Strengths and weaknesses:
- value for dollar
- technological content
- superb handling
- small engine
Let’s get the “it’s not list” out of way right now.
What we are dealing with here is not a big car, although it’s roomy; it is not a fast car, although it’s quick; it is not a high performance handler, although it is nimble; and, it’s not expensive, although it has plenty of technology.
This is the 2011 Ford Fiesta, a nameplate that disappeared from North America more than a quarter century ago although it has continued to be a hot seller in Europe in the intervening years.
Now, it is back in Canada and it hasn’t been watered down like some gone-but-not-lamented Ford offerings of the past. The new Fiesta has all the performance of the European model plus some unique North American touches that make it an extremely appealing small car.
In fact, this is the best small car I have ever driven. Any shortcomings are purely subjective in a “B” car that proves economical need not be ugly or stripped down.
Available in four- and five-door models with four trim levels, Fiesta is good-looking (especially the five-door) with a sparkling colour palette.
Inside, surfaces are all soft-touch; plastics look less plastic-y somehow; gauges are clear and switches are all easily laid out and quickly become intuitive.
The bucket-style front seats are comfortable and have enough adjustment to ensure driver comfort. Rear seats are a bit cramped for leg room. Adults can ride there comfortably for short periods of time, but anybody with one of these cars is most likely going to be toting child seats.
Trunk space is good for the segment and the 60/40 split folding rear seatback drops down to carry a goodly amount of stuff.
Under the hood is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that uses Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing to produce 120 horsepower and 112 lb.-ft. of torque. Those aren’t big numbers but you can wring a lot of pleasurable performance out of those ponies.
You have to drop down a couple gears in the five-speed manual transmission to pass on the highway, but you get by quickly. You can opt for Ford’s PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission which is one of the few times I’d opt for electronic shifting. This simple, lightweight gearbox, which has no hoses or pumps, is quick and it’s smooth.
It didn’t take long to discover that the European flair for fun has been maintained in the North American version. We put the little car through its paces on some of California’s twistiest narrow mountain roads and came away with satisfied grins on our faces.
Pushed to its limits, Fiesta simply goes around the corner…no histrionics, just smooth, stuck-to-the-tarmac traction and electric power steering that point the car where you want it when you want it.
Bumps and hollows are easily soaked up by the suspension, making Fiesta feel like a much larger car.
A particularly neat piece of technology is Pull-Drift Compensation which helps the car track straight regardless of road crown or cross winds. It’s amazing, actually. Part of our route took us along the Pacific Coast Highway where the wind off the ocean was blowing at around 80 km/h. Fiesta tracked straight with little or no steering adjustment required from me.
Did I mention that it was quiet? Wind and road noise are effectively overcome by a series of measures, including acoustic glass windshield. It’s quiet by any standard.
Ford says Fiesta has 15 features not found on any other small car in North America. Of course Sync is one of them and it has a new feature—now you can voice-control the apps on your smart phone through the car’s system.
As Fiesta chief designer Steve Pintar says, the car has been smartened up, not dumbed down.