Driven: 2011 Ford Fiesta

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

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