First Drive: Ford Fiesta for an hour in the Big Apple

Ford Fiesta in NYC – Click above for high-res image gallery

Those Fiesta Movement "agents" who delivered winning videos to Ford? Envy them, because the cars they're being handed the keys to for the next six months are no joke. Yesterday morning, Ford tossed us a set of those keys (well, it was a key fob, actually) to a reactor-leak green Ford Fiesta. We only had an hour to play with the car, but by the end of it, we were wishing we had busted out the camcorder for the contest.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

At first blush, at least, the Ford Fiesta is good. Like, really good. Its 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is a gutsy little motor with plenty of low-end launch power. It's peachy in urban duty, and on the few occasions when we got to briefly stretch its legs between stoplights, it demonstrated that it will fit right into the U.S. market. There's no worries about adequate merging speed or anything like that here. This much power in such a small car is nothing to sneeze at. In the case of our loaner, those ponies were herded to the front wheels through a five-speed manual that was very easy – and enjoyable – to row. The engine's not an annoying buzz box, either; it emits a little kitten snarl when you give it the boot.

Pray that Ford doesn't neuter this car's road feel for U.S. consumption – the Fiesta strikes a nice balance between firmness and comfort. You feel the potholes and other miserable urban imperfections, for sure, but you're also well-connected to the road beneath you. Steering response and overall feedback are good, as it's not too over-assisted in that department. The Fiesta is a car for you guys (and gals) who enjoy hitting the road on Sunday mornings just for fun, but it's accessible enough that "car-as-appliance" drivers will still find it a smile generator when they go pick up the dry cleaning. We'd rate the driving experience as a happy medium between the MINI Cooper's sporting demeanor and the 1.6-liter Nissan Versa's cushy, neo-1970s approach. It felt right at home darting in and out of a sea of midtown traffic, and the thing is probably a blast when you get it out of the city and onto roads that are actually fun to drive.

The Fiesta's packaging is also very tidy. The bodywork is eye-catchingly sculpted, with big eyes and a big mouth up front that adds a lot of character. This kind of styling is a balancing act – go too far and you're into the dark end of Peugeot territory, but Ford nails it. The Fiesta is interesting from every angle. Cargo space behind the hatch's back seat is about what you'd expect, which is to say there's enough room for all of your groceries, and you can always flip the second row down if you need more room.

We had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position quickly. The seats manually adjust and the steering column tilts and telescopes. Primary instruments are eminently readable, the dark upper on the instrument panel is soft-touch material and the interior plastics are nice. It's a clean, modern cabin and the snazzy-looking center stack is, well, snazzy-looking. The button arrangement is nicely-organized, and the high-mounted multifunction info screen is very legible.

Unfortunately, our limited time behind the wheel, we didn't get to mess with the other features all that much. When we did, we ran into a little trouble. We couldn't get the radio tuner to work, for example. Either we are idiots (a completely plausible explanation) or this is a Euro-spec thing that was getting lost in translation. With more time, we'd have perused the manual (there was one in the glove box) for guidance and figured it out. There were no CDs around, so we didn't get to try the audio system that way, either. A basic AUX jack in the console between the front seats ensures rudimentary iPod happiness. The climate controls, which were used, are completely straightforward.

We drove the Fiesta right through Times Square. People stared. Past Madison Square Garden? More staring. (The paint color may have had something to do with this.) Stoplights became impromptu Q&A sessions as drivers (a lot of cabbies were definitely feeling the Fiesta) asked the usual barrage of questions. The same thing happened when we stopped to take some photos farther downtown, as people walking their dogs or walking to work took an interest. What is it? How much is it? (We're hoping for a starting price in the low teens.) What's the mileage? (Figure well over 30 mpg.) The public wanted to know.

Now, will that public turn out in droves to buy the Fiesta when it arrives next year? We'll have to wait and see. Obviously, the state of the economy plays a part in that decision-making process. Right now, no one's buying much of anything, and understandably so. If things spruce up on the economic front, there's no reason to believe the Fiesta will be anything short of a hit for Ford.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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