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Can Fiesta survive on styling updates until it’s remade – or retired?

2017 Ford Fusion

2017 Ford Fusion

What changes will make 2017 Ford Fiesta different?

A cosmetic facelift is possible as Ford attempts to juice interest in a design headed for its sunset years. It’ll be a modest tweak and could be accompanied by a new feature or two. It won’t alter the fundamentals of the automaker’s smallest car, which is on schedule to be redesigned – or replaced – during 2018.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

To find out if Ford does indeed feel it’s worthwhile to alter this low-priced, low-profit-margin subcompact prior to what’ll likely be a major course correction. Sources say its replacement will grow in size to better compete with the class-benchmark Honda Fit — and that it may not retain the Fiesta name. That change will take place during 2018, though whether the new car will be a 2018 model or a 2019 is not known. As for the ’17 Fiesta, whatever subtle updates may or may not occur, it’ll repeat a choice of four-door sedan and four-door-hatchback body styles. Lively road manners and the hot-rod ST version will remain high points, cramped passenger and cargo room low points.

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Yes, if you need economical transportation that’s more entertaining to drive than most rivals. That’s particularly true for the ST, which is hard to beat for pure driving fun at any price, much less for under $23,000. Even if the ’17 is cosmetically altered, it won’t look markedly different from the ’16. Dimensions, basic body shape, powertrains, and major equipment will carry over. Same for a core lineup comprising sedans and hatchbacks in entry-level S trim, midrange SE form, and upscale Titanium guise, along with the hatchback-only ST model. Given inevitable model-year price escalation, you’d almost certainly pay more for a ’17. And buying a ’16 deeper into the model year probably will let you exploit inventory-clearance sales as Ford preps for a possible facelifted Fiesta.

Will the styling be different?

Changes would be limited to a slightly revised grille and front fascia, maybe reshaped headlamps. In back, the bumper might be re-sculpted and the taillights could get new lenses. There may be fresh color choices and perhaps a new wheel design. The cabin will be unaltered, save for potential updates to fabrics and gauge graphics. With the truncated wheelbase typical of the class and an egg-shaped shell, neither body style is a beauty. The hatchback at least has some visual charm, and the ST stands out with its more aggressive front end, high-mounted rear spoiler, and sporty wheels (plus unique interior-trim accents). Barring a full redesign, nothing much can be done to solve the car’s main problem: lack of rear-seat space. Cargo volume is subpar for the category, too. In this competitive set, the clear leaders for small-on-the-outside, big-on-the-inside honors are the Kia Soul, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Scion iM, and hatchback versions of the Chevrolet Sonic and Hyundai Accent.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely. Expect a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder to remain standard on all but the ST. With 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque, output is below average even in a class that emphasizes fuel economy over performance. Pickup is best with the 5-speed manual transmission but most buyers opt for the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, which suffers logy, sometimes jolting gear changes. In fact, reports say Ford will revert to a conventional automatic for its next-generation subcompact. Expect the return of a turbocharged 1.0-liter 3-cylinder as part of the $995 SE EcoBoost Fuel Economy Package. With 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, it’s got more spunk than the base engine. It comes only with the 5-speed manual, however, and you’ll need to shift frequently to tap the heart of the 3-cylinder’s power band. The ST feels a rocket by comparison. Its turbo 1.6-liter 4-cylinder has 197 horses and 202 pound-feet of torque. Equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, the ST improves on Fiesta’s already-laudable handling. And while it comes only with a 6-speed manual, that seems entirely appropriate for a car aimed at young, enthusiast drivers.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no mechanical changes, 2016 EPA ratings should repeat. That would again place models with the base 1.6-liter about mid-pack for subcompacts and would maintain the 3-cylinder SE among the highest-mileage cars that aren’t hybrids or electrics. Expect models with the base 1.6 to again rate 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 27/37/31 with the dual-clutch automatic. The SE with the Fuel Economy Package (which also includes low-rolling-resistance tires) should return at 31/43/36 mpg city/highway/combined. The ST should reprise its 26/35/29 mpg rating. Ford recommends premium-octane gas for the ST; even so, for grins per mile, it’s a hard-to-beat value.

Will it have new features?

Possibly a rearview backup camera, but not much beyond that is likely given updates introduced for model-year 2016. This was among the first Fords to get the automaker’s Sync 3 infotainment interface, a vast improvement in usability over the deservedly maligned MyFord Touch system. It should again be available as a $795 option on all but the S model and include onboard navigation displayed on a 6.5-inch dashboard screen. For ’16, the S joined the other models with remote keyless entry and a perimeter antitheft alarm as standard. For ’17, Ford could multiply available dress-up options, expanding, for example, on the SE Black package it introduced for ’16. It included special 16-inch alloy wheels; a black grille; and black, power heated mirrors. Look for all ‘17s to again come with the basic (and reliable) Sync system with hands-free Bluetooth and smartphone-app linking. The S should again be among the few new cars with rollup windows, the Titanium a subcompact-class rarity with standard leather upholstery and heated front seats. Returning options-list highlights should include heated front seats and mirrors and automatic climate control for just $290 on the SE; form-hugging Recaro-brand front bucket seats as a $1,995 extra for the ST; and a power moonroof for $795 on all but the S.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They’ll climb, but not by much in this extremely price-sensitive strata. Look for base prices on par with those of similarly positioned rival trim levels, with the ’17 S starting around $15,600, the SE around $16,850, and the Titanium around $21,000. (These estimated base prices include Ford’s destination fee, which was $875 on the 2016 Fiesta.) Expect to add $1,095 for the dual-clutch automatic. ST intenders can anticipate a price starting around $22,500. And watch for the frequent factory cash-back and cut-rate-interest incentives traditionally applied to its subcompact.

When will it come out?

Expect a fall 2016 release.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Soul, Mini Cooper, Nissan Versa, Scion iA and iM, Toyota Yaris

What change would make it better?

We’d argue Ford has wrung about all it can from a design that originated as a shared venture with Mazda, which marketed its version as the Mazda 2. Ford of Europe and the “zoom-zoom” Japanese company infused the car with uncommonly good ride quality, handling prowess, and steering feel. Mazda wisely eschewed the dual-clutch transmission for a conventional automatic. But the tight rear seat was probably a deal-breaker for many buyers outside the young/urban/singles demographic. For its part, Mazda chose not to import the second-generation 2, opting instead to surf the sales tide and reconfigure the car as a subcompact crossover called the CX-3. Ford probably will stay with an entry in the subcompact-car class while at the same time introducing its own subcompact crossover, probably for model-year 2018 or ‘19.

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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]