The fate of the free world doesn’t hinge on whether American car buyers end up liking Ford’s all-new subcompact car, the 2011 Fiesta.
But with freshly minted Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards dictating that automakers’ fleets have to average 35 miles per gallon by 2016 and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlighting the ugly side of the national appetite for crude, it would help if we’d develop more of an open mind about small cars than we’ve had in the past.
The 2011 Fiesta is going to help do just that. It’s an unexpectedly refined subcompact car that doesn’t make cheating the gas pump mean also cheating your expectations. The Fiesta’s a fuel-sipping errand-runner that’s fully up to the demands of family interstate travel.
So the Fiesta doesn’t drive cheap — thanks largely to engineering for Europe where subcompacts long have been accepted as upscale family and lifestyle cars — and it certainly doesn’t look cheap, either. Ford’s modern, slightly funky “kinetic” design language assures the 2011 Fiesta isn’t just a blob or a box. The best view is straight on where that chiseled nose sets an athletic tone for the rest of the body.
We’re a little less convinced about the rear quarters, particularly on the sedan we tested, the Fiesta SE with a base price of $14,430. The 4-door Fiesta hatchback seems a little more sinewy back there, but either way, the area around the rear wheels is the only part of the new Fiesta’s exterior that might be judged as thin-looking or wimpy.
The 2011 Fiesta doesn’t look like the tinny subcompacts we’ve been served in the past and reinforcement of the car’s visual heft comes from the startlingly sophisticated ride. The Fiesta’s suspension doesn’t look like anything special, but it quietly and effectively absorbs just about anything nasty it rides over. There are plenty of premium midsize sedans that don’t ride with the Fiesta’s all-around fluidity.
The Fiesta’s confident ride is joined by tight and linear electric power steering that stays locked on even at high speeds. There’s not a bit of fuss or fidget in the steering wheel, whether you’re cranking through backroad corners or humming down the freeway. The Fiesta’s sweet steering feel is another factor that goes a long way toward making the car drive in such a refined manner.
The Fiesta’s small 1.6-liter 4-cylinder is a treat, too.
It never gets gritty or rumbly and it revs like stink without noticeable vibration. This is a good thing, because it’s not much of a puller — where these tiny engines are exposed is in the torque department, and the meager 112 lb.-ft. of torque means you really need to give that tachometer a workout.
There’s a fancy variable valve timing system here, but the fact is the engine doesn’t do much until the rev counter hits 4,000 rpm. Between there and the 6,500-rpm redline, though, the 1.6-liter Duratec pours out its heart and sounds great doing it.
The 5-speed manual transmission has deliciously light action and the lever moves almost psychically, but the younger buyers Ford thinks the Fiesta will attract are increasingly less familiar with clutch pedals and so will likely post up the extra $1,070 for the high-tech 6-speed automatic transmission.
All is well inside the new 2011 Fiesta, too, where the overall impression this car emits carries through: materials and switchgear seem markedly more upscale than the Fiesta’s price would suggest. We liked the standard height-adjustable front seats and telescoping steering-wheel adjustment. The now-popular central “pod” of the middle dash has sections for major buttons that are sensibly arranged, enabling quick acclimation. Connectivity for personal electronics? You name it, the Fiesta’s got it, including, of course, the game-changing Sync system.
You see the theme here: Ford’s 2011 Fiesta is a subcompact car that drives big and drives way more expensively than its sticker price should permit. We found the Fiesta immensely entertaining to drive, too. We didn’t bother calculating our tester’s fuel efficiency — too busy savoring the marvelous engine, shifter, steering and brakes — but mucho driving was done before draining the Fiesta’s 12-gallon fuel tank.
If the 2011 Fiesta represents the way new-age small cars are going to ride, handle and perform, this path to better fuel economy isn’t going to hurt a bit. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters
Next New On Wheels: 2010 Chevy Silverado Hybrid
2011 FORD FIESTA SE
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD subcompact sedan
BASE PRICE___________________ $14,320 (as tested: $16,555)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve DOHC I-4
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 120 at 6350 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 112 at 5000 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE____________________ 98.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 173.6 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 34.4 ft.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 12 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway
2010 VW JETTA SPORTWAGEN: The Jetta SportWagen appeals to drivers seeking German engineering in a versatile, stylish, and fun-to-drive package with pricing starting under $20,000. Standard on the Jetta SportWagen (S and SE models) is the economical, yet powerful, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that delivers 170 horsepower and 177 lbs.-ft. of torque. The fuel-sipping 2010 Jetta TDI features the 2.0-liter clean diesel TDI engine — available in all 50 states. The 2.0L delivers 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 lbs.-ft. of torque. It is connected to either a standard six-speed manual transmission, or optional DSG six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic control. (Source: Volkswagen of America)
ASK AUTO DOCTOR: After driving my 2002 BMW 325i in stop-and-start traffic the engine seems to hesitate. I also can smell gas from the engine compartment. What do you think? Answer: The smell of gasoline indicates a rich condition (too much gas). I would depress the accelerator slightly when trying to start the engine under these conditions. If the engine starts instantly without any problems, something is causing the engine to demand more gas. (Source: Ask the Auto Doctor, Motor Matters)
CHEVY VS. CHEVROLET: General Motors says: The emotional debate over a poorly worded memo on our use of the “Chevrolet” brand [dropping “Chevy”] is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet. We love Chevy. In no way are we discouraging customers or fans from using the name. In global markets, we are establishing a significant presence for Chevrolet, and need to move toward a consistent brand name. We hope people around the world will … smile when they call their favorite car, truck or crossover “Chevy.” (Source: General Motors)
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010