Ford's Fiesta a strong contender as small car



2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback

Base MSRP: $17,120

Marketers' pitch: "A pretty big deal," says Ford's website. Enough to make people climb out of windows all over town, says its introductory commercial. (

Conventional wisdom: No. 1 in affordable small cars by U.S. News & World Report. "Gives economy car shoppers reason to celebrate," says And Ford's profits have been on the right track.

Reality: Cute, fun to drive, lots of options, easy on gas.

The test drive: Ford debuted the Fiesta in late summer for the 2011 model year. The small car comes in four-door-sedan and four-door-hatchback form.

The Ford Fiesta SES hatchback delivered to me sported the five-speed manual transmission. Shifts were smooth, and the clutch was easy. Steering was nimble and quick, and allowed for fun turnaround maneuvers as most small cars will.

Side-view mirrors have inset mirrors for a clearer picture. A nice touch.

On the downside: The steering-wheel-mounted cruise control is easy to fat-finger.

Modern amenities: Gone are the days when "small car" meant econobox. Little cars now offer as much as the big boys. An outsize control panel in the middle operates cell phone, Sirius, and iPod, and even retro stuff like CD and radio. I mastered all the controls without hunting through the owner's manual. Most people aren't going to open it, ever.

The option package for a start button, $795, also upgraded the interior, including heated front seats. An additional $715 turned those seats to leather.

Inside: Basic black trimmed in silver. The round speedometer and tachometer dominate the view. I'd lower the 130 m.p.h. speedometer, but that's my middle age showing. The gas gauge and emergency-brake light can be easy to overlook, tucked as they are in the cleavage between the speedometer and tachometer.

Cup holders are fairly inconvenient, way down between the seats. No place to put CDs, except in the glove box. A tiny slot in front of the gearshift seems to be a place for a cell phone, but it's smooth, and the phone won't stay there.

Spill alert: The handy 12-volt and USB auxiliary outlets face upward, next to the cup holders, which seems to be asking for trouble. (A second 12-volt outlet faces rear-seat passengers.)

Outside: A clean, sweet-looking design.

Passing lane: Though small, the Fiesta has get up and go. The 1.6-liter engine delivers 120 horsepower. For instance, if some woman in a red Nissan Sentra decides to change lanes in front of you four times on the Schuylkill, and proceeds to go slow each time, and you decide you want to lose her for good, you can. And you may suddenly find yourself going 90 miles per hour, without any complaint from the car. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

The car handles highways as comfortably as the 300-year-old roads of rural Chester County.

Stuck in traffic: When everything comes to a halt, as it so often does in Philadelphia traffic, the Fiesta does a nice job of stopping. Lack of headroom doesn't allow the driver to do too much stretching. But the seat is comfortable, and adjusts and reclines, so it doesn't leave drivers stiff.

The night shift: Cool purple lights accent the glove box, the cup holders between the seats, and the foot wells. Four dome lights brightly illuminate the four corner passengers (sorry, person in the center rear, you lose again) without distracting the driver. Gauges are nicely lit, red and white.

Friends and stuff: After setting up the front seat, I hopped in the back to see how well I would fare as my own passenger. Once I stopped criticizing my driving, I found legroom was perfect, though my head greeted the ceiling.

Later, a cruise around the Chester County countryside with Mr. Driver's Seat's Mrs. Passenger Seat and two of the offspring seemed to leave everyone happy, though the kids did mention the backseat was a little firm.

Another short family trip packed two teens and a tween back there, and they did seem to need to move in unison. Still, the haul from a pretty fair-sized Sunday afternoon grocery run fit in the hatch, where Ford reports 15.4 cubic feet is available.

Stopping for gas: The handy onboard computer tells me the car's averaging 35.4 miles per gallon. A great deal for such a nimble, fun vehicle.

Quality surveys: Ford ranks "above average" these days on J.D. Power's 2010 initial quality survey and "average" in three-year overall reliability. All reports are that Ford's work is on the upswing.

Where it's built: Cuautitlan, Mexico, in a new plant.

At the end: The Fiesta definitely ranks as a contender among other small cars.

Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or