With so much buzz about the Fiesta over the past year and a half, you’d almost forget that the car is actually a typical small hatchback. The engine isn’t terribly powerful, although it has a 20-hp advantage over Mazda’s mechanically similar Mazda 2. I’m looking forward to sampling the dual-clutch transmission on another Fiesta later this year, but I suspect that the manual transmission will still be the enthusiast’s choice for the Fiesta.
I hope the Fiesta sells well for Ford. No matter how often we write about cool hatchbacks with good interiors and luxury touches like Sync, if the people in the market for a new car don’t step up and actually purchase Fiestas equipped like this, Ford won’t be able to justify offering a small car with big features in the U.S. market. The real question is: will people find the Fiesta interesting enough to buy when gas is cheap? In a world where people camp out for a week to buy the newest iPhone (even though it’s not THAT much different from the old one) I think Fiesta stands a good chance. Check back next summer for the sales story.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
I can take the gutless engine, the bad drone at 78 mph, and the fact that my fun-to-drive detector never went off. This is an entry-level car, and shortcuts are part of the deal. But I am annoyed by the lack of coat hooks and grab handles-essential features in any automobile. Why load up on dozens of dash buttons and Sync features when life’s basics are ignored? Where does one hang a coat? How will the blue hairs make their annual New York to Miami trek with nowhere to anchor their clothes bar?
The cloth upholstery is serviceable, the soft dash-top pad fits well, and the center-mounted miniature electronic display is handy. That said, I could not convince this Ford to cease and desist with automatic door locking. Nor would the rear seat cushions fold forward to provide a lower nesting place for the hinged backrests. I support the importation of Ford’s best and brightest cars from Europe, but the Fiesta needs attention before it can thrive as a winner among cheap, small sedans.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
Is it capricious for me to say this Fiesta is the best subcompact I have ever sampled? Its refinement, handling prowess, style, and interior make up for the fact that it’s oozing-molasses slow. It’s not tippy like a Honda Fit, disconnected like the Scion xD, or annoyingly hip like our Four Seasons Nissan Cube.
To the naked eye, it seems that Ford didn’t change much about the exterior in the transformation from the Euro-spec Fiesta. This is a very good thing. The hatchback is definitely the body style of choice; the sedan’s three-bar grille up front looks silly, and the ovoid rear borders on zaftig. Our test car’s thoroughly maroon exterior isn’t as bright as other color options, but it makes the Fiesta stand out among the sea of similar subcompacts.
The Euro-inspired interior has the same transformative power of the Volkswagen Golf, in that it makes you feel like you’ve purchased a more expensive car. Ergonomically, everything works; soft-touch elbow padding on the doors is the perfect antidote to the lack of center armrest. The level of material quality feels light-years above the Focus (which costs more), and Ford tastefully omitted slabs of Americanized fake-aluminum. Seats are nicely padded, although there’s next to no headroom or legroom for rear passengers when a six-footer is at the helm. The best part about the interior, though, has to be Sync. If every manufacturer’s infotainment system worked as seamlessly, the world would be a better place. I barked commands in funny accents, and foreign song titles, and it didn’t skip a beat.
The Fiesta is just as attractive on twisty roads. It corners flat, which is more than can be said for the Fit or the xD. Our test example’s tires were more than up to the task of entertaining along winding Huron River Drive. Shifting action is extremely light, and the clutch’s super-high takeup basically means shifting requires but a tap of the leftmost pedal. I am a fan of the manual gearbox, especially in situations where downshifting becomes necessary for passing, but I realize that the six-speed dual-clutch transmission probably comes into its own on the highway. A sixth cog for the stick shift would quiet down the engine, for sure.
No, it’s not fast, and no, it’s not a particularly capacious hauler (although I did manage two vacation-size suitcases, stacked one on top of the other, in the trunk, with the seats up!). Talking with David Zenlea while he washed his prized Pontiac Grand Prix on a Sunday morning, I noted that this is a hatchback I’d spend my own money on. He replied, “So, I bet that makes this the first Ford you’ve ever recommended.” At this car’s $18,000 price, larger and more powerful competitors do exist, but the Fiesta manages to recapture all of the joy of going out for a drive. Are we still talking about a Ford here?
Jeffrey Jablansky, Associate Editor
Wow, Ford did a really nice job with the new Fiesta. I knew that after driving a Euro-spec car more than a year ago, but now that the Fiesta is officially on sale in the States, I’m even more impressed, since Dearborn has given us a truly good, feature-laden, relatively affordable small car.
It’s fun to drive, too, with sharp handling, tight steering, and an accurate gearbox. I’d prefer shorter stick-shift throws and a quicker-revving engine, but those things aren’t deal-breakers in my mind.
The vertical LED light bars in the front end are very cool, and the car is very stylish overall, particularly in this dark red color. The Mazda 2 and the Fiesta share very similar bones, but the Ford’s looks easily make it my favorite of the two.
The Fiesta has lots of little nooks and crannies to store your ancillaries, but interior packaging isn’t as clever and efficient as that in the Honda Fit. The Fit’s slick manual gearbox is better, too, but I think I prefer the Ford overall. Still, the Fiesta’s ergonomics are poor in many ways (window switches are way too far back; small radio buttons are quite far away; glare on radio display in bright sunlight), but it’s nice that it offers premium features such as Bluetooth and keyless start.
If ever there’s a car to convert Americans to subcompacts, it just might be the Fiesta. As Phil said, check back with in a year for the sales results.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
My, how subcompacts have changed. Offerings in this class have evolved from literal penalty boxes into stylish, sophisticated vehicles, and it’s hard to argue the new Fiesta hatchback isn’t exactly that.
Sure, this design has been on sale abroad for a while now, but the Euro-crafted styling still looks fresh, especially when paired with a vibrant hue, like this car’s candy red metallic. Interior materials are nothing short of superb, although the control arrangements are a mixed bag. I had no qualms with the number pad placed on the center stack (it was perfect for quickly punching up Sirius stations), but I did find it a little unusual that the multi-function steering wheel buttons lacked volume control.
Much as I like the Fiesta and its fanciful features, my wallet does cringe whenever I look at that $18,000 price tag. That isn’t the least bit unreasonable for a nearly loaded Fiesta, but it does sidle up to the price tags of larger competitors — and as my colleagues have noted, that may turn off buyers here in America if gas prices continue to remain relatively low.
If you’re on a strict budget, want a hatchback (which Ford only offers in the high-trim SE and SES models), and can live without the likes of Sync, Mazda’s 2-a subcompact that shares its platform and sophistication with the Fiesta-may be a better option.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Ford’s Fiesta is a fantastic driver, with excellent composure, a comfortable ride, and satisfying handling in an economical package. It’s not fast, but neither is the competition. The Fiesta’s selling point — for passionate drivers and not social media lemmings — is its chassis. The ride quality is as good as that in many larger cars, and it’s agile enough to invite you to throw it into a turn at a decent clip.
As good as the Fiesta is, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The five-speed manual is too light and flaccid to be engaging, and second gear seems a touch too tall. Adding a sixth gear would allow for sprightlier sprints by closing up some of the lower ratios. I find the Americanized exterior to be a bit fussy compared to the European car, but the Fiesta is still the hands-down style leader in the subcompact segment — and by a large margin. Unfortunately, the Fiesta may also be the segment laggard when it comes to interior room. Both for cargo and people, there’s a serious shortage of space behind the front seats.
Ford’s Sync is packed with features, and many of these luxuries are hard to find in the subcompact segment. That said, the user experience in the Fiesta is flawed by several nuisances that detract from the core capabilities. There’s an “aux” button on the center stack, but it only accesses the USB and auxiliary input. Using Bluetooth audio streaming requires navigating a maze of menus so convoluted that I still struggled to locate the right screen on my fourth time in the car. The steering wheel audio controls lack a volume adjustment, and the voice activation buttons is clumsily located on a the turn signal stalk. The preset buttons are so closely placed and strangely shaped that they can be difficult to press. There’s a massive spatial distance between the “soft keys” and the screen that tells you what function those buttons perform and the five-way controller is awkward to actuate.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
The Fiesta is an attractive small hatchback, although I have to say that the red candy metallic paint job on our test car didn’t show it to its best effect. On the afternoon I drove the Fiesta I was stuck in traffic for several miles. To its credit, this little compact didn’t make me wish that I were in a more upscale car — although in this instance, an automatic transmission might have made my time inching down the freeway easier. While driving in slow motion, I was able to fiddle around a bit with the radio, and I regret to say that the Fiesta fails in one area here — there’s no simple knob to change the station. You have to press a button to find a menu to change the station. Very fussy, and not user-firendly. In contrast, one useful feature on this car is the side-view mirror inset, a cheap and easy solution for blind-spot mitigation.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2011 Ford Fiesta SES
Base price (with destination): $17,795
Price as tested: $18,770
1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
Heated, power side mirrors
Integrated spotter mirrors
Easyfuel capless filler
AM/FM premium sound system
Single CD player with 6 speakers
Leather-wrapped steering wheel w/ audio controls
Sync voice activated system
Sirius satellite radio
Advancetrac electronic stability control
Front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS
Options on this vehicle:
Rapid Spec A– $795
Heated front seats
Chrome belt line molding
Passive keyless entry start system
Chrome decklid molding
Red candy metallic paint — $180
Key options not on vehicle:
6-speed automatic transmission — $1070
29 / 38 / 33 mpg
Size: 1.6L 16-valve DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 120 hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 112 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Wheels/tires: 16-inch aluminum wheels