Review: 2011 Ford Fiesta, Take 3
We’ve seen the sequence too many times before. Enthusiasts beg GM and Ford to offer their international products in the U.S. They offer one. It fails to sell. It gets canceled. Nevertheless, Ford plans to replace its entire small-to-midsize lineup with vehicles developed in and primarily for Europe. So this time it had better work out. First up: the subcompact Fiesta.
In hatchback form, the Fiesta is the segment’s best-looking car. There’s a lot going on, but none of the numerous eye-catching details warrants a “WTF?” The exterior’s complex curves meld to form a well-proportioned, cohesive whole. I could study the rear quarters for days. In “lime squeeze” or “yellow blaze” (the “blue flame” of the tested car isn’t the best choice) the athletic egg screams, “Let’s play.” Unlike with Detroit’s previous attempt at a playful small car, the original Dodge Neon, there’s also sophistication to spare. Good thing, because Euro-market cars cannot be profitably sold at Neon prices.
The relatively upscale aesthetics continue inside the Fiesta, though the materials don’t all keep pace and the silver plastic has been laid on a bit thick. The padded armrests on the doors and the contrasting piping and stitching on the optional leather seats are nice touches. Unfortunately, style in some cases trumps function. Sure, SYNC is a big plus, but the audio controls bring the unintelligibility of iDrive to the masses (I gave up). And the decidedly non-premium HVAC controls are a stretch. A first in my experience: there are no manual door locks. If the battery dies or a power lock actuator fails, how can you lock the car? (Pulling on an interior door handle unlocks the door even with the power out.)
The laid back windshield forces a deep IP, which distances the driver from the road. But, despite the small windowlettes ahead of the doors, you’re still clearly piloting a conventional car rather than an MPV. It helps that the A-pillars seem thinner and less intrusive than most these days, and that the driving position is lower than the segment average. The raked beltline and tall rear headrests impair rearward visibility, but not dreadfully so. Standard spotter mirrors more than compensate. The front seats pass muster, though enthusiasts will wish for more lateral support.
The price of the athletic exterior: an adult-unfriendly rear seat. The cushion is low, and you’ll find more knee room in some sports cars. (Unexpected consolation prize: rear reading lights.) The cargo area is similarly much less commodious than in a Honda Fit, though there’s a little more space behind the rear seat than in the related Mazda2.
Over on Ford’s UK site, you’ll find the Fiesta’s 120-horsepower 1.6-liter four described as “mighty.” But then the range across the ponds starts with a 60-horsepower 1.2-liter. Even fresh from a 100-horsepower Mazda2, “mighty” didn’t cross my mind when driving the Fiesta. To give credit where credit is due, the Ford’s 1.6 revs with more verve and zing than the Mazda’s smoother 1.5, and thanks to a plumper midrange doesn’t sink into a hole when you shift from first to second. But power is still adequate at best by American standards. “At best” meaning AC off and no incline. Turn on the AC and the engine loses its will to rev.
Both transmissions need a re-think. With the five-speed manual, shift throws are long, the gaps between ratios are overly wide given the torque-to-weight ratio, and the upshift light soon proves annoying. The “PowerShift” six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (think VW’s DSG, but with less expensive, lower maintenance dry clutches) could have been a high point. But while this transmission makes the most of the not-so-mighty engine, and enables top-notch EPA numbers (29/40), its overly frequent shifts lack finesse. A manual mode would help, but—in a first for this sort of transmission—none is offered. Consider this the first but not last clue that driving enthusiasts haven’t been invited to this Fiesta.
All of the above I could live with, as long as the chassis delivers on the promises made by the sheetmetal. Despite glowing initial reviews, in final production tune it doesn’t. Compared to the related Mazda2, the Fiesta is soft, even squishy. Especially when paired with the SE’s 15-inch Kumho tires, the electric-assist steering feels relatively dull and imprecise. Twitch the wheel one way and then the other, and the car wobbles as delayed reactions trip over one another while working their way through the chassis. In curves, the Kumhos plow early and often. The SES’s stiffer, grippier 16-inch Hankooks (still not ideal treads) delay the onset of understeer, but even with them the Fiesta doesn’t quite come alive. Granted, the average American driver will notice nothing amiss. But for anyone with an interest in driving, the Fiesta’s handling falls short of (admittedly high) expectations.
What your average American driver will notice: a smooth, refined, quiet ride. The Mazda2 doesn’t ride badly, but the Fiesta is a Lexus in comparison, especially on the highway. The exterior promises a driving experience that is both athletic and upscale. The chassis might fail to deliver on the former, but certainly does on the latter.
So, can the latest Euro Ford make it on this side of the Atlantic? Well, if Americans prioritized functionality and handling we’d be awash in tautly suspended compact wagons. As it is, Ford won’t even be offering the new Focus wagon here. Sharp styling, an upscale ambiance, handling tuned to keep inexperienced drivers alive, a plush ride, and iWhatever connectivity matter more, and the Fiesta delivers these. So it will likely succeed where the Merkur, Astra Lemans, Contour, Catera, G8, and Astra redux (have I forgotten any?) failed. Which would be fitting, because a European Ford has done well here before: the original Fiesta.
I’d prefer more power and a roomier back seat, so I’ve personally been looking forward to the similarly styled, one-size-larger 2012 Focus. But after driving the Fiesta I’m worried. Please, Ford, don’t muck up the handling.
Frank Cianciolo, an excellent salesperson at Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, provided the car for this review. Frank can be reached at 248-226-2555.
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- 2ACL Nice. KBB suggests that the price is a few grand optimistic for that mileage, but the seller isn't out of line for seeing if they can get a high side bite.
- EBFlex Remember, the only way to solve the fake climate crisis is for the government to take more and more money.
- EBFlex Sweet ride. Great engine and the best transmission on the market today. I test-drove one of these once and the ride was very harsh. That may have been pre-adjustable suspension though.
- Ollicat If I were a car manufacturer, I would add those costs to my EVs
- FreedMike It's time to play "First Amendment F*ck Around And Find Out", ladies and gents! And today's contestant is Elon Musk. (Sorry, Mr. Musk, there's a big difference between "free speech" and "consequence-free speech." )