I’m a big fan of small cars—always have been. My first car was a Geo Spectrum that I drove 125,000 miles. I currently own two German-engineered sub-compacts.
Just because I like small cars doesn’t mean I want to drive a poorly engineered car. It always seemed that you had to give up refined driving dynamics, upscale interiors, and smooth power to go compact. That’s fortunately a thing of the past with recent small cars, including the Ford Fiesta.
Some of you may remember the Ford Fiesta from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Forget it—they’re nothing alike.
The Fiesta is essentially the same car sold and engineered in Europe. That’s pretty easy to believe given its stylish body, especially when painted Blue Candy like our test car.
Styled with themes similar to other global Fords like the latest Focus and Escape, the car’s rounded front rises dramatically into large headlamps, raked-back windshield, arching roofline, and sculpted bodysides.
High-mounted tail lamps are especially continental, as are vertical light tubes in the lower front facia. Strong wheel arches amplify the handsome 15” alloys. You either like the look or you don’t, but at least it is distinctive.
Inside, motorcycle-inspired analog gauges look great, but most of the attention goes to the center control stack that has the feel of an Infiniti. The buttons are a little confusing at first; one feels as if they are at the helm of a starship or at least in control of an iPod.
Canvaslike cloth or leather seats are available, heat optional. The world’s most perfectly sized steering wheel is both height- and reach-adjustable. Auto up/down windows, changeable ambient lighting colors, available push button starting, and panel materials that would embarrass some $30,000 cars lend an upscale feel.
Rear 60/40 split seats let very large objects pass through the hatchback and into the cargo hold. Ford claims the cupholders can grip everything from Red Bull cans to 7-Eleven Big Gulps. I’ll have to believe them. Safety is enhanced by dual front, side, side curtain, and knee airbags.
Powertrain: 120-HP 1.6-liter I4
6-spd auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind./Twist beam
Wheels: 15”/15” f/r
Brakes: disc/drum fr/rr with ABS
Must-have features: Handling, SYNC
Manufacturing: Cuautitlan, Mexico
Fuel economy: 29/39-MPG city/hwy.
As-tested price: $19,420
It is more than style that builds the car’s substance. Nothing feels cheap. Even the canvas seats in our test car felt well-made, supportive, and comfortable. Swashes of blue among shades of gray looked pretty cool and continued the exterior’s bright hue. The cabin is cheery—not a bad place to while away commutes and long trips.
I’ve driven Fiestas a couple of times before, so I was definitely looking forward to some highway time.
I plugged my iPod to the car’s voice-controlled SYNC system through a USB port in the center console. SYNC has received a lot of great press, and it is commendable that Ford would put such a sophisticated infotainment system in its entry-level car, but it often has a mind of its own. Using the in-dash menus is confusing. I suspect the next-generation of the technology will be better.
There was no confusion over the car’s powertrain. Ford’s Brazilian-built 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine generates 120 hp at 6,350 rpm and 112 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. That would feel underwhelming if it weren’t for an ultra-crisp 6-speed automatic transmission.
It is easy to predict when the transmission will step down a gear or two, letting the driver almost think his/her way through traffic. Even at ridiculous highway speeds, the car felt comfortable and stable with its Euro-influenced chassis and steering. Best of all, fuel economy rates 29/39-MPG city/hwy when driven reasonably.
What you don’t notice in the Fiesta is excessive noise. To ensure the little car would be one of the most pleasant loafers rolling, Ford specified special glass that absorbs and contains noise.
Engine racket is tamed by a hood blanket while superior door seals expel wind noise. Special padding and foam were used throughout the interior to quiet unwanted noise. Fiesta’s aerodynamic profile also plays a part in keeping wind turbulence to a minimum.
All of this sound deadening guarantees the perfect cabin in which to enjoy your favorite tunes and make hands-free calls.
Overall, the Fiesta is one nice compact. It is a car that you buy just as much for enjoyment as economy. It clearly set a standard that competitors are quickly trying to match—witness the recent Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris, and Kia Rio.
Building essentially one Fiesta for the entire world allows us to drive world-class compacts in America. An as-tested price of $19,420 puts it within reach of most of us.
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