2011 Ford Fiesta — Review
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
With the introduction of the Fiesta, a longtime best-seller in Europe, Ford Motor Co. has just turned its greatest weakness — small cars — into one of its many strengths. Trimmed to appeal to U.S. consumers, the Fiesta has a lengthy option list, a new automatic transmission and a strong dose of big-car refinement. Thoroughly modern and a bit sassy, this diminutive ride guarantees to make the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker an instant player in the under-$15,000 fray, which is becoming more and more important on this side of the pond.
Heated leather seats, anyone? The Fiesta sets new standards for available equipment in the small-car segment across three trim levels: S, SE and the equivalent SEL sedan and SES hatchback. All exude a hip, connected persona as the Fiesta actively targets young urban dwellers along with the more adventurous empty-nest baby boomers.
At its most basic, the cost-competitive Fiesta S is well equipped, featuring supportive seats, plenty of sound insulation, standard air conditioning, a tilt and telescoping steering, 4-way manual driver's seat adjustment, power mirrors, front-row floor mats, capless refueling, a rear window defogger and no fewer than seven airbags. There are concessions to price, including manual windows and steel wheels wearing 185/65R-15 tires. Significant S options are the automatic transmission, remote keyless entry and an upgraded sound system with CD and MP3 inputs.
The SE level takes the Fiesta well upmarket, adding dress-up chrome bezels and better cloth seating, and the S's optional CD sound and keyless entry options are made standard. Other standard SE equipment includes a message center and trip computer on the dash, power windows, rear window wiper and mirrors in the sun visors. The SE option list is extensive, including 6-speaker SIRIUS sound, Ford's Sync connectivity suite (now including many voice-activated smart phone applications), heated mirrors and seats, a power moon roof, cruise control and a rear spoiler. We expect most SEs will roll on optional 15-inch painted aluminum wheels and 195/60R-15 tires.
At the SES/SEL level, the Fiesta can be as well outfitted as many entry-level luxury cars. Besides all S and SE hardware, the SES and SEL offer standard 80-watt 6-speaker sound, floor console with USB port, 7-color ambient lighting, SIRIUS radio, a leather steering wheel and Sync. Outside, the SES and SEL are denoted by 16-inch aluminum wheels, trendy LED parking lamps in flashy chrome bezels and heated mirrors with marker lights. Options for SES/SEL buyers include leather seating, heated front seats and push-button starting, meaning that short of such luxuries as air-conditioned seats and power rear window shades, the little Fiesta packs most of the big-car experience into a compact package.
Under the Hood
The automatic is all new. It's essentially a dual-clutch mechanical gearbox turned into an automatic by electronic controls. The dual-clutch design allows rapid, smooth shifting — something missing from other manufacturers' more basic computerized mechanical "automatics." Although advanced in design, the automatic is purely conventional in operation. It's engaged through a floor-mounted shifter and has no sport mode or paddle shifters (which it could use in the hills or on twisty roads).
As an entry-level car, the Fiesta remains a front-wheel-drive commuter at all times; there are no all-wheel-drive or higher-powered variants. All Fiestas sip 87-octane gasoline, at 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway. This is best in class for both the small and midsize segments.
More important, but not as immediately apparent, the Fiesta interior is Ford's best effort in accommodating a wide range of people. Key to this is a long-travel telescoping steering column that allows larger drivers to (finally!) use all of the generous seat travel. So while the Fiesta is definitely compact outside, the interior is actually generous for front-seaters in all dimensions. When it comes to usable legroom, the Fiesta exceeds any Ford or Lincoln because the steering wheel can be extended rearward enough so it doesn't interfere with the driver's knees.
Of course, Ford had to steal space from somewhere to make the front pew commodious, and those squirming in back will find out from where. Small children will do fine, but if habitual rear-seat occupation is a requirement, checking the fit would be a smart idea.
Storage room is surprisingly large, both in the sedan's trunk and the hatchback's rear.
On the Road
The Fiesta also handles like a big car, in that the suspension strikes a smart balance between firm, reassuring road holding (enthusiasts will find the willing chassis limited mainly by nonsporting tires) and a soft ride over the daily bumps. Ford clearly spent time refining it, and the standard electronic power steering is an upscale touch.
That leaves only the fuel-sipping engine to remind us the Fiesta is partially cost-conscious transport. Not that the Fiesta is gutless, but only that the little 4-cylinder boils busily in its work. Accelerating with fast traffic means the engine revs, and large hills call for a downshift to maintain speed. The manual transmission helps, its feathery clutch and longish shift throws absolutely no impediment to an engaged driving experience. The automatic costs little or no performance but does stay busy sorting through its six ratios.
Right for You?
Sportier and optimized for two people, the hatchback won't raise as many eyebrows starting at $15,795, but is still very affordable. We recommend it with the manual transmission to enhance its perky appeal.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Ford provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)
Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technicalengine books and hundreds of freelance articles.