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2011 Ford Fiesta: Let’s Make a Party!

We recently got a chance to drive the European version of the Ford Fiesta, which is due to hit American Ford showrooms this summer. Engineered and developed mostly by Ford’s European unit in Köln, Germany (but using a platform developed by Mazda), the Fiesta is an early example of the company’s One Ford initiative that aims to leverage its global resources and commonize Ford products around the world. Up until now, Ford has usually developed specific Fords for specific markets, but the company believes that global tastes are converging and offering greater opportunities for cars like the small Fiesta to come to North America.

The Fiesta has been around for many generations in Europe, and we actually got the first generation of that car all the way back in 1978. This sixth generation Fiesta returns to an America that is in some ways not so different from itself in 1978. We’re in the midst of a nasty economic downturn and energy prices are unstable, as is the state of affairs in the Middle East where much of our energy comes from. Like the late ’70s, the words “downsizing” and “fuel economy” are commonly heard.
So once again, the time for a Fiesta in America may be right. Except that unlike in 1978, driving a Fiesta won’t mean settling for bargain basement transportation if our drive in this guacamole colored European-spec car is any indication. As you probably know, the word “Fiesta” means party in Spanish, and as the car’s German development engineers are likely to say, this car is ready to “make a party” whenever you are.
In a nutshell, the Fiesta is a blast to drive. Its engine, while not particularly powerful, possesses an uncanny smoothness; I’ve never driven a small car with such a quiet, drama-free engine. It steers and handles with great precision (though I must stress that this is the European-spec car; the American-spec car may feel different) and rides with a sort of confidence you just don’t find in an entry-level car. This car’s European pedigree shines through at every curve and bump in the road.
Though our test car of course has the European-spec interior, I’ve sat in the American version and while there are a few differences (mostly to comply with specific U.S. safety regs), I can happily report that it has not been cheapened or decontented for American consumers. The American version’s interior looks very similar to the European version and in fact offers some very striking color options such as plum or white leather in an otherwise black interior. Bargain basement it certainly isn’t!
My only real complaint is the lack of space in the interior. The Fiesta looks absolutely stunning and amazing to my eyes (when was the last time you heard those adjectives to describe an entry level hatchback?), but the price you pay for its sleek styling is a rather cramped interior. Legroom and headroom is tight in the back, and front occupants, while not squished, definitely feel like they’re in a cockpit. Just about all of its entry level competitors (Fit, Versa, Yaris, Aveo) have lots more space inside.
Also, if you’re expecting bargain basement pricing, you’ll likely be disappointed. While the base sedan can be had for under $14,000 (still thousands more than a base Versa, Yaris, or Accent), a loaded hatchback version can break the $20,000 barrier. Granted, this is one sweet car, but you have to be prepared to pay for its sweetness.
Then again, plenty of people pay similar money for the Honda Fit, another entry hatchback with extroverted styling and a fun-to-drive character. And while the Fit undoubtedly has a much roomier and useful interior, the Fiesta is easily the more sophisticated in terms of the drive experience.
No matter what, driving a small entry level car no longer necessarily means suffering from embarrassment and feeling like you just can’t afford any better. Cars like Fiesta can actually make choosing to go small an entirely fun and reasonable choice. It’s enough to make me want to go make a party.

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