- Sporty driving dynamics
- Smooth and peppy engine
- High fuel economy
- Welcoming cabin
- Available high-end luxury features
- Limited cargo and rear seat space
- Conventional navigation system unavailable
For decades, small economy cars from American carmakers have been about as desirable as a cold hamburger. Overall build quality, upkeep costs, reliability and longevity -- the most important factors in this segment -- were points of embarrassment for Escorts, Neons and Cavaliers. But with the Euro-bred 2011 Ford Fiesta (which slots under the Focus to become Ford's new entry-level model), the U.S. looks to have something on the economy car menu as mouth-watering as an In-N-Out Double-Double.
Up until now, the Honda Fit was the subcompact class standout thanks to its impressively versatile interior, pleasing driving dynamics and high overall quality. But those who truly get a kick out of driving will likely find the Fiesta even more fun. Its smooth, eager engine, precise and well-weighted steering and an agile chassis show that one needn't be resigned to a dull drive just because one needs a small, practical and inexpensive car.
Unlike much of its competition, the Ford Fiesta is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles. Of course, the hatchback provides greater cargo capacity, but some folks prefer the more formal look of a sedan, which is likely why Ford is offering both. Either way, the Fiesta provides sprightly handling, a compliant ride and a quiet cabin at freeway speeds. It also offers features that are uncommon in this class, such as keyless ignition and Ford's superb Sync system, which, among other things, allows one to control audio and cell phone functions via voice commands.
There are some distinctive Fiesta alternatives in this competitive segment. Among hatchbacks, the 2011 Honda Fit and the 2011 Kia Soul stand out, and the aptly named 2011 Nissan Cube makes a unique aesthetic statement. Compared to these, the Fiesta hatch lags well behind in terms of maximum cargo capacity and rear seat room for taller passengers. The Fiesta sedan, meanwhile, has a bit less rear seat room than the 2011 Chevrolet Aveo, 2011 Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa. But it floors them all with its more engaging and well-rounded personality. It's definitely a car to look at if you're shopping for an inexpensive but desirable set of wheels.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The 2011 Ford Fiesta is an all-new subcompact available in hatchback and sedan body styles.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Ford Fiesta comes with four doors in both sedan and hatchback form. There are three trim levels for the sedan (S, SE, and SEL) and two trims for the hatchback (SE and SES).
The S sedan is the bare-bones, entry-level Fiesta and comes with 15-inch steel wheels, a capless fuel filler, power mirrors, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a four-speaker AM/FM stereo (with an auxiliary input jack and USB port) and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The SE sedan adds metallic cabin accents, power windows and door locks and a CD player. The SEL sedan adds LED parking lights, a rear spoiler, 16-inch "premium painted" wheels, a premium sound system (with satellite radio and six speakers), ambient lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and the Sync multimedia voice-command system which now also offers turn-by-turn navigation.
The SE hatchback is equipped similarly to the SE sedan but adds a rear spoiler and wiper. The SES hatchback is equipped similarly to the SEL sedan but adds a rear wiper.
Some options are grouped into packages that allow lower trims to have the upper trims' features, and the upper trims have access to optional features such as keyless entry/ignition and heated leather seating. There's even a Super Fuel Economy package that optimizes fuel mileage via aerodynamic tweaks (blocked-out lower grille, underbody panels), lightweight wheels and special tires. Individual options, depending on trim, include 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof and special paint colors.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
With its soft-touch dash top, metallic accents, edgy styling and tight build quality, the Fiesta's cabin has a premium vibe to it that's unexpected in an economy car. The center stack controls for the audio system look odd at first but prove intuitive, while the three-knob climate control system couldn't be easier to use. Ford's Sync system (standard in top trims) allows voice control over the audio system and your cell phone, and it also provides features such as voice-prompted turn-by-turn navigation (it works respectably well) and emergency assist. Another high-end feature not often seen in this segment is the available keyless entry/ignition system.
At 12.8 cubic feet, the sedan's trunk capacity is class-competitive. The Fiesta hatchback offers a bit less than that with its rear seat up. Unfortunately, the seats don't fold completely flat, and the Fiesta's 26 cubes of maximum cargo capacity pale in comparison to the Honda Fit's 57 cubes and the Kia Soul's 53 cubes.
Standard safety features include stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Also included is a class-exclusive driver knee airbag.
In the government's new, more strenuous crash testing for 2011, the Fiesta earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a Fiesta sedan eared a top rating of "Good" for its performance in frontal-offset and side-impact collisions. In Edmunds brake testing, a Fiesta stopped from 60 mph in a respectable 119 feet.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
All 2011 Ford Fiestas are powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 that generates 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. Technically, the automatic is actually an automated dual-clutch manual transmission; it provides quicker gearchanges than a traditional torque converter-based automatic. Disappointingly, there is no manual-shift feature.
The 0-60-mph sprint for a manual-equipped car takes 9.5 seconds -- about the same as a Honda Fit. Ford estimates the Fiesta's fuel economy at 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway for the automatic and 29/38 for the manual.
We can say without hesitation that the 2011 Ford Fiesta provides the most rewarding drive in its class. Though its acceleration is just average, in the real world of stop-and-go traffic and freeway merging, the Fiesta's mill is a pleasure. The eager-to-rev 1.6 delivers ample punch down low and remains butter-smooth even when taken to redline. The manual transmission is precise and easy to shift, boasting a linear clutch and light throws. The available six-speed automated dual-clutch automatic is another unusual perk in this class.
The Ford's steering is the new segment benchmark, from the weighting of its effort to the immediate and precise response. And the sophisticated suspension tuning makes the Fiesta feel at once substantial and lithe. Handling is excellent, yet the ride quality remains supple, with bumps and ruts swallowed sans drama.
The 2011 Ford Fiesta gives economy car shoppers reason to celebrate with its fun-to-drive personality, nicely trimmed cabin, tight build quality and unexpected features.