Test Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta
Globe-hopping trendsetter: Europe's popular Fiesta ready to take U.S. by storm
MSRP $13,320 - $17,120
MPG City: 28 - 29; Highway: 37 - 38
The Fiesta has plenty of sizzle -- but you'll have to give up some space. My prediction? America is about to get a little more European.
With a manual or automatic transmission, the front-wheel-drive Fiesta sedan comes as a sedan or hatchback. Sedan trims comprise the S, SE or SEL; the hatchback comes as an SE or SES.
The Fiesta's rising beltline and sharp nose give the sense of movement; its short overhangs and taut sheet metal look as European as ... well, the European Fiesta that's been sold globally since late 2008. This is not some watered-down U.S. version. It looks good.
You wouldn't think it by the Fiesta's narrow stance, but it's actually slightly wider than competitors. It shows in its 34.4-foot turning circle, the biggest of its class.
The base Fiesta S has body-colored windows and mirrors -- a premium touch, given its sub-$14,000 price -- while SE models add a body-colored grille. The grille is slightly different between the sedan and hatch. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are optional on the Fiesta SE. The SEL sedan and SES hatch get 16-inch alloys, along with some nice lighting elements.
Get-up & go
The Fiesta's sole offering, a 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, moves the car capably around town. Getting up to highway speeds requires a steady prod on the accelerator, and uphill stretches call up the engine's full reserves to maintain speed, but this is the norm in the entry-level class.
The Fiesta's optional six-speed, dual-clutch auto is mechanically impressive. As is often the case for dual-clutch automatics, however, it isn't the smoothest. Encounter stopped traffic on a city boulevard, and pulling out to pass requires a long gap -- not because the Fiesta's engine can't muster the power, but because the automatic takes so bloody long to kick down. That said, in undemanding situations, the automatic behaves like any other.
With a five-speed manual transmission, Ford expects the Fiesta to earn EPA ratings of 29/38 mpg (city/highway); the dual-clutch automatic will get an even better 30/38 mpg, an engineer estimated. An optional Superior Fuel Economy Package on the automatic-equipped Fiesta SE, which adds aerodynamic enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires, bumps that up to 30/40 mpg. Those figures top the current class-leader -- in the automatic SFE's case, by around 10 percent.
As is common in this class, the Fiesta employs disc brakes up front and drums in back; antilock braking is standard. The Fiesta's pedal feels reasonably linear.
Handling and ride quality
The car steers precisely, darting from one corner to the next with remarkable aplomb. Body roll is limited, and short of the most demanding handling situations, the nose-heavy tendencies that most front-wheel-drive cars exhibit remain masked here.
Especially remarkable is how well the Fiesta tracks. Get up to 70 or 80 mph on the highway, and the steering wheel requires few corrections to stay on course. Ford endowed the car's electric power steering -- a setup popular these days for its fuel-efficiency benefits -- with systems to compensate for crosswinds and even tire imbalance. The result: The subcompact Fiesta feels as settled on the highway as a compact or midsize car.
Highway wind noise is impressively quiet, and the engine doesn't get loud until pushed hard. Our test cars came with 16-inch wheels and P195/50R16 tires, which picked up some road noise depending on the surface.
The suspension -- independent up front and semi-independent in back, with similar tuning across all trim levels -- responds skillfully to expansion joints or pavement ruts. The cushioning isn't pillow-soft, but it dispatches bumps cleanly, with no reverberations afterward.
With sharply raked contours and cell-phone-like center controls, the cabin is big on style -- and there's substance to back that up. Materials are handsome for this class, with high-rent stereo and climate controls. It's a step in the right direction for Ford.