New Car Reviews

Driven: 2011 Ford Fiesta

No offense to CNBC junkies, but the people who love cars – and most car buyers – don’t really care about exploiting synergies, maximizing verticals, or any of the other corporate jargon that comes from the business side of the car business. At best, all consumers want to know is: Is it well-engineered? Is it screwed together tightly? And is it wrapped in some I-gotta-have-it sheetmetal?

Oh, and does it have Bluetooth?

The business people now have their proof that Ford wasn’t full of beans when it promised we’d be getting the hot Fords that are winning awards – and buyers – in Europe. The Transit Connect got here first and won the North American Truck of the Year award before anyone could even say “what the . . . ?” But a small commercial van can only carry so much enthusiasm. The Fiesta’s appeal is far broader: it’s a little car with big style, a big smiles-per-mile factor, and big mpg numbers. And yes, it has Bluetooth plus the kitchen Sync, too.

About 750,000 Fiestas have found homes around the world since the sixth generation of the hatchback went on sale in late 2008. This Fiesta rides on Ford’s global B-segment platform, which is shared with the upcoming Mazda 2. And it’s entering a growing segment of our market – one that, only five years ago, was defined by dreadful little things called Reno, Rio, and Aveo. Today, we have the fun Suzuki SX4 and the comfortable Nissan Versa, and, of course, the king of the subcompacts, the versatile Honda Fit.

Right out of the box, though, you can see that the Fiesta has something that the dorky Fit doesn’t – with headlights that nearly touch the base of the A-pillars and taillights that practically are the D-pillars, the Fiesta’s ultramodern styling screams “let’s go play.”

And – this is a revelation in this class of cars – that sentiment actually carries through to the driving experience. Forget what you know about entry-level economy cars, the Fiesta drives like a grown-up hot hatch. Well, let’s call it a “warm hatch,” because 120 hp is barely enough power to spin the front tires. But the new 1.6-liter four-cylinder does love to rev, with its torque peak only 1000 rpm before the tachometer turns red. Curiously, peak power doesn’t occur until 350 rpm past the 6000-rpm redline, but that just seems like permission to keep gunning for the 6500-rpm rev limiter.

The chassis is up for the challenge, too. Suspension calibration is essentially unchanged from the European version, and body control is, in a word, brilliant. Drive the Fiesta aggressively, and you’ll know why the rest of the world considers this Ford to be the small-car-handling benchmark. It makes the Honda Fit feel like a cargo van.

When the road relaxes, there’s nothing econobox about the Fiesta, either. The interior is hushed, with no offensive wind noise even at triple-digit speeds, and the engine’s thrum is smooth and distant. The standard five-speed manual transmission has a light, although slightly ropy, linkage and a clutch that encourages smooth shifting. The engine computer deserves some credit, too – it monitors the position of the clutch and accelerator pedals and will adjust the throttle opening to help you be more graceful. Cool stuff, but you’ll probably never beat the optional two-pedal tranny in shift smoothness.

The marketing people got a little carried away with its name – PowerShift – but Ford’s first dual-clutch automatic does one of the best imitations of a conventional torque-converter automatic we’ve seen. The unfortunate lack of manual controls – it has neither a manual gate nor paddles – doesn’t hurt that impression, either. Off-the-line clutch engagement is smooth and linear, and the computer will hold pressure on the brakes to ensure that the Fiesta doesn’t roll backward when you’re starting on a hill.

Ford projects EPA ratings of 29 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway with the manual. The automatic’s extra cog and wider gearing net another 1 mpg in the city, while a pricey $795 fuel-economy package adds 2 highway mpg. Those numbers are way ahead of anything in this class but still can’t match the diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf TDI’s 30/42 mpg, even though the Golf is a size bigger.

Ah, size. That’s where the Fiesta comes up short, particularly in rear legroom: it has 3.3 inches less legroom than the Fit and a shocking 6.8 inches less than the Versa. That makes the difference between a truly usable rear seat and a torture chamber. Sadly, there is no enormous trunk to make up for it, either – the Fit has 34 percent more cargo room, and its seats do an origami flip-and-fold that the Fiesta’s don’t.

The Honda, though, doesn’t have Sync. The Fiesta’s version of Ford’s voice-activated infotainment interface now allows the use of cell-phone apps – including Pandora music streaming. A full navigation system isn’t available, but turn-by-turn directions can be downloaded through your phone. Since the Fiesta wasn’t originally designed to use Sync, a few compromises had to be made. First, engineers needed a place for some of the Sync functions on the steering wheel, so they eliminated the volume control – the buttons we use most often. Also, the USB and auxiliary input jacks are in plain sight on the center console, meaning you’ll have to unplug and hide your music player every time you park your Fiesta.

But still, options like heated seats and leather upholstery, not to mention the dual-clutch transmission, are unusual in this class. Standard features such as three-blink turn signals, blind-spot mirrors, and a capless fuel filler aren’t available from any of the competition, either.

But the big differentiators are the Fiesta’s great looks, high-quality interior, and brilliant handling. Oh, and it has Bluetooth. And here you thought the big news was that Ford didn’t take the bailout money. Sheesh.

The Specs

On sale: Now
Price: $13,995/$15,795 (sedan/hatchback)
Engine: 1.6L I-4, 120 hp, 112 lb-ft
Drive: Front-wheel

Some like sedans

The Fiesta comes in two flavors: four-door hatchback or four-door sedan. The sedan caters to the U.S. market, so it ditches the global face for the three-bar chrome grille we’re accustomed to seeing on Ford products. That change, combined with slightly awkward proportions—sedans don’t scale down as well as hatchbacks do—makes the notchback Fiesta less attractive to our eyes than the hatch. It also suffers from a lack of legroom in back, and despite being 13.5 inches longer than the hatchback, its trunk is among the smallest of its competitors. A cheaper, low-content S model is unique to the sedan and does without power windows or a CD player. While the sedan offers the same excellent dynamics, we’d go for the better-looking and more practical hatchback.

    Different stripes for different types
    Fiesta buyers are invited to primp their rides with a variety of custom graphics.
    By Joe Lorio

    With the Fiesta’s target audience of young millennials enthusiastic about adding imagery to their bodies, Ford apparently hopes they (and other Fiesta buyers) will similarly embrace the idea of adding personalized graphics to their cars. Going far beyond old-fashioned racing stripes, the company is offering eighteen different designs, ranging from zigzags to flowers to ninja blades, each in a variety of colors.

    “The design concepts are different than what we’re used to at Ford, and that’s a good thing,” says Jim Abraham, who is in charge of vehicle accessories for Ford. The designs were created by the supplier Original Wraps, which also provides graphics for Mini – and soon for Nissan as well.

    Ford has high hopes for the concept, which it plans to offer on every one of its cars and trucks by late summer. For the Fiesta, the stick-on vinyl graphics range in price from $149 to $499, plus installation, and come with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty. But should a buyer later decide he or she no longer wants to drive a car with pink flowers along its sides, the graphics are easily removed. If only the same were true of tattoos.

    To see the full variety of available designs, check out

    Buying Guide
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    2011 Ford Fiesta

    2011 Ford Fiesta

    MSRP $15,500 SE Hatchback

    EPA MPG:

    28 City / 37 Hwy

    Safety (NHTSA):


    Horse Power:

    120 @ 6000