Photos: Kevin Miklossy
We’re rollicking through the corners in the 2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Door SES hatchback, and it’s responding like a European small car should; as nimble, quick and solid as a Eurovision dance star… And, who hasn’t wanted to be in one of those?
This chassis drives better than a “budget hatch” has any right to. As we “Lime Squeeze” our way though the curves, my passengers can take comfort that stability control, ABS and seven airbags are standard along with a host of other gee-wizardry.
Turn-in is crisp, suspension is taut providing minimal body roll, electric steering is alert, and the grip predictable. Despite this go-cart’ism the Fiesta isn’t nervous or twitchy; there’s a comfortably settled weight to the steering. These are the hallmarks of a chassis capable of handling much more power than is available. Likely, somewhere in power-mad shops, people with their trucker-hats on sideways are looking under the sculpted hood and making plans to ruin all of Ford’s fuel-economy good work with hot-hatch tuning.
Economy, of course, is the name of the compact car game, and at the Fiesta’s core is the economical 1.6L Duratec engine. Mated to a slick six-speed “automatic” transmission, which is really an automated double-clutch manual system, the Fiesta’s fuel efficiency in a perfect world is 4.9L/100km. Unfortunately, Ford has marketed the automatic as “PowerShift”, which sounds like a SciFi Porno from the adult DVD section in Little Sister’s.
Our Fiesta came equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, which under optimal conditions offers an optimum fuel economy of 7.1L/100km in the city and 5.3L/100km on the highway. Those are hybrid numbers, and somewhere a man trapped in a soulless Prius is weeping.
The problem for the little green Fiesta is that Ford’s produced a car so fun to drive, that you actually want to DRIVE. What a change from previous small North American Ford’s, like the banal outgoing Focus. A suave European immigrant, the Fiesta is technically a 2008 car in its sixth-generation, brought to North America under Ford’s ONE plan for building and distributing cars world wide.
That’s great news, because this is a car that inspires driving, rather than making you loath it, and it loves a good thrashing.
The manual lets you to get the most out of the 119hp and 109ft-lbs of torque available from the four-cylinder. The engine is fizzy, engaging, and even has a slight-raunchy note to its soundtrack as you approach 5000RPM where the best torque is developed. While the stick’s throws are long, the shifts are easy and well defined and the clutch action light and smooth. And the Fiesta’s bad habit of putting a wide grin on your face will play merry havoc with the segment-leading fuel economy.
Out on the highway, the Fiesta gets loud as the engine spins away, and passes need to be well planned when fully loaded. Here’s a hint; aim to overtake in the corners where the Fiesta’s handling lets you take advantage of the car’s momentum and hold your speed.
The Fiesta’s cabin is cosseting for a driver and passenger, but any adults in the back seat need to be flexible, short or double-amputees above the knee. So if your fantasy is picking up that male model perfect 6’1” hitchhiker on the way to Altitude, you’ll need to start out alone. The Fiesta is a couple’s car, and for three-somes or four-somes practicality sides with sub-compact TARDIS cars like the Honda Fit or Suzuki SX4, who’s bigger-than-they-appear interiors can take four men handily.
The Fiesta though beats out this competition with an avalanche of features. Standard on our SES was; a height-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt-telescoping steering wheel are standard, so you can get the driving position just right; push-button start; seven user selectable ambient lighting choices; side-view mirrors with inset convex lenses; Sirius Satellite radio; steering wheel mounted controls; remote keyless entry; AC; and standard SYNC connectivity/entertainment system that handles voice commands, MP3 and cellphone integration – all for $18,899 before taxes, destination and delivery fees. Tick the box for optional modernist black leather seats with white stitching ($1200.00), and our top-of-the-line Fiesta SES hit’s 20,699.00 all-in.
Completing the value-proposition of the feature-storm, there is a sense of solidity to the Fiesta well beyond a small and inexpensive car. Knobs turn with a lubricity found in the likes of Audi. The entertainment system’s elaborate cellphone inspired centerstack console’s buttons depress with a luxurious soft-touch feel and the doors close with a solid thunk. By comparison the Suzuki SX4 seems budget and the Honda seems thin-foamed, lightweight and a bit frail. This is economy, but not as we’ve suffered it.
There are a few problem points though. The lower-door panels are hard cheap plastic, there’s only a single cup holder shared between the back seats, the central orange LED media center display is 80’s retro ColecoVision and the engine compartment is a bit haphazard. More practical, the hatchback’s massive C-pillars and small rear window compromise rearward visibility when parallel parking, until you get a sense of where the Fiesta’s tail is; right behind yours given the minimal overhangs out back. That’s less frustrating than Microsoft turning the Fiesta into a Zune (remember the Zune?).
While basic phone and music selection commands worked (more or less), we never fully SYNC’ed to our iPhones, despite 74 pages of owner’s manual and the system asking us to “please complete song, artist, track and album metadata” – a phrase no car should use.
In the name of impartiality, we’re stretching hard to find downsides in a car that has very few, and they can all be forgiven because this lively little hatch is a street party to drive and near as good to look at.
Ford can stamp a big checkmark next to the Fiesta’s the external styling. This hatchback offers a brusque sporty exterior with a hint of design mischief – think the smallest guy on the rugby team. He may be cute, but he’s got something to prove in the scrum. By comparison the Fiesta’s B-segment compact competitors of the Suzuki SX4, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit come off as bland, twee and ugly respectively.
To prove the point of the Ford’s design, in the lot of Mount Seymour a Ski Patrol employee came over to quiz me on the Fiesta. When I suggested considering the SX4 with all-wheel drive and the Fit with more seating flexibly, he brushed aside these options, “I really like the way this looks.”
If the “vivid” lime colour of our tester didn’t give it away, the Fiesta is targeting and reaching a market of those born post 1985. That makes the skinny jeans crowd a very lucky generation. Thankfully, Ford has also made the Fiesta available in selection of nine colours, some of which aren’t as desperately hip as a faux-hawk on a thinning forty-something.
Not that I’m worried about my dignity as I slalom the Fiesta SES hatchback through morning traffic to its return. I’m not playing with the SYNC, I’m not toying with the options, I’m driving and it’s putting a big goofy smile on my face. From a company that for so long has produced banal small cars for the masses, but never inspired them, the Fiesta is a renaissance, a game changer, a piece de resistance. I recon, Ford has nailed it, proved economy doesn’t mean cheap, and given us a new small car of choice in the 2011 Ford Fiestsa.
I never thought I’d like a neon-green roller-skate so much.
2011 Ford Fiesta SES
Base Price: $18,899 SES*
As Tested: $20,879 SES* (including freight and manual)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower: 119 hp
Torque: 109 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual/six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km):
Automatic: Rated at 6.9 city/5.1 highway with automatic
Manual: Rated at 7.1 city/5.3 highway with manual
* All prices are Canadian