The first thing that you notice about the new 2011 Ford Fiesta when you get in, start it up and drive away is that it is no tin can econo-box from the days of yore. The door opens and closes with a solid thunk. Interior finishes, seating, and fit are top notch. On the road noise is hushed away beneath a solid feeling chassis with excellent grip and damping.
What Ford has effectively done by bringing their European Fiesta to the States is raise the bar for what we call entry level. This is an inexpensive car. Staring at $13,200 the Fiesta slots below the Focus and competes against other affordable cars from the likes of Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, and Toyota. And when you combine the standard features with the upscale feel of the car it really becomes something to add to your shopping list.
Inside the cabin feels large and never cramped as small cars used to. In fact the interior volume is about the same as the first generation Ford Taurus. It is tall with a lot of head room and with the four-door sedan the trunk space is positively huge. In our week of testing we found you almost had to crawl into the trunk to retrieve items that might have slid to the front while driving.
The 1.6 liter four cylinder engine sounds sweet as it revs smooth as a sewing machine. The twin-cam engine with variable valve timing provides 120hp. Our Fiesta four-door sedan model is the heaviest of the line weighing about 2628 lbs. But the engine still powered the car enthusiastically enough to make driving fun. A five-door hatch model with a five-speed manual weighs a bit less at 2537 lbs.
Our tester was equipped with the six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission which allowed spirited acceleration from almost any speed. The EPA rates the Fiesta at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway for the automatic. In our mixture of spirited driving both in town and on the highway we averaged about 32 mpg.
Our SEL model had the start button in lieu of standard keyed ignition. You just keep the key fob in your pocket and the cars knows you. A button on the outside door handle allows you to lock and unlock the car. The trunk has a button to release just under the lip to. It made trips to the grocery store extremely convenient as you never had to fumble for your keys when getting to the car. We did notice however that Ford left the blank spot for the old ignition switch on the steering column as well as the cut out in the dash. It looks a little amateurish in our opinion, they could have put new trim in so it would not look like an afterthought.
And we must discuss the PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission. It was the topic of our in-car conversations almost every time we drove it. The gearbox uses a dual dry-clutch system to transmit power to what is mechanically a manual transmission. Through cutting edge computer programming and mechanical actuators, the transmission has been designed to “replicate” the operation and feel of a traditional automatic but without the loss of power and economy of them.
This technology was developed in the past couple decades for super high performance race cars of Formula One because it delivers more horsepower, quicker and more direct shifts. But in these applications the transmissions are shifted manually. It has only been in production car applications where automakers have made them able to shift themselves and replicate a traditional automatic transmission which operates hydraulically and has a torque converter. The latter is the reason Ford chose this format as it provides some 8% better fuel economy than a traditional 4-speed automatic.
But because the transmission is not a traditional automatic gearbox, it does not behave exactly like one. This is not to say it doesn’t work properly. It just feels different. In that we wonder if Ford will see customer service visits from people used to how a traditional automatic should feel who think their transmission isn’t working right, when in fact it is. Customers hate being told, “that’s just normal” by their dealerships even if it is so. Time will tell.
In fairness while it has been well programmed and developed it is still a bit fussy in its operation. If you do things the computer does not expect there are sometimes lags in clutch engagement or gear changes until it determines your intentions. This would be like suddenly lifting off the accelerator in an intersection for a second and abruptly stepping on it again. In a situation like that you might get a hard shift or delayed response.
And given the transmission’s abilities we are really surprised Ford didn’t offer a manual mode for the PowerShift since that is one of the strong points or this design. If a manual shift mode was in place, it might make the PowerShift a more attractive option over the 5-speed manual for drivers who want to get sporty sometimes, but let the car handle shifting in bumper to bumper traffic. But if you are at all a car enthusiast we highly recommend getting the five-speed manual. You’ll save some money, some weight, and some frustration.
Steering feels light and precise due to the electric power assist. On center feel is tight and with its programming is resistant to cross winds and gusts. Braking feel is solid and linear. Even though the Fiesta has drum brakes in the rear, we never found anything to complain about in their capabilities. Our SEL sedan had 16” alloy wheels with P195/50R16 tires which gave excellent road holding too.
Because this is a car transplanted from Europe, the Fiesta shares little resemblance to any other Ford in the lineup. This is most apparent inside where hardly a single detail ,switch, control panel, knob, or finish bears any resemblance to other American Ford products. The radio, HVAC controls, gauges, and switchgear is not only different but laid out uniquely. We admit we were used to Fords in general and had to learn where everything was and how to use it.
A couple quirks exist inside that took getting used to. The stereo system controls and menus took a bit of learning. We were surprised to see the Sirius satellite brand name on the switches. While most cars have satellite radio now, they usually don’t have the service brand right on the button. What if the company goes out of business or changes its name some day? The wipers were another niggling detail that kept getting our attention.
Because of the large square windshield, the right wiper is cocked at an angle and protrudes up into the view space when at rest. While it is designed that way, it just keeps catching your eye when you drive and looks like it is wrong. Could have been better designed.
Also found a bit out of place was the USB port and auxiliary port down that the very bottom of the console. Located below the emergency brake handle and adjacent to the cup holders, the cubby and the USB port were already full or crumbs and debris. If you had your expensive iPhone down there and hit the brakes hard, it’s likely to get doused liberally by your latte or soda. We think Ford could look at locating these up ahead of the shifter in the future.
The seats were supportive and comfortable. Our tester had the cashmere leather seats which added a light atmosphere to the interior and looked classy as well. Missing from the cabin however is a center armrest. That however has been fixed by our friends at Boomerang who offer a top drawer OEM quality armrest that can be matched to all three Fiesta interior colors.
At the end of our test we came away impressed when you consider the price point of the Fiesta. Our Lime Squeeze four-door sedan SEL tester was almost fully loaded with options coming up to about $19,575. And from what we hear from Ford, at least half of all early Fiesta production has been ordered with premium options like leather. It seems people indeed are interested in well equipped small cars, which is opposite to old thinking. In that way, the 2011 Ford Fiesta hits the new market for premium small cars right on target.
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