Weidel on Wheels: Ford gets it right with Fiesta

Entry-level subcompact has a peppy engine and a well-designed interior
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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For way too long, U.S. auto manufacturers just didn’t get it. When it came to producing compact vehicles that were reliable, cheap, good on gas and possessed longevity, they let foreign companies completely dominate the entire segment. The small call graveyard is full of U.S. models that never made it, while companies like Honda, Toyota and Nissan cornered the market on affordable, well designed economy cars. So it comes as a surprising development that Ford now has a very strong subcompact that just might give the foreign heavyweights some actual competition. Say hello to the 2011 Ford Fiesta, a subcompact that has a lot of enviable characteristics. Its Ford’s entry-level model, residing a notch below the Focus, which by the way will debut in several months with reportedly a very new-and-improved tag. There’s a lot to admire about the Fiesta, which comes in either a sedan or four-door hatchback. It has a nice appearance, a peppy little engine, a smartly designed interior, gets some serious gas mileage and has a sticker price that will please a lot of car shoppers looking for a small car payment. The Fiesta base model (three trim levels, S, SE, and SEL) goes for $13,320 and even loaded up its not very expensive at $17,120. It features a peppy 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine that produces 120 horsepower. Because the Fiesta weighs only 2,600 pounds, the performance is not lacking with the exception of tackling hilly stretches of pavement. The Fiesta has been clocked at 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, which is just about identical to the popular Honda Fit. The gas mileage has a wide range — 29 to 40 miles per gallon — but the guess here is it trends toward the higher figure, especially if you’re not frequently pushing the gas pedal close to the floor. Judging from the European market, expect Ford to sell more than a few Fiestas. Ford was elated to report that it sold nearly 70,000 Fiestas this March in Europe. In bragging that the Fiesta is an upscale subcompact, Ford is walking the walk. The Fiesta has a soft-touch dash, a smart, easy to operate center stack, and looks appealing as well. As an extra, it also offers Ford’s Sync System, a voice control audio system for mobile phones, navigation and emergency assistance. While roominess is about the segment average for front-seat occupants, the Fiesta does take a knock for having a smaller backseat and trunk space area than many competitors. But that flaw might be mitigated by all the Fiesta’s other attributes, including its handling, which is rated very high and makes for a fun drive, either around town or on a short road trip. __________ 2011 Ford Fiesta Price: $13,320 to $17,120 Power:1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with 120 horsepower Mileage estimate:29 mpg city 40 mpg highway Standard features include:Stability, traction control; anti-lock disc brakes; power mirrors; tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; a four-speaker, AM/FM stereo, auxiliary input jack and USB port; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; driver knee airbag