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Are the Ford Focus and Fiesta SFE models worth the money?

Consumer Reports News: June 16, 2011 03:33 PM

Small-car advertising is primarily focused on fuel economy, frequently boasting that a model can achieve 40 mpg. But read the fine print and you’ll see that figure is often limited to a special-edition model with a certain transmission. When it comes to the Ford Focus and Fiesta, is the SFE (for “Super Fuel Economy”) version worth the upfront cost? Let’s find out.

As we noted in an earlier blog, the special fuel-miser packages on cars like those Fords, the Chevrolet Cruze, and redesigned Honda Civic command a price premium for their fuel economy improvement over the base versions. To put these optional packages into perspective, we calculated how long it would take to pay off the extra cost with fuel savings. (We didn’t factor in depreciation, insurance, extra interest payments, or additional sales tax on the more expensive models, which would likely amount to a few dollars.) Our calculations assume you drive the national average of 12,000 miles a year and that gas costs $4 a gallon.

Because most owners drive on a mix of city and highway roads, using the EPA overall fuel economy rating to calculate the costs is more real world than just using the oft-quoted highway mileage.

Ford advertises two non-hybrid models that get 40 mpg on the highway: the Fiesta SFE and the Focus SE SFE.

On the Focus SE, the SFE trim package includes low-rolling resistance tires on steel wheels and a rear spoiler. It only comes with the six-speed “Powershift” automatic transmission, which is a dual-clutch mechanical design. The package adds $495 to the price of a Focus SE with an automatic transmission, which we think is the most similar popular model buyers might also consider. The Focus SE SFE is EPA-rated at 33 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 40 mpg highway), slightly more efficient than the regular Focus SE rated at 31 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway).

As outlined in the chart below, buying the $495 SFE package for the Focus would theoretically save you about $94 a year in fuel. Therefore, it would take about five years of fuel savings to pay back the difference.

Buying the SFE edition of the Fiesta has an even longer pay-off-time: Eternity.

On the more basic Fiesta, the SFE package adds a bigger $695 hit. It’s no longer just a spoiler and easier-rolling tires. It also adds side sills, under-body trays, and an active grille blocker that closes on the highway. It also requires the automated manual transmission, which we included in our analysis of the Fiesta both with and without SFE. And while it boosts mileage to 29 city, 40 highway, the combined EPA rating stays at 33 mpg. So while you may gain 40-mpg highway bragging rights, the SFE package is unlikely to actually save you much gas—and you’ll never recoup the extra $695 you paid for the car.

Fuel economy comparison

Ford Focus SE Ford Focus SE SFE Ford Fiesta SE Ford Fiesta SE SFE
MSRP $19,290 $19,785 $16,290 $16,985
Automatic trans. $1,095 $1,095
Total $19,290 $19,785 $16,290 $16,985
Difference $495 $695
Fuel economy
City 28 28 29 29
Highway 38 40 38 40
EPA combined 31 33 33 33
Annual fuel cost $1,548 $1,455 $1,455 $1,455
Annual savings   $94   $0
Payoff years 5 Never

If you’re shopping Ford, it’s also worth noting than when we tested the Focus SE sedan with the automatic transmission, we got 43 mpg on the highway even without the SFE package. Check back for full test results, which will be published soon.

As always, it’s important to remember to look past the snazzy advertising and do your research before heading to the dealership.

40 mpg dollars and sense: Honda Civic HF may save fuel, but doesn’t really save money
40 mpg dollars and sense: Chevrolet Cruze Eco saves fuel--as long as you shift yourself
Is 40 mpg the new 30? Reading between the ad lines

Eric Evarts

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