Test Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta

San Francisco ? After years of a of a philosophy that seemed to advocate bigger is better,

Ford is going BIG into small cars for 2011 as it brings the Fiesta to the U.S. market.

As a centerpiece of the Ford lineup in Europe for years, the newest version became the bestselling car in Europe for the first quarter of 2010.? Now, Fiesta is ready to move into the U.S. market this summer.

Fans of the European version will be happy to note that the U.S. model is the same as the car sold in Europe, and that means it?s going to be fun to drive, as I found out recently at the U.S. introduction.

For Fiesta, small means it is about the same size as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.? It?s available two very stylish designs, a four-door sedan and a cool-looking five-door hatchback both available in a multitude of vibrant colors, including a Lime Squeeze Metallic that matches my cell phone perfectly. ?Interestingly, the sedan is more than a foot longer than the hatchback, but they have the same interior room and hatchback has more cargo space.

The interior is exciting as the exterior with sculpted surfaces, contrasting colors and a center stack that is patterned after the keypad on a mobile phone.? With front bucket seats and a 60/40 split rear seat, Fiesta is a five-seater, but plan on putting only close friends in the back seat, because it will be tight with three adults.? The cloth seat inserts are made from recycled materials and in a way, the optional leather seats with contrasting color piping are recycled from cows.

A 120-hp, 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder is under the hood, attached to a standard five-speed manual transmission.? There is also a new six-speed double clutch automatic transmission that gets the same fuel economy as the manual as a $1,070 option.

The Fiesta acceleration is strong, going from 0 to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds.? With fuel economy at 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway the Fiesta is very comparable to the hybrids.

Engineers didn?t pull a bunch of outdated equipment out of the old parts bin to build the lowest priced Ford.? Fiesta is loaded with new things like a driver-side knee airbag, integrated blind spot mirrors, capless fuel filler, push button start, ambient lighting along with many other cool features.? I especially like the SYNC communication and entertainment system and the four-inch multifunction display mounted in the top of the center stack.

For better driver control, Fiesta has a new Electric Power Assist Steering that includes a Pull-Drift Compensation system to keep the car on track in high wind conditions and when the road is not flat.? ?It also has AdvanceTrac? electronic stability control system, the steering wheel has tilt and telescoping adjustments plus the automatic transmission has hill start assist.

The Fiesta sedan comes in three trim levels S, SE and SEL with prices ranging from $13,995, including destination charge, for the S to $16,995 for the SEL.? The hatchback is available as a SE and SEL, with the SE priced at $15,795 and the SEL at $17,795.? Ordering a loaded SEL hatchback with sunroof, leather and all the extras will run the price to around $22,000.

The Ford Fiesta was a much better car and better value than I expected at this price point.? It?s very fun to drive, quiet and quite comfortable for a small car, and the styling is distinctive.? I think it?s going to be another big winner for Ford.

[Rating:9/10]

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