2012 Ford Fiesta automatic first drive
The C-segment is suddenly inundated with almost every model offering an automatic variant. The City, Verna, Vento and the recently launched Rapid all come with an auto option. It was obvious then that Ford, the only one absent from this game, had to come up with a solution. It's only been four months since the new Fiesta hit Indian roads and Ford are already armed with an automatic version, and not only does it happen to be Ford's first automatic transmission sedan, its a dual clutch system which to date we have only seen on more expensive executive class sedans.
The Ford Fiesta in India is a car you are familiar with in terms of design, dynamics and performance and has a mixed bag of features. The chassis is brilliant but isn't complemented by the engine. The design has been well appreciated but the interior quality and space have been not and subsequently the car has not been doing as well as expected in the market. So the big question is can the new transmission offer a glimmer of hope?
Called the Ford PowerShift, the gearbox has been designed to work with engines producing a maximum of 250Nm of torque; internationally this is about the same rating found under the hood of the Fiesta and Focus. The DPS6 dry-clutch gearbox is a compact unit and weighs in at just 73 kilos, and like any other dual-clutch transmission, one clutch controls the even gears while the second clutch controls the odd ones. In all there are six forward ratios mated to the 1.5-litre Ti-Vct petrol engine that produces 109PS at 6045rpm and 140Nm at 4500rpm (sadly no diesel option for now). Ford claims that the unit needs no maintenance; it is completely sealed with a gear lubricant that is rated for the life of the vehicle, 2,40,000km or 10 years whichever is earlier. Step inside the car and you should notice that Ford have not offered a manual tiptronic option or even paddles behind the steering wheel like in other dual clutch transmission cars. What you get is a regular stick with the usual P-R-N-D and a L mode. The markings are on the left side of the lever, probably because the transmission is speced for left hand drive markets and in India we will have to rely on the instrument cluster to know which gear has been selected.
So what's it like to drive? We started off driving in the city and the shifts were quick and seamless, no jerks and felt just right. On the highway too the shifts were effortless, however floor the throttle, and you get an enormous delay, especially on the downshifts. This is even more pronounced when overtaking and you need to plan the move in advance.
The L mode though comes in handy when in need of that extra bit of power. When slotted, the lowest possible gear is chosen no matter what speed you are at, it will upshift only at the redline and keeps the engine in its powerband. However, the lack of manual intervention is felt. In terms of performance, the dual-clutch doesn't feel as quick as the manual Fiesta. No matter what you do, the car refuses to get off to a good start while launching. While we were unable to test the car I don't expect it to better the manual Fiesta's 13.06seconds 0-100kmph time. In terms of fuel efficiency, the ARAI figure is not yet out but Ford claim that because it is a dual-clutch box, the figure will be similar to the manual version which is hard to believe.
Ford has also added a few unique features to the Fiesta automatic, first up is the micro-slip feature which enables the engine to run at a lower rpm even in higher gears to aid fuel efficiency. Ford has also added a creep-forward function, in conventional automatics when the vehicle is in drive or reverse mode at parking speeds, one can use the brake to gently move ahead. The creep forward basically mimics the same feature to aid in low-speed maneuvers or while parking. The Fiesta automatic also gets a feature called grade assist that intelligently selects lower gears while climbing a gradient or downshifts and uses engine braking while going downhill, the function can be turned on or off by pushing a button next to the gear lever. Finally, there is a hill launch assist function that is basically a hill-hold feature, which maintains brake pressure to keep the car from rolling off when pointed uphill for just 2.5 seconds or until the engine delivers enough torque to start moving the vehicle forwards. It also works while reversing up an incline.
In terms of pricing, we expect the Ford Fiesta automatic price in India to be around Rs 10.5 lakh which puts it above other automatics in the segment. The automatic is only available in the top end Titanium variant, and the lone change from the similar speced manual version is the addition of black leather upholstery. The Fiesta automatic is the most affordable dual-clutch automatic car available today and by far has the best gearbox in its segment. However the point of having a twin-clutch box seems to have been lost in the quest to make it behave like a conventional automatic. Also the lack of paddle shifters or tiptronic shift in a driver focussed car such as this is a pity. But if you're looking for a petrol automatic sedan that offers hassle free driving, seamless gearshifts along with segment-best handling and ride quality then the Fies
ta makes for a good choice.