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L.A. Auto Show: Fiesta showpiece at Ford display

Automaker banks on tech-heavy redesigned small car.

Published November 30, 2012

Ford introduced two quite different vehicles here this week, but both of them are very Canadian: a compact car and a compact minivan.

The car is the 2014 Fiesta, claimed to be the most fuel-efficient car in its class. Ford says the current Fiesta is the second best-selling vehicle in the world in its lineup (after the Ford Focus), and the small-car market accounts for one in every five vehicles in North America. So its redesign was not something to be taken lightly.

The minivan is a redesigned Transit Connect, sold in Canada until now as a small commercial delivery van. Ford filled it with three rows of seats for seven passengers but shies away from the deathly “minivan” tag, preferring to call it by the European term of “people mover.”

But the Fiesta stole the show here, introduced by rally champion and hoonigan Ken Block, whose Gymkhana drifting videos are a YouTube sensation. Block drives a very modified Fiesta in those videos and he spun his painted car in a cloud of tire smoke around the two new Fiestas being shown to the media.

Ford wanted a demonstration like this because the Fiesta’s new engines are the most powerful it’s ever made based on horsepower per litre. There will be three engines offered next year: a 1.6 L four-cylinder available in the spring in both naturally aspirated and Ecoboost editions, and a much smaller 1.0 L three-cylinder version later in the year that is expected to be the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid on North American roads.

The base 1.6 L engine will be good for 120 hp and 112 lb.-ft. of torque, but the Ecoboost version, which includes turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve timing, will make 197 hp and 214 lb.-ft. Ford calls this the ST, for Sports Technologies, and says it’s “the only legitimate performance car in its segment.”

At the other end of the scale, the little one-litre turbocharged three-cylinder will be very similar in power to the base engine, with 123 hp, but have a lot more torque at 148 lb.-ft. Ford will give it a sporty appearance, but it will achieve a claimed 5.9 L/100 km. Here in L.A., they’re calling that 40 m.p.g.

Apparently, 20 per cent of current Fiesta buyers ask for a manual transmission, so to keep them happy, the frugal one-litre will come only with a 5-speed manual box and the sporty ST only with a 6-speed manual box. All other versions will offer either a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.

The Fiesta will be loaded with as much technology as Ford can fit in, knowing that potential owners will want to be connected through their phones to everything possible.

It’s the same story for the Transit Connect people mover, which will offer plenty of options to appeal to a wide audience. It’s aimed at people who don’t want a large minivan, or who only need to carry stuff once in a while, but who want more space than an SUV.

It holds three rows of seats and the very back is not uncomfortable; a colleague who’s 6-feet-2 fitted there without banging his head or his knees too badly. “It’s not a limo,” said the Ford spokesman flipping the seats around, “but it’s better than 90 per cent of the third-row seats out there.”

The two rear rows of seats fold completely flat, independent of each other, allowing many different seating configurations.

The smaller van is very popular in Europe, where space is at a premium and gas costs twice what we see at Canadian pumps. The Transit Connect will be made in Spain and sold in more than 60 countries when it hits the road next October or so.

Unlike Europe though, where the current Transit Connect is powered exclusively by a diesel engine and the new Connect will be available as both diesel and gas, Canadian vans will not be diesel powered. We’ll get a 2.5-L naturally-aspirated engine and a 1.6-L Ecoboost, both with 6-speed automatic transmissions and front-wheel drive; Ford says the 7.8 L/100 km that the Ecoboost should deliver on the highway will offset any diesel appeal for North Americans.

The new Transit Connect will still be sold as a delivery vehicle and Ford hopes that part of its appeal for families could come from its commercial classification: commercial testing is normally more demanding than for regular vehicles. Doors, for example, are slammed open and shut 250,000 times in testing for a commercial vehicle, but no more than 100,000 times for a family vehicle. “If you’ve got kids, you’re going to appreciate that,” says the spokesman.

No pricing has yet been announced for either the Fiesta or the Transit Connect, though they’ll undoubtedly be competitive in such a demanding market.

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