Small dog fun with big dog bite in Ford’s groundbreaking Fiesta
summit daily auto writer
In prepping for the domestic launch of its international success, the diminutive Ford Fiesta, the worlds of Facebook, viral video and a team of “Agents” (young, media-savvy youngsters who were loaned the car to create more personal impressions of the vehicle) all came together to get the buzz brewing.
I finally got a chance to drive the sculpted, bug-shaped car that I’ve heard about and seen at events for more than a year (as it was introduced in Europe in 2008), and while not quite as explosive and groundbreaking as all the hype would have you believe, it’s still a fun, affordable and stylish alternative in the sub-compact, entry level auto market.
And it’s much better sorted than others in that category, including bland entries such as the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and the Nissan Versa. Even better, as gas gradually and magically starts poking toward $4 a gallon again, small, super-efficient machines such as the Fiesta will start to make sense to even the Tahoe/Durango crowd.
Admittedly, my Fiesta did cost a bit more than $19,000 with options (there has been some grumbling about the car’s affordability), but I’d say it’s still a good buy.
It’s also more than 30 years since a Fiesta model roamed the U.S. landscape, but this new European-designed, Mexican-assembled five-door hatchback is quite a bit more substantial than the econobox you may remember.
Fiesta has loads of personality, inside and out, and offers snappy handling and a surprisingly roomy interior. Not unlike a Mini Cooper or the equally style-forward Kia Soul, it looks tiny but has substantial passenger space inside, even in the back seat, and rolls along comfortably – not like some buzzy kid’s toy with turn signals. Like the Mini, Fiesta’s rear wheels are also nearly under the rear bumper to add interior space and, as a result, a go-kart-inspired handling feel.
The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces only 120 horsepower but you’ll find that’s more than enough for urban scooting and 75 mph cruising on the highway; as you’re headed up the pass, the little engine produces enough torque to keep moving up I-70 without reverting to second gear.
That engine will also generate a healthy, almost hybrid-like 40 mpg on the highway, rather consistently, without any complicated batteries or regenerative brakes.
And while the interior is certainly chock ablock with plastic, the design is markedly different than Fords past. It’s about the most purely European thing I’ve seen besides a Saab or the ill-fated Saturn Astra (an Opel briefly sold here), with genuinely strange (at first) turn signals and wiper controls, plus an audio setup and display that’s very continental by way of “The Transformers.” Inset convex mirrors on the outsides of the side mirrors are also curious but really helpful, once you get used to them.
The U.S. edition comes standard with Ford’s groundbreaking, voice-activated Sync system, which allows largely hands-free control of the stereo, your iPod and your cellular phone (even reading and composing text messages). You can also upgrade to heated, pinstripe-edged leather seats, keyless entry and a pushbutton starter, not to mention a twin-clutch automatic transmission not unlike those found in much pricier rides.
On the road, Fiesta’s mood is fun and easy to use, though like those other sub-sub-compacts, driving in Colorado requires a bit of small dog attitude to make up for Fiesta’s tiny footprint. I opted to rev the engine way past the suggestion of the overly intrusive, yellow upshift light and found that produced more-than-confident merges onto the freeway and jumps in and out of traffic.
The short wheelbase and those back-set rear wheels (16-inchers are standard) also mean immediacy in turning; there’s exceptionally long clutch play, for some reason, something you have to get used to. Check out DC Shoes’ website to see what happens when a 600-horsepower engine is crammed under the Fiesta’s hood, literally smoking the tires.
Look for more of the stylish Fiestas on the road when the ol’ dinosaur juice starts outpricing Evian water, later this year.
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