While the United States is far ahead of much of the rest of the world when it comes to — well, political stability, for instance — we are not exactly setting the best of examples when it comes to efficiency and scale.
Consider the Ford Fiesta. While many have come to recognize that it’s probably the most grown-up and well-appointed microcar that Ford has sold in the U.S. market in decades, there’s a bit of hesitation involved. It’s still the very smallest of the company’s local-market choices, compared with the roomy-by-comparison Focus or practically gigantic Escape.
Travel outside of the U.S., however, and you’ll see that cars of Fiesta’s size are the norm, not the exception. Kids still get schlepped to soccer practice and groceries get purchased, but the necessity to do this all in an oversized SUV has not been quite as socially or financially acceptable as it is here, and a Fiesta-sized vehicle suffices.
But, that is the rest of the world. And here in a land full of very large cars and highways full of 18-wheelers — plus the challenging weather conditions of the High Country — driving a truly pint-sized automobile like the Fiesta might not be your first choice.
I challenge you to reconsider that. In the case of the five-door hatchback SE model I tooled around in, the fact that it was priced at just over $17,000 was a welcome development. In an even more super-basic form, the Mexican-made Fiesta can be yours for just under $15K.
I had hoped to be able to tell you about Ford’s newest engine choice for the Fiesta, the 123-HP 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder; that wasn’t in the books quite yet, so I got to spend some considerable road time in a car with the standard, Brazilian-made 1.6-liter four-cylinder, good for 120 HP.
An EcoBoosted 1.6-liter engine forms the underpinnings of the anticipated Fiesta ST, a hellacious, 197-HP-with-practically-no-body-weight “Speed Racer” version of the Fiesta. The non-race version of the Fiesta is still in the 2,600-pound range.
The standard turbo three-cylinder is expected to achieve more than 40 mpg. Or, you can stick with the regular 1.6-liter I drove and get the upper-30s figures I enjoyed — seemingly unable to deplete the car’s tank. Brave new world that we live in, the six-speed automatic version of the car gets better mileage than the five-speed manual.
And if you can suspend your disbelief and your prejudices of scale, the Fiesta is also a pretty stylish, responsive and moderately comfortable automobile. Its less-than-obviously Aston Martin-inspired nose is now entirely consistent with the family from Focus to Fusion (a chrome grille is new for 2014), and on the inside you’ll find a suite of controls and instruments that are entirely European, if that seems kind of cool to you.
You can go hog wild and order up a Fiesta with leather-trimmed seats, a moonroof, LED lamps or the full-blown SYNC system with a 6.5-inch screen and what Ford promises are much-improved MyFord Touch controls, maps and operations.
Mine had the standard SYNC radio setup, allowing a load of voice-controlled oversight and decent workability; yet another option is a Sony-branded eight-speaker upgraded system. And if it’s at all important to you, you can mess around with the ambient lighting color scheme. Or turn that off entirely.
In an urban setting, the Fiesta is easy to use and park, and you can also drop the rear seats and their futuristic headrests and yield a good cargo area.
Out on the road, there is indeed pronounced buzziness at prolonged speeds above 65 mph, and in the five-speed manual build, first gear is so low that it was almost easier to start in second gear and not waste my energy with an upshift. Accelerating to highway speed at an on-ramp was actually pretty impressive.