When we last sampled the Ford Fiesta SFE, it was during a brief session behind the wheel before its official unveiling at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show. Fast-forward to present day and we've once again found ourselves piloting Ford's smallest offering in North America. This time around, we swapped out the congested freeways of Los Angeles for light mid-day traffic that runs through Irvine, California. Our drive route consisted of equal parts freeway and surface streets its new 1.0-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder engine ate it all up. 

The 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine is new to North America for 2014 but it has already begun raking in accolades across the pond. Ford is also confident that the engine will be more than capable of holding its own in the larger Focus starting with the 2015 model year. Tipping the scales at a svelte 215 pounds, the 1.0-liter EcoBoost is rated at 123 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque rises to 148 lb-ft when the overboost function kicks in, which we found to provide surprising power when merging onto the freeway. The EPA has rated the 2014 Ford Fiesta SFE at 32 city, 45 highway and 37 mpg combined. During our test we hit that combined figure almost squarely on the head. 

Take Me to Your Liter

This 3-cylinder engine is important for a number of reasons. First, Ford claims the 45 mpg highway rating is the highest of any non-hybrid vehicle currently sold in the United States. With that, the Fiesta SFE takes the crown away from the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage, its closest competitor in the segment, which also has a 3-cylinder engine rated at 44 mpg highway when equipped with a continuously variable transmission. Second, the EcoBoost has the highest torque-per-liter power density in any engine Ford mass produces. To put it into perspective, this diminutive engine produces the same power per liter as the 8.0-liter 16-cylinder Bugatti Veyron. Again, this is the smallest engine Ford currently assembles.

Little but Fierce

Ford's Southern California headquarters, where the Fiesta SFE drive was held, is just over a mile away from Kelley Blue Book's offices so we were familiar with the lay of the land. Our drive route consisted of even parts city and highway driving. We also deviated from the course a few times to see how the 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine would fare going up steep hills. As expected, it had a little trouble keeping up speed while climbing a hill. Pair that with a little lag when rolling out of the gate in first gear and those are the only two issues we had with the EcoBoost engine. It performed everything else admirably. 

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Despite the slow initial surge, once rolling the Fiesta SFE comes alive with power coming on quickly and evenly. As we rowed through the gears, power was constantly available and the 3-cylinder instilled confidence when merging onto the highway. Road noise was minimal both on concrete and asphalt and the engine, while a bit odd sounding, did its part to keep quiet, too. Once on the freeway, watched the Fiesta SFE's average mpg readout climb to and hover around 45 mpg. The remainder of the drive was an even blend of highway and surface street and as we pulled back up in front of Ford's offices, we observed a final combined fuel figure of 36.5 mpg. 

The Same, But Different

The Fiesta SFE we drove was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, which is rated at 32 city, 45 highway, and 37 mpg combined. If you opt for the automatic, fuel economy slips slightly to 30 city, 41 highway, and 34 mpg combined. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage also offers fuel figures in the same neighborhood with its CVT turning in 37 city, 44 highway, and 40 combined mpg. Picking a manual five-speed transmission drops those numbers to 34 city, 42 highway, and 37 combined.  Like the Fiesta SFE, the Mirage has a quirky sounding engine but that's where the similarities end. 

For starters, Ford's 1.0-liter EcoBoost is available on the Fiesta SE, which starts at $17,240 for the sedan and $17,840 for the hatchback. This includes the $795 destination charge and the $995 charge for the optional 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. This engine is one of the most peppy, fun offerings in Ford's portfolio. In comparison, the Mirage only offers 74 horsepower from its 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine that squeezes out 74 hp. Besides the Mirage, the EcoBoost equipped Fiesta soundly beats the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Spark, Smart Fortwo and Toyota Yaris in the fuel economy department. 

If you're in the market for a subcompact hatchback or sedan that sips fuel but is still offers brisk acceleration and doesn't break the bank, the Fiesta SFE a good place to start.

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