Written By: Chris Shunk
Posted On: 26 June 2009
Written By: Chris Shunk
Posted On: 26 June 2009
For longer than we can remember, words like 'cheap', 'unattractive' and 'lousy' were used to describe America's domestic offerings in the compact car segment. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have never figured out how to make money with small cars, so the domestic trio seeming has rarely put forth the effort to create competitive compact products. And although FoMoCo had a solid player in 2000 with the introduction of the Focus, when Ford of Europe received the thoroughly revised model in 2005, customers in the States got the short end of the stick. Until now.
While the 2011 Ford Fiesta isn't the Euro-Spec Focus that we've long-admired from abroad, this compact five-door offers a compelling list of kit in a tidy package. Ford is billing it as a great looking, high-quality vehicle that just happens to inhabit a small footprint. So the Blue Oval has imbued the Fiesta with the same technology and amenities found in other larger, more expensive offerings and added a healthy dose of nippy handling and top-notch fuel economy to boot. But those attributes come at a cost that ? historically ? Americans haven't been willing to pay for. So is the Fiesta worth your time and hard-earned coin? It's time to find out.
Our "Squeeze" Fiesta Titanium tester came equipped with a raft of formerly upmarket features including leather seats, Bluetooth connectivity, rain-sensing wipers and auto climate control. Optioned out, it carried a UK market price tag of ?16,000. That's close to $26,000 in U.S. dollars, but the UK total includes a hefty double-digit value added tax, and, as we're all well aware, direct currency conversions have little bearing on final market price.
The exterior styling of the Fiesta (think of it as "Kinetic 2.0") will likely serve as the template for future Fords both at home and abroad, with sleek proportions, aggressive sheetmetal and sharp head- and tail-lamps that make the Fiesta look more expensive than its sticker would imply. Even without its neon green hue, the Fiesta is a head-turner, and although its aquatic headlights and front fascia make it appear larger in photographs, the profile embraces its chic smallness in a way few compact cars can. Ford designers have struck a nice balance of form and function, as the tight packaging of the exterior miraculously allows for a voluminous interior.
Entering the Fiesta, the first thing that strikes you is the massive amount of space inside. There's plenty of head room, and two plus-sized guys can sit up front without rubbing shoulders. Also evident after only a few moments is the fact that Ford didn't go cheap on materials.
Comfortable leather seats in a B-segment hatchback? That's progressive. And Ford has also passed on the standard issue hard plastic dash in favor of rich-feeling, soft-touch materials. The steering wheel is thick and meaty, with an appealing leather wrap and redundant controls for cruise control and stereo functions. Ford even opted to go with a push button start as a means for inciting ignition, officially killing off any exclusivity associated with keyless start.
On the tech front, our top-level tester had an stellar sound system complete with a four-inch LED screen at the center of the dash. The display's bright red text was easy to read any time of day and the layout easy to follow. The Titanium Fiesta also came equipped with Bluetooth and voice control, plus auxiliary and USB inputs for your MP3 player of choice, along with power folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Since the Fiesta is, after all, a hatchback, we expected it to have decent cargo-hauling capability. With folding rear seats and ample trunk space, it didn't disappoint. We were able to jam a set of golf clubs in back without folding down the seats, though we wouldn't recommend shoe-horning your expensive sticks if you actually value them (since our clubs don't like us, we have no regard for them). We were also able to fit groceries for a family of five without dropping the rear seats flat.
Since we've become accustomed to cheap, unappealing interiors in small cars, it's hard to complain about anything inside the surprising plush Fiesta. Our lone gripe is the Euro-Spec tester didn't have a center arm rest. That's something that could very well be rectified in the U.S. model, so we still have hope that our right arm will have a place to reside once the Fiesta comes Stateside.
Ford did a commendable job of making the Fiesta's interior a reasonable place to spend time, but we were just as interested to see how the little hatch performed on the open road. Ford has worked hard to garner a reputation in Europe for chassis tuning, and the new Fiesta is further proof Ford's labors were not in vain. It doesn't have Mini-like handling, but the Euro-Spec Fiesta is the closest Detroit has ever come. Here's hoping U.S. engineers don't mess it up.
The Fiesta's light weight and direct steering makes you long for more twists, and we were lucky enough to hit a stretch of barren backroads north of Detroit. The 1.6-liter Duratec didn't overpower, but the challenge of holding the correct gear while properly negotiating all the dips, turns and straights was a blast. We liked it so much, in fact, that we went back for seconds and again for thirds a few hours later.
And while 120 horsepower isn't exactly track material, it more than held its own around town. The Fiesta exhibits very strong (relative to its meager power numbers) acceleration on takeoff, and getting to 60 mph feels faster than Ford's claim of a tick under ten seconds. The five-speed manual gearbox provided well-gated shifts, but the throws were a bit long for our tastes. Once on the freeway, the little 1.6-liter needs to hover around 4,000 RPM to cruise at 75 mph. It's a bit loud and buzzy on the freeway, but then again, we averaged a little over 38 mpg combined during a long weekend. That's impressive, even if we spent about 70% of our time on the freeway. We enjoyed driving the Fiesta so much that we found an excuse to drive 50 miles over to Ford's Dearborn, MI headquarters for extra pictures.
After a few days behind the wheel of the Euro-spec Fiesta, we're becoming bullish about the future of the small car in the U.S. ? at least the ones donning a Blue Oval badge. The Fiesta is attractive, fun to drive, and it has the tech-savvy features the Fiesta's core demographic are after. And when you consider the Fiesta promises to deliver all that with fuel economy surpassing just about every (non-hybrid) on the market for a price tag of around $15-$20k, there's good reason to be excited. The only downside to the Fiesta is the U.S. market model won't be available for sale here until the spring of 2010. Haven't we waited long enough for a good small car from a domestic automaker?