2014 Ford Fiesta SE and 2014 Chevrolet Sonic LT - Shift-It-Yourself Subs - Comparison Review

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"Why bother making and selling manual transmission sub-compact cars that probably will never hit a professional road course, and in a country [United States] where barely one out of every eleven 200 million licensed drivers even have a clue how to drive actuating three pedals while using two feet?"

This dilemma must drive automaker financial types bonkers.

At "Drive He... Said" we muse that depressing clutch with left foot and directly selecting transmission gear with arm and hand is the penultimate symbiotic relationship between humans and automobiles. Quite possibly it's the driving equivalent of the "Demi Plie."

"Stick shifts"  feel just-so-right in smaller cars. The kind that  squirt through tiny gaps in traffic the way field mice head indoors for winter.

They are already making the darn things for the "old world" with higher gas taxes, narrow cobblestone roads, and meager parking.  So why not pour a little sugar on us Yanks?

Recently all our hands and feet went to work in two heaping tablespoons of good "American" sub-compacts.

Global Design-Works 2.0: 

A slightly-freshened 2014 Ford Fiesta SE is a definite Ford of Europe offspring. A year into it's stint as the GM's first assembled-in-the-US (and elsewhere for local markets) sub-compact the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic LT is really a Gen. 2 Chevy Aveo courtesy of GM Korea. (Note: at this writing GM announced the Chevy nameplate being pulled from Europe the less to cannibalize Opel.)

Hatchbacks, with their conspicuous derriere's  always makes a better canvas for expressiveness.

The Sonic's abruptly flat tailgate features detail as flanked by Christmas tree-style taillights. The bulbous Fiesta tailgate is less festive.

Imbued with a wider and brighter egg-crate grille and tapered head-lighting, the Fiesta can't avoid looking the "Aardvark" in this comparison.

The Sonic's snout, with more tautly drawn headlights seen on the city-use  Chevy Spark , is more serious. It helped that our tester had an optional dealer-installed black-out treatment.

Grade: Sonic: BFiesta: B-

Three-Pedal Step:

Not all three pedal layouts are created equal. Some are located too far right center (in left-hand drive cars). As in the last  Volkswagen Passat TDi  we self-shifted, this was an issue in the Ford Fiesta. Absent-mindedness had us mistaking brake pedal for clutch.

The Sonic hits a pedal placement bulls-eye. While missing on clutch pedal action, with long take-up travel and all the tension of a taught rubber-band. The kind of smooth engagement possible in the Ford becomes trickier in the Chevy.

Grade: Sonic: B-Fiesta: C+

Shifted Not Stirred:

Two fingers are enough to row the Fiesta's lever through a sensible pattern. Engaging reverse down and far to the right can become fickle. More nerve-wracking is the perpetual hunt for the phantom 6th gear.

The Chevy Sonic's shifter-head is crafted of glossy plexiglass with chrome bezel. The kind you find in VW Golf GTI. Positioned slightly lower than in the Fiesta, with a longer gear-selection throw,  more right arm effort is required in the Chevy. Seeking third gear often found 5th. Shorter gearing requires more frequent shifting. A tug-up on  the shift lever head to unlock Reverse is utterly logical.

 Grade: Sonic: B-Fiesta: B

Moto-Busy:

The twin-cam gas 1.4L turbocharged I-4, working overtime in the heavier Chevrolet Cruze Eco, wields a hammer in the Sonic. Thick batting under the hood conceals most of the Ecotec mill's coarseness. A dealer-installed Borla stainless steel "fart-can" muffler adds some appreciated grumble. It's hardly the pestering bark emanating from the Fiat 500 Abarth. Short gearing from 1st to 3rd takes the motor up the power band pretty rapidly. Nothing less than 4th gear will make for adequate freeway passing. Above 3800 rpm the mill could benefit from an inhaler. Fuel economy came in at 31 mpg combined.

The normally aspirated 1.6L twin-cam gas inline-four cylinder plant under the Ford Fiesta's bonnet bears a 18 horsepower deficit to the Cruze Ecotec. Weighing 175 pound less there is abundant high gear torque for abrupt movements. The Sigma mill seems as happy at 5000 rpm as it is at 2000. Greater displacement didn't punish at the fuel pump, for 32 mpg was observed.

Grade: Sonic: B-Fiesta: C+

Slice and Dice:

Both Sonic and Fiesta share suspension types: lower A-arms and struts in the front, torsion (twist) beams in the rear. The Sonic is sprung and bushed stiffer, cornering fairly flat. However, the Chevy dampers are more abrupt in rebound, hence there is some jarring. A softer sprung Fiesta is better at taking the edge off impacts.

Electric steering assist makes appearance in the name of efficiency on both Sonic and Fiesta. Sonic steering is evenly boosted but suffers from vagueness. The Ford rewards smaller inputs with more positive turning movement.

Friction is up to the task of stopping both these bantam weights, if not in neck snapping form. In a weight / cost cutting effort vented front discs are supplemented by rear drums, with ABS and brake force distribution thrown in the mix. For an easier to modulate pedal we pick the Fiesta

Grade: Sonic: C+Fiesta: B

Graphical vs. Cyclical:

The Ford Fiesta has as conventional an interior as you'd find in most other sub-compacts...from European design studios. Ventilation ducts loom large and panels are incongruous in a monotone of black. Analog gauges in rectangular tunnels are flanked by quarter sizers. Pity that the reflections hinder viewing through tilted clear plastic cases.

The "Half-Pint" edition of  Sync MyFord Touch  sees screen icons shrink. Now they require laser guided accuracy. Still it's our favorite automotive in-cabin verbal Genie.

Presentation of critical vehicle data is more condensed in the Sonic. The motorcycle-style cluster, emulated from the Chevy Spark, grows an analog tachometer. The bright blue LED fuel and multi-function data still strain the eyes, and are feeble in bright sunlight.

The Sonic's optional My-Link is strictly a "you run it through your smart phone" affair. A 7" LCD touch screen has dedicated "I-Device" style soft-touch buttons at the bottom.  For a one-time $60 download charge, Bringo navigation streaming updates into your wireless device.  Which should be netter than replacing  SD cards in HDD units. So why the five year stale hotel info? Built-in voice commands are for making phone calls. Apple IOS 6 and 7 users get to run their Siri voice valet. Not so for Android Google Now users.

Grade: Sonic: C+Fiesta: B

If the [Bigger than] Shoe Fits:

In the "stick-shift" dominated world, the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta are part of the "Super-Mini" class. In places where eating is an art form rather than a past time, each can meet "small" family needs. Luggage free, four can cozily shuttle around in either five-door. With a "weekend's worth" cut that down to three. Front buckets in the Sonic are  inviting where the Fiesta's perches have improved bolstering and thigh comfort.

A long way from proletarian "econo-box" roots, most places where you'd lay your hands in the Fiesta are soft, including a pliable dash-cover resembling recycled tire. Some switchgear can't match the elegance in the more value driven  Kia Rio.

A two-tone dash scheme complemented by a matrixed finish to the plastic liven up the Sonic cabin. Some front passenger seat rattle we could live without. Below knee-level placement of the Sonic's climate dials and buttons requires some hunting (and fishing).

Creature comforts are hardly lacking unless power seats are demanded. Power windows, with driver's express, door locks, and telescoping steering wheels included. Not to mention: heated wing mirrors with convex inserts, automatic climate, illuminated sun-visors with vanity mirrors, delay wipers and sound systems with surprising amounts of depth.

In matters of supplemental restraint only the Sonic features inboard front seat airbags. The Sonic's forward collision alert and lane departure warning can't be found on the Fiesta's spec sheet.

Grade: Sonic: B-Fiesta: B-

The "Shift-Them-Yourself" 2014 Ford Fiesta SE and 2014 Chevrolet Sonic LT each ratchet up the "fun factor" in the econo-hatch segment. They match-up pretty well in value, too, with each starting at just over $16,000.

Thank you Chevrolet and Ford.

For "Saving the Manuals [transmissions]."

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