2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Dr. Hatch SEPosted on September 30th, 2010
Compact car for a global market
By Nina Russin
The Ford Fiesta is a little car with a big mission: to conquest budget-minded buyers with a product that has global appeal. While the F-150 pickup truck remains a best seller in North America, the biggest automotive markets overseas are passenger cars. As Americans try to contain cost of ownership, they are also scrutinizing fuel economy.
To answer this need, Ford revived a nameplate that dates back to the 1970s. The original Fiesta, unveiled in 1975 for the ’76 model year, was a response to rising oil prices worldwide and gas shortages in the US.
The new Fiesta shares a similar mission, but with bigger challenges. Millennial buyers don’t want an econo-box: they want an affordable car they can be proud of.
In order to meet their demands, product planners added high tech features such as Bluetooth interface, MP3 connectivity and Ford sync, segment-leading safety features and a generous factory warranty.
To package all of this in a $15,000 car is impressive. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with my first test drive, of the upscale SEL model. While the 1.6-liter engine delivered exceptional fuel economy, it was sorely lacking in power and performance. The car was not fun to drive.
In addition, I had concerns about steering response and suspension tuning. Since the first test car was a preproduction model, I was anxious to see if Ford had resolved any of these issues in the production cars.
Manual transmission boosts fuel economy and performance
The test car is the SE grade with a five-speed manual gearbox. MSRP is $15,120, not including a $675 delivery charge. An ambient lighting and satellite radio package adds $370, while heated front seats and blind spot mirrors cost $195.
A rapid spec package adds Ford sync voice-activated controls, cruise control, alloy wheels and a premium sound system ($1245). Ford discounts the rapid spec package by $490, bringing the price as tested to $17,115.
Although city dwellers may be hesitant to purchase a manual transmission car, the Ford Fiesta with the 5-speed manual gearbox is a much better car than its automatic counterpart. Although overall fuel economy is slightly poorer, the powertrain delivers better performance. From a safety perspective, it’s easier to get out of a truck’s blind spot if the car has some torque.
Fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine
All grades come with a 1.6-liter engine that produces 120 horsepower and 112 foot-pounds of torque. As with most small engines, the block in the Fiesta needs to rev high to make power. It reaches peak torque at 5000 rpm: 2000 rpm below redline.
I found that the car handled best in the 3000-4000 rpm range. While my fuel economy didn’t match the EPA specifications, it was still excellent.
By revving the engine higher, I was able to eliminate the clunky downshifts I experienced in the SEL. Acceleration in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range was excellent.
Leaving the Phoenix metro area, I drove up the Beeline Highway that goes from Phoenix towards the mountain town of Payson. The Fiesta easily kept up with traffic, and out-accelerated several compact models in its competitive segment.
The speed-sensitive steering system provides plenty of assist at low speeds, but feels soft on the highway. The Fiesta’s 34.4-foot turning radius makes it ideal for city use: easy to shoe into tight parking spots on the street.
The fifteen-inch wheels on the SE produce large enough contact patches to stop the car in a firm linear fashion, but can’t match cornering of the 16-inch wheels that come standard on the SEL.
An independent Macpherson front suspension and twist beam in the rear is compliant enough to absorb some bumps in the road. While the chassis stays flatter with larger wheels, I never found myself losing control of the car on a winding two-lane road.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is adequate. A high cowl limits visibility to the front. Wide angle inserts in the side mirrors compensate for large rear blind spots caused by the rear pillars.
The Fiesta is surprisingly quiet for a light compact car. Engineers added padding behind the instrument panel and under the hood to prevent noise intrusion from the engine bay. A laminated windshield and foam baffles inside the pillars minimize wind noise.
I like the bright cloth interior standard on the SE: it gives the car personality without being gaudy. The seats themselves are comfortable for drives several hours in duration with good lower lumbar support. Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. Being the height of summer, I didn’t test out the optional seat heaters.
The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel has redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls. A hood over the digital display in the center console makes it easier to read in bright sunlight. Gauges are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
I was sorry to see a shift indicator in the speedometer: an ECO light would have been a more pleasant alternative.
The shift lever is taller than it needs to be. A smaller knob would be more ergonomic, and make it easier to snap between the gears.
A 12-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges portable electronic devices, while an auxiliary port interfaces with MP3 players. Bottle holders in the front doors are large enough for 20-ounce water bottles.
Second-row seats have limited legroom due to the car’s short wheelbase. The seats fold flat in a 60/40 fashion to extend the cargo floor. High pivot points create a bump where the seats fold, making it more difficult to load in long cargo.
The Fiesta SE comes with standard front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags. Ford’s standard safety canopy keeps the side curtains tethered to the pillars to prevent passengers from hitting the glass during a collision.
A capless fuel filler system eliminates a piece of hardware, and prevents annoying engine codes when the driver fails to replace the cap correctly.
The standard factory warranty includes up 24-hour roadside assistance for five years or 60,000 miles: whichever comes first.
Ford builds the Fiesta at its assembly plant in Cuautitlan, Izcalli, Mexico.
Likes: An affordable compact sedan with excellent fuel economy, a high level of standard safety and convenience features. A generous factory warranty makes the Fiesta an appealing option for first-time car buyers on a budget.
Dislikes: Poor visibility in the rear corners. Rear seats don’t create an uninterrupted cargo floor when folded flat.
Model: Fiesta SE 5-Door Hatch
Base price: $15,120
As tested: $17,115
Horsepower: 120 @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 112 lbs. ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 28/37 mpg city/highway
One response to “2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Dr. Hatch SE”
Bill Thackston November 2nd, 2010 at 12:18
Can the 2011 Ford Fiesta automatic transmission be towed 4 wheels down as is?
Or with modification, and if so, WHAT?
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