Everybody knows a “Mr. Euro”. Hell, you may even be “Mr. Euro” to your friends. Mr. Euro is the guy who, for some reason, wants the cars he cannot have in the United States. He’s the guy who says he would drive a 520i “in a heartbeat” given the chance, the dude who thinks we’re missing out because the Renault Twingo stays on the froggy side of the pond, the fellow who desperately wants a Vauxhall Zafira for child-lugging purposes. I still fondly remember the conversation I had with a similar fellow, whom I shall call “Mr. JDM”, around 2004 or so:
“I would buy a Japanese Skyline sedan in a heartbeat, if only they would bring them here, and I’m not worried about the money.”
“Good news. They did. It’s called the Infiniti G35. Allow me to drive you to the dealership so you may make your cost-no-object dream a twenty-nine-thousand-dollar reality.” Alas, the grass is never so green when it’s cut into sod and shipped to our lawns, and perhaps that’s why so many Mr. Euros find themselves conspicuously absent from the lists of Saturn Astra or VW Rabbit owners. It’s also possible that the loudest voices on the Internet buy the fewest cars, which would also explain why the current Ford Focus has been such a roaring success despite the heretical nature of its US-only design and execution.
Nonetheless, Ford has given Mr. Euro his best chance yet to see what it’s like to be a typical Continental bloke. Before you sits the 2011 Ford Fiesta. Unlike any mass-market B-segment car in American history, but exactly like the B-rides of Europe, the Fiesta is a high-content, engineering-laden, no-excuses-made small car chock-full of every goodie from continuously variable valves to contrast-piped leather seating. For all those people who have said they wanted a full equipment list and top-notch NVH in a small car… here’s your chance. The line forms on the right, and if you pre-order the car you’ll get a free SYNC system capable of reading tweets and playing Pandora ‘Net radio.
For the attention-challenged TTACers, here’s your one-sentence review: The Fiesta is as much better than the Honda Fit as said Fit is better than the Toyota Yaris, and for most of the same reasons. Want more details? Here you go. Inside and out, the Fiesta is trimmed and assembled like a decent German entry-luxury car. It’s quiet and fast on the freeway. There are a few ergonomic missteps (where’s the steering-wheel radio volume control?) but from the Vertu-like center console to the tightly assembled instrument panel, this looks and feels like an expensive car. The Fit used to set the standard in this market but it’s not even close to the Fiesta.
On the move, the Fiesta is the most rapid of the B-cars. The dual-clutch automatic is not pitched as a sporting choice, and it slurs shifts like a torque-converter car rather than slamming them home in the fashion of an Audi TT-S. Still, it will shift for itself and pull 40mpg in the EPA highway test. Choose the manual shift instead and enjoy a disturbingly rewarding back-road experience. Nothing else in the class will keep up in a straight line or down a fast backroad. On Ford’s autocross course, the Fit felt more nimble but the Fiesta had more ultimate grip and pulled out of corners where the Honda simply bogged and moaned. Better still, the Fiesta actually has enough brake for its pace. It took me the better part of thirty miles to put any serious mush in the pedal, and that was operating at what even I felt to be a rapid back-road velocity around some very tight descending corners.
Ford’s worked very hard to make this car feel upmarket, even sinking the seating position perhaps a touch too far in an attempt to make it “cockpit-like”. The body is extremely stiff — I counted welds and examined the mating surfaces on a bare chassis and was amazed at how much metal is in the structure — and it’s very resistant to potholes, road vibration, and all the stuff that makes small cars feel crappy. The penalty is in weight: the Fiesta is 2600 pounds in most trims. This ain’t the lightest little car out there.
Nor is it the cheapest. Ford’s priced the sedan about five hundred bucks above the Yaris at $13,995, while the better-equipped five-door is right in Fit territory. The tester sedans and hatches I drove were priced in the $18K range but had wine-colored leather seating and some very nice equipment. Never in American history has a small Ford been sold on excellence, rather than price. It will be a tough pill for the dealers to swallow. In the same way that Fit transaction prices often exceed those of base Civics, many Fiesta intenders will be walking right by a Focus that is cheaper in real dollars. Only time will tell if they keep on walking to the better, smaller car.
If you know a Mr. Euro, send him by the Ford dealer. This is the Continental experience: plenty of goodies in a car about seventeen inches longer than a 1979 Civic. Speaking personally, I’d rather have a no-options 2011 Mustang V6 than a loaded Fiesta. Faster, don’t you know, and I’ll put a boom box in the back seat. Most of you will feel differently, and after two days of driving the little Ford I won’t criticize your choice.
Ford provided the vehicles, gas and insurance for this review