The automatic transmission in the Ford Fiesta (2011-Present) and the Ford Focus (2012-Present) is not like a traditional transmission found in many cars. Technically, it is a dual-clutch transmission (more on that later) that operates differently than a traditional automatic. This type of transmission is often more fuel efficient than a traditional automatic, and in some cases, a more sporty drive. The 2011 Ford Fiesta was the first vehicle from Ford to receive this type of transmission, and it has been plagued with issues and negative reviews. Understanding the transmission will help consumers better understand why it behaves the way that it does, which we hope to do. There are also several fixes available, which should be applied. Let’s take a look.
The dual-clutch transmission, simply put, is a manual transmission that the computer shifts instead of the driver. Inside it is more technical than that, but that is the gist of the operation. As a result, the transmission does not use a torque convertor, which can sap fuel economy. Drivers of manual transmission-equipped vehicles become quickly familiar with a subtle whine from the transmission, especially in reverse. These noises are typically not present on a normal automatic transmissions. However, one of the biggest complaints about people who purchase the automatic transmission in the Fiesta is the noise from the transmission. This is typical operation and should not be a cause for worry.
When a driver of a manual transmission approaches a stop, he or she must press in the clutch pedal and shift into neutral so that the vehicle does not stall. The DCT (dual clutch transmission) in the Fiesta must do the same thing. When the vehicle needs to take off again, the DCT must select a gear and release the clutch. This behavior is typically a bit jerky for drivers of manual transmission vehicles, and sometimes that is the case of a DCT-equipped Fiesta.
Problems arise when the computer does not do the best job at engaging and disengaging gears. With a manual transmission, the driver of the vehicle has situational awareness all around. The driver knows when to engage and disengage a gear to provide the smoothest ride. The brain adapts in a way a computer cannot. For some Fiestas, the car feels like someone who has just learned how to drive a manual transmission is driving the car. In stop-and-go traffic, the car picks the wrong gear, the wrong amount of throttle for creep is applied, or the clutch stays engaged for too long. All of these problems could be resolved if the transmission had a human brain.
Enough people have complained though that Ford has worked on several fixes. For those who notice the problem, schedule a visit with the service advisor at the local dealership and explain how the car feels to drive. We had really good luck by describing it as someone new to learning how to drive a manual. A quick few checks in the computer system and the problem was immediately found with a potential fix. The service advisor scheduled a warranty visit, and the transmission control module was reprogrammed. While still not absolutely perfect, we noticed a considerable improvement following the upgrade.
Additionally, a bit of a driver hack is also needed. Since the computer cannot anticipate changes as quickly as a human with situational awareness, there are ways to catch the transmission off-guard. For example, braking quickly causes the car to downshift and select a lower gear. Immediately pressing the accelerator down hard will confuse the system and the shift might be delayed. We have to intentionally try to trip the system up to get the vehicle to not be in a gear at all. Before the software upgrade, several times a week the car would not know what gear to be in and instead chose no gear at all.
The clutches in the Fiesta automatic are supposed to be units that never need serviced or fluid replaced. However, we may have ours checked out before the vehicle drops out of warranty just to be on the safe side. Regardless, Ford is working to make the system better for the driver, and as smooth as possible for passengers in the vehicle. Until Ford offers a 6-speed manual transmission in all of their Fiesta vehicles, the 6-speed DCT is still the best option for maximum fuel economy.