The 2011 Ford Fiesta drives right over subcompact car conventions U.S. buyers have come to expect over the last 20 years. Already popular in Europe before arriving on our shores, the Fiesta is an example of Ford’s commitment to introduce Americans to the best its European lineup has to offer. The inexpensive and small Fiesta is one of the earliest examples of this One Ford philosophy of building one car to one world standard, though consumers will soon get a new European-derived Focus compact entry as well as the C-Max, a small minivan.
Unlike the popular Nissan Versa, the Fiesta tries to woo consumers with upscale features and genuinely stylish sheetmetal you don’t often see in the subcompact segment. Of course, we’re talking about the four-door hatchback body style; a four-door sedan is also available. The two-door hatchback found on European streets isn’t likely to ever see the light of a U.S. dealership.
All Fiesta sedans and four-door hatchbacks are powered by a 120-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 112 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is the standard option, but a majority of Fiesta drivers will choose the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. In a time when at least two of the Fiesta’s competitors use a basic four-speed automatic, the fact that Ford opts to use an advanced six-speed option is impressive. This choice will be even more impressive if Ford manages to bring it to market with little to no durability issues.
Acceleration for the Fiesta is about midpack, with the 0-60 mph sprint done in 9.5 seconds, according to Motor Trend magazine. In a comparison test pitting the Fiesta against the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Nissan Versa, the Ford had the best 60-0 mph braking performance, coming to a halt in 116 feet. Overall, Motor Trend editors judged the Fiesta second best behind the Honda Fit.
As you’d expect on a car like the Fiesta, the turning radius of 34.4 feet is respectable. Unfortunately, the Fiesta is small on the inside—even for the subcompact class. Headroom, legroom, and shoulder room for rear seat passengers in the hatchback falls slightly behind the pack but, then again, sometimes you have to pay for bold styling. Cargo space, on the other hand, might surprise you. Keep the second row seats in place and the Fiesta hatchback can swallow 15.4 cubic feet of goods, comparable to some midsize sedans. Fold down the second-row seats and that space expands to 26.0 cubic feet, nowhere near the class-leading Honda Fit, though still roomy enough for many. The Fiesta sedan has 12.8 cubic feet of trunk space.
Where the Fiesta excels is EPA-rated fuel economy. The manual transmission model is rated at 28/37 mpg city/highway; add one mpg in each category for the automatic transmission models’ rating. Buyers who select the $695 Super Fuel Economy package bump the highway fuel economy number to 40 mpg thanks to changes like side air deflectors, a decklid spoiler, underbody shields, and blockers on the lower front grille.
That SFE package is far from the only option Ford offers on the Fiesta. For better or for worse, the Fiesta can be optioned with enough upscale features that the price may exceed $20,000. Clearly, buying subcompact cars today no longer needs to carry the “penalty box” image the vehicles once had.
Heated leather seats with contrasting piping for the driver and front passenger may surprise some consumers. The Fiesta also makes available a power moonroof, a push-button start system, turn signals integrated into the side mirrors, LED parking lights, satellite radio, and SYNC.
SYNC is a technology that has proved successful for Ford dealers. Available on some Fiesta sedans and hatchbacks, SYNC can help you make hands-free phone calls, receive turn-by-turn directions, get an online report of the car's diagnostics, or read aloud text messages. These options can make the Fiesta pricey; a base Fiesta sedan with a five-speed manual transmission has an MSRP of $13,995 including the destination charge, but without a CD player or remote keyless entry.
The Fiesta is small, but that doesn’t mean it sacrifices on safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls the Ford Fiesta a Top Safety Pick for 2011. After undergoing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s more stringent crash tests for 2011 model year vehicles, the Fiesta emerged with an overall rating of four stars on a five-star scale.
Ford deserves some credit for making such a great effort to grab a slice of the increasing subcompact segment pie. If buyers can see past the higher-than-average sticker prices, they’ll discover a car that delivers a driving experience better than its subcompact size might suggest.