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What I think: 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

It’s hard to get excited about an economy car with a three-cylinder engine, especially if your last memory of such a vehicle was a 55-horsepower Pontiac Firefly. But nearly a decade and a half later, automakers figure North America is once again ready for such a tiny engine, even if it’s in a car not quite as tiny as that late ‘90s Pontiac.

Ford’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder “EcoBoost” turbocharged engine was a late addition to the 2014 Fiesta line, and carries on into the 2015 model year. As with its other EcoBoost engines, Ford charges a premium for this one, which replaces the standard 1.6-litre four-cylinder; in this case, the smaller engine adds $1,500 to the Fiesta SE’s base price of $16,000. Another kicker is that, at least when this was written, the turbo three-cylinder can only be ordered with a manual transmission.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

The point of Ford’s EcoBoost program—not to mention the recent resurgence of turbocharging across the auto industry—is to use smaller-displacement engines to save fuel, and then add turbocharging to top up power output to match that of a larger engine. To that end, the 1.0-litre generates 123 hp to the 1.6-litre’s 120, but boasts a bigger bonus in torque, which is rated at 148 lb-ft to the four-cylinder’s 112.

Horsepower is the number that sells cars, but torque is the one that moves them; it’s a truer measure of an engine’s potency, a fact that becomes crystal clear when driving the 1.0-litre Fiesta. It’s a gutsy little motor that pulls the car around with authority. On acceleration, it makes a curious growl that takes some getting used to, and it’s quick, but that sensation is dampened by economy-minded gearing that keeps engine speeds low: at 100 km/h in fifth gear, the engine turns just 2,200 rpm, where the 1.6-litre would be spinning well above 2,500 rpm.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost dash

If that takes away from the car’s straight-line performance, it pays back in highway driving by reducing engine noise. That’s a good fit with the rest of the car, which drives with a grown-up feel not common in the subcompact class; an eight-hour day in the car during a road trip from Ottawa to PEI was nowhere near as tiring as I expected, based on my past experiences in small cars.

On that drive, the engine’s torque proved beneficial on the hilly highways through New Brunswick, where the car was able to accelerate (albeit slowly) uphill, in fifth gear, at highway speeds, loaded with two adults and plenty of cargo: not many subcompacts could make that claim. If I were in charge at Ford, however, I’d give this car a six-speed transmission to close up the gaps between gears (especially first and second) and improve straight-line performance.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost back seat

Our observed average fuel consumption was 5.5 L/100 km (42 US MPG) at cruising speeds close to 120 km/h; however, that averaged dropped below 5.0 L/100 km (47 US MPG) at more relaxed speeds, and our city-driving average was 7.4 (32 US MPG).

Beyond the powertrain, the rest of the Fiesta is standard issue: it’s underpinned by a capable chassis that handles admirably but provides a comfortable ride that once again belies this car’s small size. Steering feel is sharp, and the manual shifter and clutch are a cinch to drive smoothly.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost trunk

Interior space isn’t generous, but it’s useable: we had three people in the car for part of our two-day road trip, and our tall rear-seat passenger was snug, but not crammed. (My test car was the Fiesta hatchback, but the EcoBoost engine is also available in the sedan body style.)

As with any fuel-saving powertrain technology, the $1,500 cost for the EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta is a significant investment, at about 10 percent of the car’s base price. Ford did well to make this little car feel as grown-up as it does, as it helps offset the fact that for my tester’s $19,000 as-tested price, you could move up to a larger car that’s nearly as efficient.

However, as a showcase for unconventional engine technology – remember, it’s been 14 years since the last three-cylinder car disappeared – the EcoBoost Fiesta proves you don’t need a big engine to provide satisfying performance.

This review also appeared in the Montreal Gazette

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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Compact cars, Ford, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen’s Golf is a car with a long history, dating back to what we knew as the Rabbit of the late 1970s (although this car has always been the Golf in Europe). That history does not include much in the way of daring design, and that doesn’t look poised to change as the Golf moves into its seventh generation for 2015.

That’s okay: despite looking not much different than the third-generation model introduced in the mid-1990s, the newest Golf is a sharp little car, with classy styling that belies its affordable price tag.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

The real news is what’s under the hood: the new base engine is a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 170 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. It’s a bit of a throwback, as the fourth-generation Golf (and its Jetta sedan sibling) were notable for an engine nearly identical in specification; where that motor was aimed at drivers looking for a sporty drive, the goal of this new 1.8 TFSI powerplant is efficiency.

Fitted with VW’s latest direct gasoline injection technology, fuel consumption estimates are 9.3 L/100 km (city) and 6.4 (highway); my test car posted remarkable averages of 5.7 L/100 km in highway driving, and about 8.5 in the city. Those real-world results make the more expensive, but only slightly more efficient TDI diesel engine look a lot less appealing.

I lead with that because, while the Golf is a lovely car in most ways, that fuel economy—and the engine that provides it—is the most exciting thing about this car.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Don’t take that the wrong way. The new engine is a torquey wonder, making plenty of smooth, quiet power. Surprisingly, the manual transmission is only a five-speed; most transmission innovation these days is going into eight-, nine- and ten-speed automatics. The number of gears doesn’t pose a problem in the Golf; what does is that this transmission is geared so far toward economy that the engine spins at less than 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h in fifth gear, and the gaps between ratios are very wide. The engine can handle all of that, but it does take a lot of the fun out of driving the car.

Likewise, the ride is softer than you might expect. Comfortable, without a doubt, and the car feels very solid at highway speeds, but the way the Golf goes over the road will do little to encourage you to attack corners with much enthusiasm. If you do, however, you’ll be rewarded with predictable handling and sharper responses than my tester’s 16-inch wheels and high-profile tires suggest.

2015 Volkswagen Golf front seats

This is a very spacious car, with accommodations that verge on mid-size, something that’s becoming common among compact cars. The cargo area is large as well: if you’re considering a small crossover for its trunk space, think smaller, because the Golf’s trunk will challenge just about any you’ll find in a compact SUV.

I was less enthusiastic about the front seats, which are far less comfortable than those in previous Golfs and Jettas I’ve driven. Helping to make up for that is their wide range of adjustment, including electric backrest adjustment and lumbar for both front chairs.

2015 Volkswagen Golf back seat

In fact, the base package is a decently-equipped car. Bluetooth is included in all trims, along with a streaming audio function and a wired iPod connector which only works with Apple music players. Front seat warmers are standard, along with heated side mirrors and windshield washer nozzles, all of which make winter driving more palatable. Manual air conditioning is also included.

If you move up to Comfortline trim, as my tester was delivered, the $23,000 price tag includes cruise control, backup camera, automatic post-collision braking and fog lights. Spec out the Comfortline with a $1,600 convenience package, and VW adds automatic headlights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, dual-zone automatic temperature control, sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

2015 Volkswagen Golf trunk

For nearly $25,000, there are a number of things missing from the Golf that other small cars—most notably the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte—include for similar money. However, though the Golf may not be a ton of fun, it feels expensive going over the road, and for the right driver, that will count for more than any number of convenience features.

This article originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Volkswagen, What I Think

 

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Reviewed: Toyota Camry and Honda Accord Hybrid

Looking for a new family car?

2014 Toyota Camry

2014 Toyota Camry

First, have a look at my Autofocus.ca review of the 2014 Toyota Camry, a big comfortable sedan that, despite having been last redesigned in 2012, still feels current among today’s crop of mid-size sedans.

Meanwhile, the Accord Hybrid, also reviewed at Autofocus.ca, signals Honda’s renewed commitment to hybrid vehicles, with a new gas-electric powertrain that kicks the company’s old integrated motor assist (IMA) system back to the dark ages, where it belongs.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Straight Eight: 2014 Mini Cooper

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1. New look
What you see here is the third generation of the “new” Mini Cooper. Base price is $20,900; options in my tester ran that up to $24,470. Its larger, bulky-looking exterior is polarizing; personally, I prefer the looks of the previous car.

2. Big comfort
I day-tripped this one from Ottawa to a friend’s house on the east side of Toronto, and after the eight-hour round-trip, I was less tired than I have been after long drives in more luxurious cars.

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3. Great soundtrack
Entry-level models use a new turbocharged three-cylinder engine that’s more powerful than the four-cylinder in last year’s base car, and it produces an adorable, hilarious symphony of turbo-related whooshes, whistles and sighs as you accelerate and brake your way around city streets.

4. Thrifty shifting
That extra power is tempered by “taller” gearing that keeps engine speeds low, and bumps fuel economy up: my test car averaged 8.0 L/100 km in the city, and 5.0 L/100 km in highway driving at an average speed of just under 100 km/h.

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5. All grown up, sadly
There was an urgency to the previous Cooper’s driving feel. Where’d it go? The new one is still fun to drive, with a nice balance in turns and sharp steering, but on the whole it feels softer and more relaxed.

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6. Rev me up
The manual transmission has a rev-match downshift function that makes you feel like a superstar driver every time you downshift for a corner, and generates more of the engine’s fun noises. However, I prefer doing this myself when I drive a stickshift, and I couldn’t find any way to disable it.

7. The fun switch
Toggle the car into sport mode: throttle sensitivity goes way up, and you discover that this is the best way to experience this car. Sport mode also firms up the optional adjustable suspension ($500!), but this makes the car uncomfortable on rough roads. Thankfully, you can set it to leave the suspension alone.

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8. Dude, where’s my speedo?
You’ll notice some changes inside. I like that there’s a bit more space, and that the electric window controls now live on the doors. I never thought I’d say it, but I miss the massive speedo in the middle of the dash that was legible from three cars back and two lanes over.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Mini, Straight Eight

 

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Reviewed: 2013 Ford Fusion Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

There are a number of cars that can be classified, accurately enough, as transportation appliances, but it doesn’t get much more appliance-like than a family sedan that you plug in when parked. The Ford Fusion Energi is far from the first car to come with a power cord, but it is one of the first PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) based on an existing car, and expands the Fusion line, which also includes conventional gasoline powertrains and a regular hybrid model. Read my full review at Autofocus.ca.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Autofocus, Ford, Test Drives, What I Think

 

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