By John Goreham
The Ford Fiesta is an affordable, relatively fun subcompact car with excellent fuel economy. With choices for subcompact cars dwindling, it remains an option for many with a limited budget, or who just don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on basic transportation. However, like the Hyundai Tucson we recently featured in our First Signs of the Carpocalypse series, its unusual automatic DCT transmission is giving owners fits. (Get it? Fits.)
Although this story will lean heavily on CarComplaints.com’s excellent data, we first learned of the Fiesta’s transmission issues from an episode of Future Motoring Flash Cast.* In the podcast discussing BestRide’s top picks of 2016, Chad Kirchner, the host and well-known car expert, revealed that he is the owner of a 2011 Fiesta with the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic that Ford calls Powershift. Kirchner’s Fiesta has had its clutch pack replaced by Ford twice, and he has been to the dealer numerous times to have the transmission’s software reflashed. Despite Ford’s support, Kirchner says he is “not convinced it is really fixed” and that he fully expects that one day while driving down his driveway.... "It’s just going to explode.”
Having had a head start on the Fiesta’s transmission issues, we went to our trusty data source CarComplaints.com, and sure enough, Kirchner is not alone. The graph of complaints by year shows a distinct uptick in 2011. Digging into the complaints log, we see that a number of CarComplaints.com readers have described the same issue Kirchner does. Gil M., of Spring Branch, Texas did a great job of describing the issue succinctly, saying, “The 2011 Fiesta lurches forward, experiences delayed acceleration, delayed downshifting and has trouble stopping. Ford replaced the TCM but the problem continued.” There are much more graphic descriptions in the list, including one by Justin M., of the Bronx, who used twenty lines of text to expand on the issue. Justin goes so far as to claim the DCT transmission issues even caused other mechanical failures. We’ve never used this word in our series before, but apparently, the problem metastasized.
Since 2011 the number of transmission-related complaints has shown an increase, peaking in 2013. Ford has issued multiple fixes, as Chad Kirchner mentioned, but the fixes seem to be Band-Aids.
So how can a shopper looking for a used Ford Fiesta avoid the problem? Easy, don’t buy a Ford Fiesta with an automatic transmission. Alternatives to the Fiesta with very low rates of complaints include the Toyota Prius and Honda Fit.
*You can hear the Podcast referenced here. The Fiesta discussion starts at time stamp 34 minutes.