Test Drive: Ford Fiesta

EVERYBODY SING:

(To the tune of Disney’s “It’s a Small World”)

it’s a world of laughter, a world or tears
it?s a world of hopes, it?s a world of fear
there?s so much that we share
that its time we’re aware
it?s a small world after all

Anyone who has floated through the Disney Small World Ride will probably have trouble getting that tune out of your head now, but it?s a good representation of the new Ford Fiesta ? a small world car.

A centerpiece of the Ford European lineup for years, the latest Fiesta moved into the top selling position in Europe and more than 500,000 were sold worldwide in 2009.? In 2010, the Fiesta went on sale in the U.S. with a major campaign centered on social medias using sites like Facebook and Twitter.? Despite the heavy digital emphasis, initial U.S. sales have been slow.

The Fiesta has earned a reputation in Europe for its sporty handling and fans will be happy to know 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 we experienced recently in the Fiesta 5-door hatchback.

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

The interior is as exciting as the exterior with sculpted surfaces, contrasting colors and a center stack that is patterned after the keypad on a mobile phone.? Strictly as a matter of personal taste, we were not overly excited about the center stack with control buttons mounted at an angle; it looked more like an Alienware computer than a car dash, but they were well-marked and easy to use.? One major problem we discovered was the shinny surface on the dash that reflected in the windshield on sunny days making it very difficult to see out the windshield.

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.? Environmentalists will appreciate that 25 percent of the SE seat fabric inserts are made from recycle content. ?Two features missing inside are passenger assist handles over the doors and a center armrest.

A 120-hp, 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder is under the hood, attached to a standard five-speed manual transmission.? The optional ($1,070) PowerShift double clutch and works great on the highway, but in stop and go traffic we noticed odd pauses and lagged shifting at times, as if it was having trouble finding the next gear.? Generally, we?ve been fans of the double clutch transmissions, but we agree that the manual is a better choice in the Fiesta.

The Fiesta acceleration is strong, going from 0 to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds.? With fuel economy at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway the Fiesta is very comparable to the hybrids. ?On a 350 mile trip, we drove 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit and made several passes, running the car to about 90 mph and we still averaged 35.1 mpg.? We were also impressed by how comfortable the seats were after two three-hour stints.

Engineers didn?t pull a bunch of outdated equipment out of the old parts bin to build this 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.? We like the SYNC communication and entertainment system but have yet to master more than basics.

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.? We drove the Fiesta across the high desert area of Central Oregon with little steering correction was needed despite a strong crosswind. ?Other standard convenience and safety features include AdvanceTrac? electronic stability control system, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and hill start assist for the automatic transmission.

The Fiesta sedan comes in four 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 SES, with the SE priced at $15,795 and the SES at $17,795.? Ordering a loaded SES hatchback with sunroof, leather and all the extras will run the price to around $22,000.

The Fiesta has a strong youth appeal, and we give it high marks for styling, value and innovation.

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