2011 Ford Fiesta SES

Don Sherman Jeffrey Jablansky
Matt Tierney

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

This premium subcompact needs to come down in price.
Why would I buy this when I can get much more for almost the same with a base model Hyundai Sonata?With the Sonata, you get 4 wheel disc brakes, 100% more space and 67% more hp while only losing 10% in fuel economy based-on Sonata drivers' observed average 30mpg on the EPA website (fueleconomy.gov). And that's still on regular fuel. All that while paying only 11% more?!The Hyundai Sonata seems like the better call.

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