• Aug 5, 2010
2011 Ford Fiesta SES – Click above for high-res image gallery

Remember when economy cars offered few concessions beyond roll-your-own windows, rear window defrosters and AM radios? It was only a handful of years ago that features on our 2011 Ford Fiesta SES tester would've qualified it for premium car status – if indeed items like Bluetooth, SYNC, a capless fuel fill and knee airbags were even available.

There's no denying the steady trickledown of luxury goods into workaday iron, and the Fiesta is rolling proof.
As you might also recall, back about 10 years ago, Ford executives and those charged with its British outpost, Jaguar, worked themselves into a froth over the possibilities offered by 'The Democratization of Luxury' – boldly and conveniently overlooking that when a premium feature becomes affordable to everyone, it ceases to be a luxury at all. And while this sort of marketing doublespeak was the undoing of the ill-conceived Jaguar X-Type – and perhaps the undoing of Ford's ownership of Coventry's favorite feline altogether – there's no denying the steady trickledown of luxury goods into workaday iron, and the Fiesta is rolling proof.

Of course, any automaker can lash a bunch of features onto a car and call it a day, but it's not a real value unless all of those baubles and braze-ons are bungeed to a platform and drivetrain whose creators have that whole engineering 'special sauce' thing figured out. In other words, the democratization of luxury is one thing – but does the Fiesta deliver the democratization of fun? Click through to the jump to find out.



Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

Being shallow creatures, we want our candy confections to look tasty, and on that front, the 2011 Fiesta handily delivers a solid first impression. For one thing, Ford has seen fit to offer all sorts of eye-popping paint colors that really only work on designs that don't take themselves too seriously. Bold greens, purples and the Yellow Blaze Metallic Tri-coat (a $300 option) of our SES flatter the brash visuals. Big, expressive headlamps appear costly, air inlets look purposeful and the hatch design (a four-door sedan is also available) terminates in a high-set rump with pillar-mounted rear brakelights that lend the hatch a crisp, continental look. With 16-inch alloy wheels mounted at its very corners, the Fiesta offers both a stable and pugnacious stance, and the angled backlight makes it clear that the emphasis is on style rather than outright utility.

That's a theme that carries over to the Fiesta's cabin as well. It's a pleasant place to be, with clear analog gauges jostling for eyeball time alongside flashy features like variable-illumination cupholders and feel-good squishy plastics. There's a satisfying, leather-wrapped three-spoke wheel, a well-placed five-speed manual gearbox and a binnacle on the dashboard's top, dead center with the stereo and car information readout. (A PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox is also available, but without any paddles or a +/- detent on the gearlever, it's more of a curiosity than a performance-enhancing device).



What there isn't, however, is an abundance of space. Most front seat occupants won't feel claustrophobic or even cheated of space (although visibility isn't particularly great), but there's no denying that competitors offer far superior second-row accommodations and greater cargo capacity. Unlike, say, the Honda Fit or Nissan Versa, the Blue Oval has chosen to prioritize aesthetics over interior space and flexibility, and that's a trade-off you'll have to decide if you can live with. If this is meant as a small family car, substantial demerits like limited rear legroom and modest cargo space (about 15 cubic feet) will likely have you shopping elsewhere, but we suspect that at this modest price point, if you're looking for a bona fide kin hauler, you're better off poking your nose in the used car classifieds anyhow.

With that said, the Fiesta's cozily proportioned 160-inch bodyshell does offer an inherent advantage – superior rigidity. It only takes a few miles to realize that this is among the stiffest architectures on the small car block, a development that pays immense dividends in the form of first-class ride and handling. Whether you're bouncing along on a chuckholed surface that has you fearing for your alloys or piling into a corner with an unexpected decreasing radius at inadvisable speeds, this chassis is your friend. In fact, it's so accomplished that it makes you feel like it could handle twice the Fiesta's modest power. That's good news, because we're expecting a burlier variant with EcoBoost power in the not-too-distant future.


About the power situation – there's not much wrong with the 1.6-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder and its 120 horsepower (at 6,350 rpm) and 112 pound-feet of torque (at 5,000 rpm). It's class competitive stuff in terms of cheek, flexibility and refinement, but it's not going to push you hard into the seat foams, either. Interestingly, we didn't actually want for a sixth gear on the freeway – gearing and sound deadening is such that one isn't missed. It's a good thing that the clutch is as progressive as it is, however, because the ratios are widely spaced enough that you'll make frequent use of the third pedal.

Of course, the fun in driving a car like this Fiesta is not in its radial-roasting potency – we're talking zero to 60 mph in the mid-to-upper nine-second range here – it's in how everything works in concert to help maintain inertia. The chassis offers a rigid platform off of which to hang the MacPherson strut front and twist beam with coil spring rear suspensions, and the quick electric-power steering paired with Hankook Optimo tires makes for a surprisingly feelsome and confidence-inspiring arrangement. With only around 2,500 pounds to arrest, the 10.2-inch front disc, 7.9-inch rear drum brake setup has an easy job and offers good feel and modulation.



Just as importantly, that school-marm rigid architecture allows for a tremendously quiet interior. In fact, it's shockingly calm inside from idle on up, with limited road and wind noise, and engine roar and exhaust burble are similarly muted. We're counting on the aftermarket boy-racer scene to quickly populate its catalogs with more vocal muffler and intake options, but we actually appreciate the Fiesta's unexpected maturity on this front – it's surprising to find this sort of big car comportment in a B-segment runabout.

The Fiesta may not have a particularly boisterous soundtrack, but it's still a hoot to drive hard if you're a fan of the Momentum School of Motoring. The Fiesta seeks out corners with the sort of ebullience normally reserved for kittens pursuing open boxes. Low-mass cars like this one may have modest limits, but they can be approached more often, and it's endlessly entertaining to see how quickly one can negotiate a twisty stretch of road without shaving digits on the speedometer.



Fuel economy is similarly compelling, with our manual transmission model generating EPA estimated ratings of 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway (the six-speed PowerShift does slightly better at 30/40). Over our time with the car, we averaged a tick over 32 mpg in spirited mixed driving.

If you can accept the Fiesta's spunk-for-space trade-off, we only have one real sticking point, and it's that none of this entertainment comes cheaply – particularly with the five-door. While the Fiesta sedan starts at $13,320, the higher-content hatchback commands $15,120. Splash out for SES specification like our tester (SYNC, Sirius, 16-inch wheels, etc.), and you're staring at $17,120, a price that's already well into the wheelhouse of larger, more powerful C-Segment stalwarts like the Mazda3 (to say nothing of Ford's own Focus). Our tester was further equipped with $715 worth of handsome leather seats and a $795 upgrade package that included seat warmers, keyless entry/start, alarm and chrome trim. Topped off with the aforementioned $300 worth of Yellow Blaze Metallic paint and $695 in delivery charges, and our tester rung up at a cool $19,605. That's a lot of dosh for a car this small, and yet when we drove it, the Fiesta never struck us as a bad value.



Despite being from two totally different vehicular genres and price brackets, in an odd way, Ford has succeeded with the Fiesta in a manner that it never managed with the Jaguar X-Type a decade ago. The Blue Oval has created an excellent smaller car that delivers European ride and handling characteristics, a hushed interior, class-above tech and truly aspirational design at a modest premium. If that's not a 21st century recipe for the democratization of luxury and fun, well, we don't know what is.



Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 137 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have had mine for three weeks now and love it. I named her and all and we go on trips. Just me and Sadie the Fiesta. She is an amazing vehicle and drives like a dream. If this is the future of American Automobiles. Ford is back in a big way in a small car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This looks like a great car; congrats, Ford--but the hatchback is far too pricey. The Focus is the better buy at those prices.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Every car in this category gets pricey. But considering that the Fiesta hatch starts out $200 more then the Fit and $500 more then the Yaris FIVE door, that says a lot...you get a car that's a lot better.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I drove a Euro-spec Fiesta at the LA Auto Show last year. It was definitely a better car to drive than the 2008 Honda Fit I used to own. The 5 speed manual felt better than the Fit's 5 speed actually. It's too bad we won't get the 3 door hatch here like they do in Europe. I saw one when I was in France, and it's a great looking small car.
        Ted
        • 4 Years Ago
        Michael, your real-world comments are appreciated but comparing a 2008 with a 2011 is less than fair. The Honda Fit was completely re-engineered in 2010, so that would serve as a better comparison.
      Ted
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nicely done article Chris. Ford appears to have done their homework on this one. One Fiesta for the econo buyer and another Fiesta for the green-world status seeker. Just a suggestion for future column features . . .it would be fun to easily compare car features, side-by-side, with another vehicle. . . . say compare a Fiesta to a Honda Fit. Just type in the two vehicle name and models and a side-by-side list compares everything from interior space to weight to price. Keep up the good work.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I look forward to test driving this car. I want to do it back to back w/ the Mazda2.

      But it's pricetag looks to compete almost with the Golf. Perhaps this is, finally, the dawn of upscale American small cars? One can only hope.

      Though the chrome inserts are out of place and remind me of the pathetic Saturn VUE.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think the car looks good in all trims but I agree that the three door is better looking. However there has never been much of a market for three door cars in the US and with gas prices lower again the fickle american market will again forget why small cars are important and go towards the larger sedans. I hope Ford's recent success will continue to bring in sales and help Fiesta to become another best seller. I would much rather see it out on the road than the style impaired Prius.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Am I the only one who couldn't imagine paying $20,000 for a vehicle this small? Sure, it is loaded but it doesn't have much power and the rear seat space is laughable. It makes great sense to me in the under $16,000 range though.

      Sure, I'd gladly pay that for the ST or RS model, but this isn't one. For $20,000 you can step up to a larger, mid-level compact class C vehicle such as a Mazda3 or the upcoming Focus which will be amazing. You can pick up a Mazda3 five door for about the price that this Fiesta would be.

      In Europe it makes a ton of sense to buy a loaded smaller car because they sometimes get taxed on size of the vehicle, and there are also size constraints (garages, parking, streets, etc). In the US, it still doesn't make that much sense, or at least it doesn't to me.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ah, I forgot the Forte which is a very good vehicle and currently has $1,500 laying on the hood.

        I'd never purchase a class B vehicle when I can get a class C vehicle for the same money or even less. It doesn't make any sense at all.
      • 4 Years Ago
      @Luis' comment ..."So few people buy hatchbacks in this country as it is. Look at the Astra...no one bought those"

      Your point is half moot because GM failed on their marketing tactics with the Astra. No one is going to buy one if their existance was unknown at the time, unless a buyer happened to glance one over while looking at buying a different Saturn.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would want the hatch version. The Fiesta seems like a nice car, but I think I will wait for the excitement to die down before I look at them. It will be hard to get a good deal until that happens. The Fit would probably be the only competitor I would look at. The others are not very attractive. A six speed manual and a two door hatch would be nice.

      One thing that Ford needed to do is convince people to pay a little more for a small car so they can sell them at a profit. They seem to have planted that seed. The old days of selling crappy little cars at subsidized Pinto prices is over.
        • 4 Years Ago
        In other words, you are hoping that noone buys them, so you can get a loaded SES for the price of a bare bones Versa, right??

        Ford will only produce (for the states) as much as there is a demand for. They have gotten much smarter in the last few years.

        However, I am sure you can buy a Cobalt for almost nothing.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Nope. Just waiting until all the folks who are so excited they are willing to pay full sticker or more have gotten theirs. For the next few months at least, the dealers should have no trouble moving them and won't have any reason to negotiate.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Install the car dvd player with gps for Ford Fiesta will be better!!
      http://www.sundaybuy.com/
      • 4 Years Ago
      Install the car dvd player with gps for Ford Fiesta will be better!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      and the europeanization of ford.

      thank god for that. this car is a winner.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Luis - I won't let your ONE good comment this year ruin the fact that I am always forced to down-vote your filth, even if I do agree with this particular comment.

        Must.... fight.... urge.... to..... up-vote....

        Ugh.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I do too but I wish people would get real about some things. Sedans will never die in America. However, the hatch WILL sell. I don't know why people think that the Mazda3 sells better in sedan form - I see far more hatches around. I've been seeing more Hyundai Elantra hatches around, as well as a decent number of Subaru Impreza/WRX/STI hatches. And let's not forget the Fit, Yaris, and Versa and Aveo, all common cars.

        Really, Ford should have stretched the wheelbase a few inches to create more rear seat space. It wouldn't have added much weight at all and it would give those concerned about space, more reason to consider this vs the Fit and Versa (and xD)
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ Luis

        Sadly, this is most likely true. I didn't mind that brief moment when gas prices were "ridiculous" (for us Americans anyways) because I actually noticed less XL sized SUVs and trucks driving around.

        That said, I think even if people bought them, it wouldn't help the hatch situation much. Maybe it's just my observation (I have no statistics to base this off of) but it seems as though if you were to offer a hatch or a sedan to any average American, it's more likely he or she will choose the sedan. Mind you the Fiesta is sold as both hatch and sedan, but I'm thinking there'll be more sedans sold.

        Case in point? Mazda 3 & Ford Focus. I see plenty more of them in sedan form than hatch/wagon form. Another example is the Golf/Jetta situation; I see more Jettas than Golfs. True the hatch usually costs more, but when you look at the final price between equally equiped examples, it's typically not more than a grand or so.

        I'll never quite understand the reasoning for this other than "The sedan looks better", which is an actual excuse I've heard a few times. Take into consideration my opinion is based from what I see here in SoCal. So not exactly a gleaming example of people living within their means, nor is it an example of folks choosing function & practicality over form (refering back to the SUV/truck situation). Hopefully this new crop of hatches coming from Ford, Mazda, VW, and eventually Fiat will change things up.
        • 4 Years Ago
        That's funny. When the Mustang first came out in 1964, it was billed as a European style sports car for America.
        • 4 Years Ago
        By the looks of it - the Fiesta has already been Americanized, and I am not sure that it has been for the better. Not that the American Fiesta is bad by any means - I think that it is the best car in its class - but I just happen to like the original European one better.

        What bothers me - the crease line where the hood meets the bumper - the Euro ford looks so much classier with its slightly dipping hood, whereas we get a shortened hood and a cheap looking plastic grill to cover the deficit. Also, I cannot quite get over the the chrome on the front bumper, where the fog lights should be. Now I know that the crash regulations are different, but I still don't think that is reason enough for the downgrade.

        And what happened to the really good looking alloys - I cannot add them even as an option when I try to configure the car. (A low take rate??)

        Anyhow, its either this or the Honda Fit. If I cared more about how a car drives - particularly the way it drives like a much bigger car - I would get the Fiesta, else if I wanted the flexibility to pack in more stuff, it would be the Fit.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I love the "europeanization" of Ford, but the one thing I can't stand is how they always start with a nice clean euro design, and then chrome the crap out of it, and go craptastic on the grilles over successive years....where by the end it looks horrible in comparison to it's original. I don't know if they are trying to style it for the "American buyer" or something but it all tends to wash away all the good stuff that made the design great in the first place.

        Happened with the Fusion, the Escape, god knows what the hell they did with the Focus.....hopefully there's none of this in the new generations. This new Fiesta and Focus look too damn good to screw up.






        • 4 Years Ago
        I hope people actually buy them. I want this car to succeed so badly, especially in hatchback trim, so that more automakers bring their cool cars here.

        I fear it won't happen though. Especially with cheap gas. Americans will just go buy some mid-size snoozer or crossover that is $25k with $5k on the hood.
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