For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a crappy claustrophobic tin can that fights the Geo Metro for the title of Worst American Small Car of the decade. The only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, but the fiesta in mind had more to do with Cabo Wabo than Dearborn Michigan. Of course “Mr Euro” types know that the Fiesta has changed considerably since it last visited our shores, and as Jack Baruth found out at Ford’s Fiesta launch fiesta, Ford’s subcompact is now the most Euro-thentic subcompact on the market. But how well will a Fiesta actually handle an American commute? Ford lent me a baby-poo yellow example for a week to answer just that question.
First, a few slightly pedantic points must be made about the Fiesta’s European credentials. As with other products that come across the Atlantic, the naturalization process has exacted a toll on the trendy European. The front and rear bumpers have been extended due to differing bumper legislation in the U.S., the transmission ratios have been altered in the standard 5-speed manual, the suspension has been tweaked slightly, and to make small-car-adverse Americans feel more cozy about buying a small car, there is a questionably useful knee-airbag bringing the total bag count to 7 but thankfully the whole package only increased the mass by 115lbs. Anyone fearing death-by-small-car will be glad to know that although the NHTSA and IIHS have yet to rate the Fiesta, it did score 5 stars in the Euro-NCAP tests. (NHTSA and Euro-NCAP tests cannot be directly compared, but star ratings are typically similar)
Aside from getting fatter in the land of fast-food, the Americanized Fiesta includes a sedan variant currently available only in the US and China. Almost 14 inches longer than the hatch, the sedan proves that even Ford thinks the American market isn’t ready to go the full Euro just yet. The sedan has the distinction of being $1,800 cheaper than the hatch, which may be just enough to convince you to disregard the goofy looking trunk that is little more than a luggage slot in the rear of the vehicle. It’s no wonder that Ford’s press shots never seem to show the sedan from behind. Trunk lovers will be happy to hear that the bootylicious Fiesta sacrifices only one tenth of an inch of rear head room, and manages to be only 40lbs heavier than the hatch.
Typically when mainstream European vehicles come to our shores, the interior gets cheap and nasty. Not so with this Fiesta. The irritating ergonomics of the volume knob and SYNC voice button aside, the interior is nothing short of amazing. And not just for Detroit, but for any vehicle in North America under $25,000. No passenger during my week with the Fiesta could resist squishing the soft textured dash, padded door armrests or marvelling about how quiet the Fiesta was on the road. Yes, you read that right, a compact car that’s actually quiet on the freeway. Oddly enough the Fiesta is quieter than the Mercedes C63 or Infiniti M56 I had the weeks prior.
The benefit of all this quiet tuning is evident when using the Ford SYNC system. Phone calls sound fairly natural, the iPod integration and voice control is essentially the best in the business and I would be happy with just that. But Ford couldn’t leave well enough alone and threw in satellite radio and rudimentary navigation and other services via the SYNC Driver Services, a 3 year subscription is included and according to Ford we should expect downloadable apps that would enable Pandora music streaming soon. Still, I must find some fault with the lack of an up-level sound system, knowing that the Fiesta is targeted at the younger crowd, the lack of a premium sound solution is doubly strange given that the Fiesta can’t be upgraded with a standard size head unit. Proving that cost had to be cut somewhere is the headliner which seems to be made of the same material as trunk liner in my dad’s ‘86 Cutlass Ciera.
Behind the wheel the Fiesta continues to impress, but the differences between the Euro and American Fiesta become more apparent; the 5 speed manual transmission sports different ratios on our shores. While I appreciate the decision to make fifth gear taller for improved fuel economy, first and second gear are too short compared to third. This is obvious when entering a freeway onramp three gears are required to get to compared to two in the EU. As a result of this gearing change 0-60 times are almost a second longer in the US model. The 6-speed PowerShift dual-clutch transmission (functionally similar to the Volkswagen DSG) is the transmission to get and I am sure will be the most popular option. Not only do you get 5MPG better economy on the highway, but the Fiesta scoots to 60 faster and the gear ratios are far more pleasing for the average driver. Speaking of those MPGs, despite being rated at 35MPH on the highway, my 5-speed manual Fiesta tester averaged 42MPG in my daily commute involving going from sea level to 800ft nearly a dozen times, some mild traffic and average speeds of 70MPH.
The Fiesta handles incredibly well, due as much to an excellent suspension setup as the light curb weight. Ranging from 2537lbs to 2628lbs, the Fiesta is a featherweight by modern American standards. Muscle car buffs will scoff at the stock 120HP and 112lb-ft of torque, but for an econobox with the fuel economy of a hybrid, it’s quite respectable. Performance addicts may be able to rest easy as the internet rumour mill is alive and well with talks of a turbocharged EcoBoost version bowing next year. If it’s priced right I just might be the first to sign up.
Let’s talk competition. Compared to the Yaris, Fit and Soul, the Fiesta provides far greater interior refinement and more electronic gadgets than you would expect in this price class. Sure the base price of the Fiesta is higher than the Asian competition but for the equipment, it seems easy to justify. Our tester was a well-equipped SES hatchback with SYNC, upgraded paint, keyless go and heated seats carrying a price tag of $18,890 (a Fiesta SE sedan, PowerShift transmission and SYNC lists for $16,660). At this price point a comparison to the Volkswagen Rabbit is unavoidable. The Rabbit offers more power and a bit more room, but at the end of the day the Fiesta is still not only the better value, but arguable the better car.
The most direct competition for the Ford comes in the form of its cousin from the land of the rising sun: the Mazda 2. Compared to the 2, the Fiesta delivers more horsepower, more finesse, SYNC and better fuel economy due to the 6-speed PowerShift tranny (The Mazda gets an old 4 speed slushbox). At the end of the day, the Fiesta is quite possibly the best small car in America. The fly in the ointment is the upcoming Focus; if Ford applies the same formula in the conversion of the 2012 Focus for the American market, will the Fiesta find continuing sales success? Note to Ford: a 200HP Fiesta could be the GTI for this generation.
Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review