2011 Ford Fiesta SELPosted on September 4th, 2010
Compact hatchback appeals to a global audience
By Nina Russin
The original Fiesta was Ford’s answer to oil shortages in the mid-1970s. The Fiesta Mark 1 arrived stateside in 1978, sporting a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission.
It might not have been fast or fancy, but the Fiesta was the right car for the time, selling millions of units before being replaced by the Escort in 1981.
This year, Ford rolls out an all-new model as part of a global strategy to shift focus from large trucks to fuel- efficient, small cars. As with the original, the new Fiesta went on sale in Europe and Asia before coming to the US.
With a base MSRP starting well below $20,000, Ford hopes the Fiesta will appeal to young buyers looking for segment-leading technology, style and good gas mileage.
A 1.6-liter engine produces 120 horsepower. The four-cylinder engine comes with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. A dual dry clutch design reduces parasitic power loss for the automatic transmission: highway fuel economy is 38 miles-per-gallon, according to EPA estimates.
High-tech features with budget-conscious pricing
Product planners appeal to tech-savvy buyers by making Ford sync voice-activated controls standard equipment. The Fiesta’s center stack is designed to look like the keypad of a cell phone.
Features such as Sirius satellite radio, 12-volt power outlets, and redundant audio controls on the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel make the new Fiesta seem like a more expensive car than it actually is.
Base price on the SEL grade is $16,320, not including the $675 delivery fee. A convenience package on the test car adds keyless entry and start, front seat heaters chrome beltline molding and a perimeter alarm ($795). The six-speed automatic transmission is a $1070 upgrade from the five-speed manual gearbox. Leather trim adds $715, bringing the price as tested to $19,575.
Test drive in Arizona
I drove the new Fiesta around the Phoenix metro area on a combination of city streets and highways. Ford has created quite a buzz about its new global car: I was anxious to see for myself if the Fiesta lives up to all of the hype.
From a ride-and-handling perspective, I was a little disappointed. While my 35 mpg average fuel economy lived up to the automaker’s promise, the hatchback’s performance lacked refinement.
The automatic transmission is rather jerky, with harsh downshifts during moderate-to-hard acceleration. Power in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range is adequate for merging into high-speed traffic, but passing slower vehicles on the highway requires some forethought.
A high cowl limits visibility out the front of the car. I found it difficult to judge where the front bumper of the car was when pulling into a parking slot. A narrow rear glass creates similar problems in back. Designers wisely put wide-angle inserts in both side mirrors, minimizing rear blind spots created by the car’s thick rear pillars.
An electric power steering system saves weight over conventional hydraulic setups and is more compact under the hood. The steering system is well tuned for low-speed performance, but feels loose on the highway. On-center response is adequate but not exceptional.
The Fiesta’s 98-inch wheelbase makes it ideal as a city car: it can fit into a tight parking spot on the street and weave through dense urban traffic. A 34.4-foot turning radius makes U-turns a non-issue.
The suspension consists of a MacPherson setup in front with a stabilizer bar and a twist beam in the back. It performs admirably: compliant enough to absorb bumps in the road while keeping the chassis flat in the corners.
The upscale SEL comes standard with sixteen-inch wheels: an upgrade from the 15-inch rims on the base model. The larger wheels create larger contact patches with the ground for better high-speed and braking performance.
Front discs and rear drum brakes perform fine on dry pavement, since most of the front-wheel drive car’s weight is over the forward axle. But drum brakes are notoriously unreliable on wet pavement, and can be tough to service after a few years of northern Midwestern winters.
Engineers did a good job of isolating passengers from wind, road and engine noise. Passengers in the second row should have no problems conversing with those up front.
The Fiesta interior is surprisingly upscale for a vehicle in its price range. Keyless entry and start allows the driver to enter the car and fire the ignition without removing the fob from his pocket. In addition to convenience, the feature adds a measure of safety for drivers entering and starting their vehicles at night.
Seat adjustments on the driver’s seat are easy to use. I found the lumbar support adequate for drives lasting over an hour. Both the driver and front passenger have ample leg, hip and headroom.
The second-row seats suffer from a lack of legroom, even with the front seats moved far forward. A floor tunnel further limits legroom in the center position, making that seat useless except as a location for a child seat.
Twelve-volt power points up front and behind the center console allow passengers to recharge portable electronic devices on the go. Ford’s sync downloadable hard drive enables the driver to use voice controls for comfort and convenience functions. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel further reduce driver distraction.
Bottle holders in the front doors are big enough for twenty-ounce water bottles. Cupholders in the center console are not, with the exception of one towards the back, intended for second-row passengers. The Fiesta has no rear air vents, so temperatures can be uncomfortable in back on extremely hot or cold days.
Center stack controls are easy to reach from either front seating position and intuitive to operate. Audio information is displayed on a screen at the top of the center stack. Designers wisely put a hood over the information screen, making it easier to read in bright sunlight.
A digital display in the gauge cluster includes a digital display with odometer, trip meter, driving range and fuel economy readings.
Second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor. Unfortunately, it is not possible to fold the seats flat without removing the headrests. There is a bump where the seats fold, making it harder to load in long items.
I was surprised by the Fiesta’s high lift-over, considering the size of the car. While it is possible to put a bicycle inside the car, it would be difficult to do so in under a minute. Therefore the Fiesta does not meet our bicycle-friendly standards.
All models come with front, side, side curtain and a driver’s knee airbag, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Ford’s capless fuel filler system automatically seals the filler neck when the driver removes the fuel nozzle. The design is a smarter and safer alternative to gas caps which can leak, causing toxic emissions and setting off a trouble light on the dash.
Ford builds the Fiesta at its assembly plant in Cauatitlan, Izcalli, Mexico.
Likes: An attractive compact hatchback with a high level of standard comfort and convenience features. The Fiesta’s short wheelbase makes it ideal for maneuvering through dense urban traffic. The standard 1.6-liter engine offers exceptional fuel economy, rivaling some hybrid and diesel models.
Dislikes: Steering feels loose at high speeds. Lack of legroom in the second row.
Model: Fiesta SEL
Base price: $16,320
As tested: $19,575
Horsepower: 120 Hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 112 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 29/38 mpg city/highway
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