2011 Ford Fiesta: Changing the American Small Car Reality0
Ford’s little Fiesta bears the weight of the Ford world on its shoulders, if you believe the hype. Ford’s been heavily promoting Fiesta for a year, and very effectively getting the buzz out on social media and at a grassroots level. 100,000 people have requested more information, and another 10,000 put in a no-money-down reservation.
Whether a result of luck or skill, Fiesta launches when media soundbites tell us that the future is small and efficient. Anything else need not apply. Fiesta, on paper, is the godsend of the moment: A car for the city, boasting 30mpg city and 40mpg highway. Sexy and smart, and for all ages.
Some of us have some healthy skepticism as to the depth of demand for small, or B-segment, cars. And because American makers so thoroughly earned their reputations for only building small-as-penalty-box when it came to entry cars, the stakes are particularly high for Ford. That reputation that can only be dented by knocking our socks off and then overcome by doing it again.
So, with that kind of build up: Does Fiesta deliver? In a word: Yes.
By now you know Fiesta has a great, extroverted look. The more aggressive five-door hatchback takes a different grille and front fascia, with the sedan face tying in with Fusion and Taurus.
The clever center stack was designed inspired by cell phones, but most important doesn’t scream “cheap.” But with Ford rolling out the awesome MyFord Touch interface beginning with the 2011 Edge and Focus, Fiesta’s interior has the most risk for looking dated quickly.
That Fiesta is an entry car in disguise, and something has to be inexpensive. The soft-touch, textured dash material does not help keep costs down, but a really cheap-feeling headliner and truly awful interior door handles do. The shape of the door handles is great, with a style perfectly integrated into the design–they just feel like cheap, thin plastic.
That we found so few cheap elements is impressive. There are more expensive vehicles with more offensive interiors. Ford has delivered a premium interior for a small-car price.
Coolest Elements of a Cool Car
The six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission works like a traditional automatic–put it in drive and go–but provides faster, rewarding shifts. With six available gears, whatever grunt the 120HP I4 can give seems always accessible. At cruising speeds, noise is reduced compared with a more typical four-speed automatic small-car transmission. This six-speed unit gets better fuel economy than the five-speed manual–opposite tradition, thanks to advances in onboard computers and ECU software.
The five-speed manual offered slick shifts and reasonable throw, avoiding the rubbery feeling this price class is prone to. But as responsive as that six is, this is a rare case where the autobox wins.
The six-speed doesn’t come with a self-shift feature, like Volkswagen’s similar DSG transmission. While some might wish otherwise, Ford wisely invested engineering and materials resources to giving Fiesta features that will help the car stand out in the pack.
Bold Design, Bold Colors
Anyone keeping up with Fiesta has seen Lime Squeeze already. Photos don’t do it justice. In the real world, it glistens. There’s more metallic sparkle and less lime green. It is indicative of the great color palette, all attention-getting, stylish colors. Fiesta colors are grown up, expressive, fun, and stylin’ all in one beat.
Inside, the standard cloth trim is nice, but predictable. But the optional leather seat choices include a creamy smooth cashmere with black accent piping and a luscious wine red. These colors are warm, inviting, modern, and rich.
This car is substantial, responsive, fun, and full of tricks not widely available in the segment. Fiesta is not the slot-car racer personality of the MINI Cooper, nor quite as lightly tossable as the Honda Fit. It is more fun than the Fit (but not Cooper), as its substance encourages playing hard.
The six-speed gearbox comes standard hill-start assist program and hill-holder. The hill-start assist downshifts as you brake, intended to make downhill grades easier for driver and car. A side effect? More aggressive downshifting and longer shift holds. Call it an unofficial sport mode–even if Ford doesn’t.
Checking all the boxes gets you one of the smallest cars on the road for $21,000, but feature availability is impressive. Most models get standard Sync, three-time, one-touch repeater indicators, and power doors and locks. Intelligent key (with a nicely detailed pushbutton start), heated seats (single-stage), Ford’s signature entry keypad, heated exterior side mirrors, ambient lighting, Sirius satellite radio, and steering-wheel-mounted controls are all available.
Electric power assisted steering (EPAS) allows Fiesta to incorporate features like Pull-Drift Compensation (helps you drive straight even in side winds or over severe road crown) and Active Nibble Control (helps minimize interference from minor wheel or brake issues)–both also on the 2011 Mustang. Kudos to Ford for including those elements on their smallest car.
Summary: Best in Class
In this business, best-in-class honors change yearly, but for 2011MY, Fiesta will hold that position. Not every element is perfect, but nothing ever is. Fiesta does raise the bar for its mix of features and competitive pricing. Driving it is fun and styling terrific. Ford has absorbed the idea of a premium small car, and given Americans the chance to see if they are really ready for one.