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2011 Ford Fiesta Preview

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2011 Ford Fiesta

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor

Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

Ford’s Fiesta, a runaway hit in Europe for almost one year, launches in the US this summer. The question is will it entice Americans as it has Europeans? We think so, despite our national “bigger is better” attitude. We agree that many citizens buy the biggest vehicle that fuel prices will allow, yet there is compelling evidence that a permanent shift to smaller cars has occurred.

If the Fiesta name is familiar, Ford imported European Fiesta’s from 1978-1980. All had 1.4-liter Kent engines and 4-speed manual transmissions. They became a contender in amateur racing against VW’s Rabbit and were the power behind Formula Ford semipro racing.Now Ford says that globally, small cars are dominant and likely will comprise two-thirds of future vehicles. Even in the US small car sales have grown every year since 2004 and are up 21% year-to-date. That says Americans are wary of high fuel prices returning and that interior, not exterior room is important. Add to that our “frugal is the new rich” lifestyle for a tectonic paradigm shift.

Prior to its unveiling at the Los Angeles Auto Show today we were shown the new car and had an opportunity to delve deeply into they psyche of the car; its design, powertrain, and marketing at Ford’s Dearborn headquarters. Little has changed from similar vehicles sold in Asia and Europe—ours has longer front and rear bumpers—and is neither dumbed down nor tarted up. Fiesta remains fiercely handsome with a sculpting Ford calls Kinetic Design. US versions differ primarily because validation for the US occurred over a year after world design began and was approved after extensive crash testing in Japan. Thus it has approximately 60% globally common content. Ford’s next world car, Focus, will be its first completely ONE Ford design and will approach 100% commonality, which leads to lower cost and better profitability, important in small cars with skintight profit margins.

Two models are available, a four-door sedan and sportier five-door hatchback. Each has a slightly different nose with the sedan using a more US-oriented three-bar chrome grille, the hatch appearing more European with blacked accents and no chrome. Kinetic design, Ford’s name for its “energy in motion” sculpting produces tightly undercut lines that add dimension and pull the eye from front to rear. Those same lines, sculpted as if flame-carved from ice, create dimensionality as light and shadow are created. Large wraparound headlamps and similarly expressive tail lamps pull the car forward and anchor its backside. The kinetic theme has won Germany’s prestigious red dot International Design Award.

Inside where you will spend your commuting hours, designers have used simple materials and great graphics to create an appearance of harmony, motion, and simplicity. The dash uses divergent textures to differentiate surfaces and designers tell us that where materials—mostly plastic—overlap or touch, changing textures looks and feels better than trying to force matching textures on different materials.

The cabin looks far nicer than price (yet unannounced but expect $15,000) would indicate. They’ve used real aluminum and soft-touch surfaces. Optional leather seats are stitched in a style that makes the black leather seats (the only ones we saw) and their white edge piping look Carnaby Street elegant. In the center is a control center inspired by mobile phone design. Buttons and toggles have a good feel. Below, the A/C and heat controls have soft and secure detents that feel strong and natural. And like Mustang, you can opt for a seven-color LED ambient lighting system to match your mood for Pink’s latest CD.

Fiesta launches with one engine, a lightweight all aluminum dual overhead cam (DOHC) engine with independent cam timing. This technology yields better fuel economy and lower emissions. It also gives more low end torque which pushes you away from stoplights faster and gets you up to speed on freeways rapidly. The new transmission available on Fiesta will be a six-speed automated manual transmission Ford calls PowerShift. Essentially two manual transmissions inside one sealed-for-life case, this automatic manual transmission shifts nearly instantly. Because it is a “manual” transmission it gets better mileage than a similar traditional hydraulic transmission. With six gears it offers a great “span” or range of gears from a very low first gear for strong launches from stop to a very high sixth gear for maximum fuel economy expected to be 40 mpg on the highway.

In Europe Ford announced its first EcoBoost engine, Ford’s trademark name for dual turbocharged engines, and it is a 1.6-liter motor. It is speculative to say that Ford will bring that engine to the US as an option for enthusiasts. It requires only a modest spark of imagination to expect an SVT Fiesta with six-speed manual and 50 more horsepower in 2011 or 2012.

Suspension was re-calibrated slightly to match American’s preference for All-Season tires (elsewhere summer and snow tires are preferred.) Ford insists that the driving dynamics are unaffected. For the US Fiesta will employ the latest Electronic Power Assisted Steering as do the new Flex and Taurus. EPAS (learn that acronym) delivers fuel economy while preserving steering feel. It also is more tunable than hydraulic power steering and can easily provide light effort when parking and a more muscular effort at high speeds.

Fiesta is robust and strong; a safety cage that resembles a NASCAR roll cage hides beneath the exterior skin and is made of the hardest steel available, Boron High Strength Steel. This steel is so hard that it cannot be bent into car parts unless it is cherry-red hot. An entire cage around the doors, is boron steel, as are parts that accept loads and transfer them around occupants. Other high strength steels are molded to incorporate crush structures that yield progressively to absorb crash energy. Air bags wrap occupants at the side and and thorax, plus a driver’s knee bag to minimize leg damage. Of course there are driver and passenger front bags and all occupants have seat belts. Ford may incorporate their newest development, air bags built into seat belts. They were approved well after final engineering for Fiesta and would require substantial sheet metal re-engineering to fit.

Much remains to be said about Fiesta, proof that its European handling remains intact, that it feels comfortable on the long haul and delivers when sporting performance is desired. Just a single glance will inform every small, or medium-sized car buyer that it is handsome and worth close examination. Offering fuel economy that beats or rivals the best of Europe, Japan, and Korea is a strong sales point as well.