2011 Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta 2011 Ford Fiesta
Short Take Road Test

Ford is playing a familiar tune with the new Fiesta. It goes like this: Take a hot product from the European portfolio, adapt the car to U.S. regulations, and spread the development cost over another continent. It sounds simple, but the Focus and the Contour—Ford’s previous attempts at a “world car”—showed the complications associated with that orchestration. The Contour’s size (and especially its back seat) was too small for American tastes, and the Focus, while a sales success, was plagued by recalls in the switch to North American production.

With the Fiesta, Ford is hoping three’s the charm. We drove the European version of the car, and our impression is that it has what it takes to be a hit. We’ll see if that’s still true when production begins early next year at Ford’s plant in Cuautitlán, Mexico.

At 155.5 inches long, the Fiesta is 19 inches and change shorter than a Focus sedan and plays in the subcompact segment with the likes of the Honda Fit. Both the Fiesta and the Fit have the same basic jelly-bean silhouette, which maximizes inter­ior space, but the Honda, with an extra 6.1 inches of length and marvelous folding rear seats, wins on cargo size and versatility. When folded, the Fiesta’s rear seats don’t make a flat load floor, but the Honda’s do.

As we noted in a minitest, the Fiesta one-ups the Fit in any winding-road run. And a German-built version we tested here in Ann Arbor handled the worst of Michigan’s potholed roads with isolated solidity that bests some luxury cars. Our main complaint is the car’s short gearing, which leaves the engine buzzing above 3500 rpm at freeway speeds. At least the gas tab doesn’t suffer. Ford says the Fiesta’s EPA fuel economy will be better than that of the Fit and the Toyota Yaris—near 40 mpg on the highway. We managed 28 mpg in a mixture of city and highway driving.

Ford’s U.S. product plan calls for a Fiesta sedan (unique to the North American market) and a five-door hatchback, with either the five-speed manual we tested or a four-speed automatic. The only engine is a 118-hp, 1.6-liter inline-four. That might not seem like much power, but it moves a feathery 2462 pounds of curb weight, and there’s enough oomph to propel the Fiesta from zero to 60 mph in a competitive 8.7 seconds. And that’s without the aid of a wheelspin-inducing high-rev launch that would improve that figure—our test car lacked an off switch for the stability control; Ford says the system will be defeatable on all American Fiestas. Skidpad grip was an impressive 0.84 g, although surely the ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Exalto PE2 summer tires had a role in that. You can bet that the Fiestas you’ll see on dealer lots will come with all-seasons.

The issue of tires introduces a much bigger question: How much of the Fiesta will be lost in translation as the car crosses the Atlantic? A change in tires will dilute some of the perky handling, but we’re being told the suspension components and the tuning will remain virtually the same as the Euro model’s. Safety regulations dictate new side mirrors and slight changes to the bumpers; otherwise, the styling won’t be altered.

Ford is talking about a base price that starts with 13 (possibly followed by a lot of 9s), and we have to wonder how much cost is going to be taken out of the U.S. Fiesta. Our loaded test car is priced at about $23,000 in England, not including the VAT. We wonder if the soft-touch dash will be as soft and if the multifunction screen and cell-phone–inspired radio buttons will remain.

These details about pricing and options are still being sorted out. If you’re willing to pay for a loaded Fiesta (about $18,000, we’re told), expect nice things such as leather, heated seats, and automatic climate control. We’re guessing the power folding mirrors and the keyless entry and ignition from our test car will probably stay in the old country. What is certain is that Ford has delivered with the Fiesta—in Europe. Let’s hope the American version is as good.