If there’s a problem to be found with entry-level cars today, it’s that they are all too often defined by numbers. Their worth tends to be measured in miles per gallon and monthly payments but rarely in terms of entertainment.
Ford’s just-released 2011 Fiesta promises to inject some fun into this ultra-practical class. Their new hatchback and sedan are easily the most emotional choices in the segment, combining sharp styling with lively handling and cutting edge technology.
The formula has been a hit in Europe, with the Fiesta racking up numerous Car of the Year awards and sales records since its launch for the 2009 model year. But will good looks and a long list of features be enough to win the hearts and wallets of American consumers on this side of the pond?
Here at Honk HQ, we’ve been wanting to wrap our hands around the Fiesta’s thick-rimmed steering wheel for quite some time. The company’s Fiesta Movement advertising campaign went into play 18 months before the car even came to the US and quickly wrote the book on how car companies can use social media to get the word out.
Thanks to clever YouTube videos and cheeky Twitter accounts, an estimated 38% of Americans under the age of 30 knew of the car before it even went on sale. Yowzahs.
With so much buildup, the Honk team was practically salivating by the time Ford was able to loan us a Fiesta for a week of testing. A hatchback model slathered in sunny Yellow Blaze Metallic paint arrived at our office in downtown San Francisco loaded up with push button ignition, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, mood lighting, 16-inch alloy wheels, and Ford’s excellent voice-activated SYNC system.
The only option boxes left unchecked were for a power sunroof, leather seats, and Ford’s new PowerShift automatic transmission, which can nudge fuel economy to a hybrid-like 40 miles per gallon on the highway.
Even with all the fancy tech features, our Fiesta carried a sticker price of only $18,215. Factor in the wallet-friendly fuel economy and it’s clear that this Ford is a phenomenal value.
Despite being an American car, the Fiesta feels decidedly European. The suspension is taut and there’s a reassuring heft to all the controls. Even the doors shut with a pleasing thunk. All this refinement adds up to a Fiesta that feels and drives like a much more expensive car.
I scored the first stint behind the wheel and decided to head north to the Golden Gate Bridge. Squirting my way around downtown traffic was devilish fun thanks to the Fiesta’s impish size and agile handling. This car loves to play and I was grinning ear to ear before I even reached Market Street.
It wasn’t just me who was smiling, either. The little yellow Fiesta was a hit everywhere I went, drawing admiring stares and thumbs up from people all over the city.
One woman shouted, “That is a VERY cool car!” as she jogged past at a traffic light. Two cabbies gave me a thumbs up and one elementary age kid snapped a photo from the back of his dad’s car.
The only other car I’ve driven that attracted this much attention was the uber-charming Mini Cooper, which typically retails for thousands more.
After a few miles of celebrity treatment in the Fiesta, I started to wonder if maybe Ford had built more than just a car. The mango-colored hatchback was starting to feel like a 120-horsepower goodwill ambassador.
Back at the office, the Ford continued to impress. Dave took the car for a spin up the winding road to Twin Peaks and declared the Fiesta, “a pleasure to drive.”
Ali played with the SYNC system and remarked, “it was neat to play my music and make calls through the dashboard without ever taking my phone out of my pocket.” Katie agreed on the value of SYNC, noting, “If I were in the market for a new car today, I’d probably buy a Ford just for that alone.”
On my next stint in the car, I cruised down to San Jose and found that our manual transmission-equipped Fiesta had no problem achieving its government rating of 37 miles per gallon. There was sufficient power to merge and pass, though as with most entry-level cars, the Fiesta’s cabin does fill with engine noise at highway speeds.
With four average-size adults in the car, the Fiesta’s back seat is tight but not terrible. Rear occupants will be fine for a half-day road trip but you should think twice before loading up for a cross-country jaunt. Cargo space is excellent for the class, though, with generous trunk space and standard fold-down rear seats.
In short, this car delivers the goods. It’s smart, fashionable, eco-conscious, tech-savvy, high-quality, and loads of fun.
Ford’s new entry adds a level of style and sophistication that others in the segment simply cannot match. The Honda Fit may hold more cargo and the Nissan Versa may afford more legroom, but neither can match the Fiesta’s charm and joie de vivre.
The Fiesta is the kind of car you want to drive. And if you’re anything like me, that’s all the math you need.