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2011 Ford Fiesta - New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader August 2010

Little Car, Big Talent


The age of boring small cars is over. America hasn't taken to subcompacts in the past because, really, what kind of fun have cars like the Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa or Toyota Yaris been? Yes, there's the Mini Cooper, but one premium-priced example doesn't constitute a trend. The 2011 Ford Fiesta, however, is a messenger, a game-changer, a car that represents a new beginning for Ford and perhaps for the North American subcompact sector as a whole.

That's because the Fiesta isn't really an American car. It's been a best-seller in Europe for a while. Old World drivers like their cars nimble, chic and versatile, and the Fiesta fits the bill. The Ford operation on this side of the Atlantic has made the wise decision to bring it over more or less untouched. Just a little more (unseen) reinforcement at the rear for greater crash protection, a minor tweak of the suspension, and that's about it.

However, driving character is only half the story. Ford is aiming the Fiesta at young city dwellers – the people with smart phones who consider Bluetooth connectivity an essential rather than a cool little extra. Ford has also found that even though buyers might be able to afford bigger, pricier vehicles, they are deliberately choosing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and loading up on options instead. To that end, the Fiesta offers leather seating (unusual in this class), plenty of in-car infotainment and a wide choice of high-quality paint colors.

Cabin fever

Acoustically treated glass was once the exclusive preserve of limousines. This little car has a windshield that reduces noise; Ford claims the quietest cabin in its segment. The rest of the interior works well too. Materials are generally of high quality and the front seats are comfortable enough for a long drive. Finding a good driving position is helped by a steering wheel that adjusts both for height and reach. Rear space is adequate, given the car's dimensions.

Appealing even more to a young crowd, the 2011 Fiesta offers ambient lighting in selectable hues, as well as some intriguing technology. Ford has its Sync system, developed with Microsoft, that enables voice control of various audio and phone functions, but the Fiesta can take it further. For example, a smart phone linked to the Internet connects with the audio system here, and a web-based radio station comes streaming out of the speakers. Turn-by-turn navigation and real-time traffic updates are also available.

All about the image

The belt line at the back goes high, but it works, giving the Fiesta a kicked-up, ready-for-action look, while the headlights add a touch of attitude. Buyers can choose various graphics to personalize their car, but some of these seem less than classy. In any case, the palette of exterior colors includes a Goth black and a radioactive metallic green, so there's plenty of scope for self-expression.

The most practical iteration is the five-door hatchback. There's a generous amount of cargo space once the rear seats are folded down. But Ford also offers a four-door version with a large, well-shaped trunk, because – unlike their European cousins – Americans have traditionally preferred sedans. In this case, the trunked version looks awkward next to the much sleeker-looking hatch.

The engine of change

Given the Fiesta's potential power to transform American driving habits, its actual muscle is hardly impressive. From a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine springs 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. Some passing maneuvers need careful planning and timing, and the quiet of the cabin is then broken by the engine's drone as it's being revvedThe Fiesta is one of the best-handling front-drive cars available..

Then again, 40 mpg on the highway is very nice to have. And in the city the Fiesta can still manage 30 mpg, so it more than fulfills the promise of being an economy car.

The best fuel consumption is achieved not with the standard five-speed manual, but the optional six-speed "semi-automatic" gearbox. There is no third pedal, but the system is based on a dual-clutch setup activated automatically when pushing the lever; changes are executed with swiftness and smoothness. This is the transmission to go for. If only there were steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters available, it would be almost perfect.

Closer to perfection is the chassis. It can iron out the creases of an unkempt road surface. Yet there's an agility, an eagerness to transition from one corner to the next, and complete body composure with precise steering and a feeling of being foolproof. Part of that feeling is created by the standard electronic stability control. Not the kind of blunt instrument other manufacturers put in their less-than-expensive cars, this one is made to interject here and there with a helping hand, often without the driver being aware. The Fiesta is one of the best-handling front-drive cars available.

Competitive class action

Up until now, the class leader has been the Honda Fit, which starts at $14,900, has a slightly smaller engine than the Fiesta with a little less power, and gets 33 mpg on the highway. Clever, flexible seating means it's highly practical and Honda's build quality is darn good.

The Toyota Yaris has much less power but gets closer to the Fiesta's fuel consumption figures: 29 city, 35 highway. It also comes with the option of a trunk, unlike the Fit. A basic five-door hatch version starts at $12,905. A better rival from Toyota might be the more youth-oriented Scion xD, which has a lustier engine (128 hp), acceptable fuel figures (27/33, city/highway) and starts at $14,900.

Although the Nissan Versa comes with a hatch or a trunk, compares well with the Fiesta in the power stakes, has plenty of headroom and is priced quite competitively (from $13,400 for a five-door), it can't match the Fiesta's fuel economy or driving experience. Then again, the Nissan Cube (from $13,990, same engine as the Versa), with its almost brutally square looks, has even more presence than the Fiesta and is aimed at the same young market.

Don't ignore the Suzuki SX4. This isn't a poor relation like many Suzuki cars before it. The SX4 comes as a sedan or hatch, offers all-wheel drive, moves remarkably well, has good quality materials and build, and starts at $13,359.

Mazda's brand-new Mazda2, starting at $13,980, has a lot of driving talent and style, but comes up short in the power stakes (100 hp) and only offers a four-speed auto transmission.

The basic Fiesta is the S Sedan, starting at $13,995. The hatch begins at $15,795 and runs up to $17,120 for the range-topping SES model.

More than 980,000 buyers around the world can't all be wrong. The Fiesta packs big talent into its small size and the suspension could easily handle a more powerful engine. It also employs a good degree of safety features, including a body with a large percentage of high-strength steel, ABS brakes as standard, heavy-duty wipers and convex blind spot-eliminating mirrors as part of the normal side mirrors. One of the seven airbags is positioned to protect the driver's knees, a rare asset in this class.

The version to buy would be the hatch with the six-speed semi-auto transmission. It's the most stylish and practical, and has one of the best new forms of gearbox around. Just be careful when choosing the exterior color, since acid yellow may not go down well at resale time.

RELATED INVENTORY
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Used 2011 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback
Used 2011 Ford Fiesta
$7,240
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2011 Ford Fiesta SE Sedan
Used 2011 Ford Fiesta
$6,988
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2011 Ford Fiesta - New Car Review - Autotrader