as the Mazda 2.

Subcompact-class rivals include the Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Sonic and Hyundai Accent. Like them, Fiesta is available as a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback. Both body styles return in three trim levels: entry S, volume-selling SE and well-equipped Titanium. Introduced for model-year 2014 is the pocket-rocket ST hatchback, complete with unique styling, a lowered suspension and a 197-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder.

A new front end sports the latest Ford-family grille. The look debuted on the model-year 2013 Fusion and is an unapologetic copy of the one made famous by Briton’s Aston Martin, which Ford used to own.

Available for the first time is the MyFord Touch interface for navigation, communication and entertainment. It uses voice commands and a six-and-a-half-inch dashboard touchscreen. And newly standard on all but the S model is the carmaker’s MyKey system. Intended to calm parents with teen drivers, MyKey can limit top speed and mute the stereo until the seatbelts are buckled.

Most buyers choose the sedan body style, though we prefer the hatchback. It’s more stylish and holds more cargo than the sedan’s 13-cubic-foot trunk. You get almost 15 cubic feet behind the rear seats. And while volume expands to 26 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded, you’re left with a four-and-a-half-inch lip that prevents sliding in large objects. That’s not a problem in the Versa Note or Honda Fit.

Sedan or hatchback, the majority of Fiesta buyers go for an SE model. Like S and Titanium, SEs come with a 120-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Acceleration is adequate with the five-speed manual transmission, which rates 31 mpg city/highway combined—nothing special for this class.

A $1,095 option is a six-speed automatic—it’s-actually a self-shifting manual transmission without a clutch pedal. Ford calls it the Powershift and—responding to critics—revised it for model-year 2014. It gives drivers some manual control though an awkward little gear-lever button. Powershift is still a frustrating substitute for a genuine automatic, though. It’s this brand’s Achilles’ heel, performance-wise, though at least fuel economy is a competitive 32 mpg combined.

You’ve got to order the Powershift if you want the Super Fuel Economy Package. This $95 dollar option for SE models includes low-rolling resistance tires and other tricks that boost fuel economy to an impressive 37 mpg city/highway combined. The three-cylinder is marketed as a $995 upgrade over the 1.6-liter four. It’s available in both the sedan and hatchback, but only in SE trim. The Super Fuel Economy package is part of the deal.

This is Ford’s smallest EcoBoost motor, but it’s the little engine that could. It has 123 horsepower and an impressive 148-pound-feet of torque, a substantial 36 pound-feet more than the 1.6-liter.

Early test drives reveal better acceleration than the larger four-cylinder—and fuel economy that beats every other non-hybrid car except a couple of other three-cylinder minicars, the Mitsubishi Mirage and Scion iQ. The three-cylinder Fiesta rates 37 mpg combined, tied with the iQ and just shy of the Mirage. But it has much more power than either, and it’s a better all-around car.

The catch is that the new EcoBoost Fiesta comes only with the five-speed manual transmission. Ford says the dual-clutch may be offered in the future, but for now the stick-shift-only policy eliminates the car from lots of shopping lists.

The ST is manual-only, too—but it’s a six-speed that complements this car’s personality. ST stands for Sport Technologies, and this feisty Fiesta was developed by Ford’s Team RS in Europe and its SVT branch in the United States.

Complementing the turbocharged 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder, modified suspension, and special bodywork is a sport-oriented interior. Fuel economy is a friendly 29 mpg combined, handling is whippet-quick, and at seven seconds 0 to 60, it rivals more expensive turbocharged Mini Coopers as America’s most fun hot hatch.

Ford’s factory tuners had a very sound platform to work from. Every version reflects a European approach to road manners, with accurate steering and a suspension that’s firm but compliant. True, only the ST really gets your blood pumping, and the Mazda 2, Chevy Sonic and Honda Fit are also rewarding drives. But Fiesta holds its own as an economy car with a dash of spirit.

There might be a little too much spirit in the overstyled dashboard. Like the rest of the cabin, not much of it is padded. But the materials don’t feel cheap. Most of the trouble lies with the center stack, where the screen is hard to read and the button layout can be tricky to use while driving. Every Fiesta has Ford’s basic Sync system, which provides reliable hands-free linking to mobile phones and can furnish turn-by-turn directions.

No stretching allowed back here. A cramped rear seat is the main design shortfall; back seats in the Fit and Versa put it to shame. Even the Cruze and Accent have more room. This is a deal breaker if you need to carry rear passengers who aren’t kids.

Base prices top those of comparable Versa and Toyota Yaris models, but are below those of Sonics and Accents. Starting at around $14,800 with manual transmission, S models come with Sync, power locks and air conditioning but are otherwise bare bones—they have roll-up windows and no options. SEs add power windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry and other goodies—including adjustable interior mood lighting—and start at around $16,200.

Titaniums are among the better equipped subcompacts, with MyFord Touch, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rearview camera and reverse sensing among standard equipment. Base prices begin just under $19,000.

Hatchback versions of any of these models cost about $600 more than sedans. Don’t forget to add $1,100 for Powershift, and if you want true navigation with your MyFord Touch, that’ll be another $750. A loaded Titanium can run you $22,600. At just over $22,000, the ST is a relative bargain.

We respect that nothing feels cutrate despite the low price. And the ST gets our attention. But without a helpful discount off the sticker price, the uninspired base powertrain, annoying Powershift and cramped rear seat would have us shopping around for our mainstream subcompact.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]