2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE review: Fuel economy at a bargain price with a three-cylinder engine

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE

A three-cylinder engine? Of just 1.0-liters? In the USA? Yessir. Welcome the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE with the SFE package. We’ll just call it the SFE, because that’s what was on the hatch lid, and the only way you could tell from the outside that it was anything but an ordinary Fiesta SE.

But ordinary Fiestas, efficient as they are, don’t come with EPA-estimate fuel economy ratings of 32/45 mpg city/highway, with a combined rating of 37 mpg.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE engine

The EcoBoost three-cylinder engine–note the three on-plug coils–is what makes the 2014 Ford Fiesta SFE an SFE, for ‘Super Fuel Eoconomy.’ (click to enlarge)

There are many ways to achieve fuel economy numbers. Including limp-wristed underpowered cars whose acceleration is best measured with broken clock, right twice every day. And then there are hybrids, range-extended hybrids (e.g., Chevrolet Volt), plug-in hybrids (see Ford Focus Energi, plus diesel and electrics, and now from Hyundai, the fuel-cell electric. However, each of those has its own drawback, and a common one is price.

And spending $45 large for outstanding fuel economy—maybe even zero gasoline consumption if you don’t drive too far—doesn’t make sense if you’re on a beans and beer budget. No sense? It’s impossible.

Hence cars like the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE and its EcoBoost—turbocharged and direct injection—three –cylinder 1.0-liter engine. Once a fairly exotic configuration, EcoBoost is now used in one in five of every Ford engines worldwide. Ford is even spending $500 million to upgrade its Lima Engine Plant got production of an all-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 specifically engineered for the next-generation 2015 Ford F-150.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE dash

Inside the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE is distinguished by a manual transmission in a non-bare bones trim. (click to enlarge)

The reason for the popularity of the EcoBoost engines is the ability to combine big and small numbers. The big numbers, of course, are the EPA mileage estimates. The small numbers, however, come on the window sticker. The base price of the five-door 2015 Ford Fiesta SE—is $16,080 (plus $825 destination). The Fiesta SE, along with the bare-boned Fiesta S that no one will buy, is powered by the basic 1.6-liter 16-valve Duratec four-cylinder.

What makes an SE an SFE, however, is that EcoBoost 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine, which shows up as a $995 option on the window sticker. At 123 horsepower, it’s a skosh more powerful than the standard non-turbo conventionally-injected 1.6-liter four, rated at 120 horses. The 1.0-liter EcoBoost also out-torques the 1.6-liter, at 125 lb-ft versus 112 lb-ft. More importantly, the torque peak on the 1.6 comes at a high-revving 5000 rpm while the 1.0-liter three pumps out its maximum at 2500 rpm. What that means is that the engine doesn’t have to be revved as much to get the same performance, which the one-point-six won’t get because it doesn’t have the basic numbers to back it up.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE hatchlid badge

The badge on the hatch of our test 2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE was about the only way to tell it from an ordinary Fiesta. (click to enlarge)

So the from just about every angle, the 1.0-liter three is an upgrade for the Fiesta.

There’s one not-so-insignificant drawback, however. The three-cylinder turbo engine is only available with a manual transmission, and it also offered only on the volume SE trim, and not on the base S or the premium Titanium trim level. That’s not all bad, however, because the SE has the most popular features as options, and for that matter, it’s well equipped to begin with. Check this list of standard features: automatic headlights, rear spoiler and wiper (on the hatchback), special interior ambient lighting, six-speaker audio, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, one-touch up/down driver’s window, and more.

Our test model had Ruby Red Tinted Clearcoat paint, a $395 option. It’s pretty but something the frugal may wish to avoid. It’s one of nine colors, another two of which, Green Envy and Blue Candy are extra charge.

2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE cargo

The 2014 Ford Fiesta, including the SE SFE isn’t a cargo master, and even folding the rear seatbacks don’t help a tremendous amount. (click to enlarge)

One of the options, the Comfort Package, is very reasonable at $290. It includes heated front seat cushions, heated side mirrors and automatic climate control. Don’t buy a Fiesta without it. You’ll appreciate it every day and won’t notice is in the monthly payment.

A reasonable concern about the SFE-equipped Fiesta, however, is drivability. Power and torque notwithstanding, what’s it feel and sound like to drive a triple? Um, we didn’t notice the difference. Seriously. Four-cylinder engines aren’t that smooth anyway, not with their natural vibrations and genetic buzziness. The three has NVH* challenges of its own, but Ford has subdued them, and anyway, the engine isn’t so big as to make that much shake. In fact, we found the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE to be noticeably quiet on the highway. Noise detailing extends even to a “sound quieting” windshield.

Clutch take-up is smooth and the transmission shifts easily. Newbies to manual transmissions attracted to the SFE’s fuel economy but lacking manual gearbox experience will find the standard Hill Hold Assist a useful crutch for pulling away from stopped on an uphill. Hill Hold Assist keeps the brakes for two seconds after the brakes are released, long enough to do the ballet between brake, clutch and gas pedals without rolling back into the car behind.

Oddly in this day of multi-multiple gear ratios, the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE FSE has only a five-speed box. But so the Fiestas with the standard 1.6-liter engines, though the optional automatic on with the 1.6-liter is a six-speed.