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2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Door SES Review

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2011 Ford Fiesta

See Also: Ford Buyers Guide
See Also: E-Carmony: Is The 2011 Ford Fiesta Your Perfect Match?


2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Door SES

Is America ready for small cars? With the introduction of its subcompact Fiesta to North American shores, Ford is betting so.

If you have a long memory, or are a student of automotive history, or know the European market, the Fiesta name will be familiar. It's Ford's top seller there. A Fiesta hatchback was sold here in the oil crisis days of the late 1970s. It disappeared here after 1980, but lived on quite healthily in Europe, with continuous production and four more generations up to 2008, when an all-new version debuted in Europe, with plans for the American market.

The small hatchbacks of the late 1970s didn't make much of an impression on the American automotive market. Good fuel economy became a non-issue when oil prices stabilized, and the Spartan nature of most hatches of the day earned them few friends, and little use except as commute modules. The term "econobox" was not exactly complimetary. Americans like their style, comforts, and amenities, even in small, inexpensive, economical cars.

And Ford knows this. The 2011 Fiesta is nearly identical in looks to its European or Asian counterparts, is refined and quiet inside, and can be had with almost all of Ford's repertoire of electronic information, entertainment, and communications technologies. It sips regular gasoline, to the tune of an EPA-estimated 29/38 and 28 real-world mpg during my week. Even better, it's fun to drive, with a suspension tuning little-changed from the European model.

In other parts of the world, power is from a variety of small four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, with a 1.6-liter gas engine the most powerful. U.S.-spec is different, as we do have different crashworthiness and emissions standards, and longer distances to drive. The only engine at present is a 120-horsepower four-cylinder, matched either to a five-speed manual or, unusually, especially in the subcompact class, a six-speed "PowerShift" dual-clutch automated manual for the automatic choice.

Body styles are five-door hatchback and four-door sedan, with sedans offered in S, SE, and SEL trim levels and hatches in SE and SES. Base prices range from $13,320 for an S sedan to $17,120 for an SES hatch. And yes, as is the norm today, the hatch is considered the sportier version. "S" may mean austerity, but SEL or SES mean "fully-equipped", with ambient lighting, Ford's SYNCŪ in-car connectivity system, a good AM/FM/CD sound system with jack and USB inputs, and SiriusŪ satellite radio included.

Early sales results for the Fiesta are interesting -- over 60 percent have been hatchbacks. No surprise. Since the dark days of the late `70s, SUVs and crossovers, which are really just monster hatchbacks, have proven popular. And there are a couple of new generations of drivers who don't remember `70s econoboxes, but who have been exposed to European cars via the Internet and video games, and like what they've seen.

And the SES hatch with stick that is this week's test car is likely to please anyone looking for a fun-to-drive but economical small car. It's far more than basic transportation, with more room inside than might be suspected by its small exterior. Add good luggage space and five-door hatch versatility, and easy parking. If my 28mpg for the week was less than the advertised, I wasn't babying this car. The engine likes to rev, and the suspension is fully up to playing hard as well. There's plenty of competition in the sporty subcompact niche, but the Fiesta SES holds its own at the head of the class.

APPEARANCE: Econobox? Um, box not spoken here. The Fiesta is pure Euro-Ford, nearly a one-form design from the side as the hood is only slightly less sloping than the windshield. The only straight lines are the character lines on the sides, even the fender lines at the edges of the hood are complex curves. The front is distinguished by a small upper grille, flanked by complex "cat's eye" light clusters and a distinctive upside-down rounded trapezoid lower air intake. On the sides, strong wheel arches are tied together by twin character lines that add a dynamic look and body strength. The arched roof ends in a small visor-type spoiler, and the convex rear features a large hatch opening and tall taillights.

COMFORT: Welcome to Spaceship Control… The Fiesta's interior is as complexly styled as its exterior, but function does not lose out to form. Multiple shapes and materials keep it interesting, but not distracting. In the SES, windows and mirrors are power-operated, and "Intelligent Access" keyless pushbutton start/stop is available, and was fitted to my test car. Front seat comfort is among the best in its class, with cloth upholstery and manual adjustability including driver's cushion height. All Fiestas have a tilt-and telescope-adjustable steering wheel; in the SES it has a leather rim and auxiliary controls for cruise and audio systems. The center stack has plenty of buttons, but all are well-marked, for easy control of the audio and SYNC systems. Direct access to Sirius radio channels is a plus. Front door pockets with bottle holders and a large glove box provide storage. There is no console box, the minijack and USB connectors for external audio players and a 12-volt power point are conveniently placed in an open compartment on top of the console, with a second power point to the rear. Rear seat comfort and space are better than the class average, although if the front seats are all the way back, rear knee room will be impacted. The rear seat folds with a 60/40 split, and the large hatch opening makes cargo access easy. Luggage space is good with the rear seat in place, and great with it folded.

SAFETY: Small does not mean unsafe! A strong unibody with extensive use of high-strength steel is designed and built for maximum occupant protection. A full complement of airbags, including a driver's knee bag, is standard in all models, as are the AdvanceTrac with ESCŪ traction and stability control system and antilock brakes. Don't worry about unavailability of an electronic blind-spot monitoring system - Ford's outside rearview mirrors have built-in convex sections that allow the driver to see what otherwise would be invisible.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A large part of the Fiesta's fun-to-drive character is due to its suspension tuning. In the best European manner, it's supple and compliant, but spring and shock rates are correctly matched for good manners and minimal body roll. The suspension design is the class-standard, independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle in the rear. Done right, that works just fine, and it's done right here. Attention to detail makes a difference.

PERFORMANCE: The other part of the Fiesta's fun character comes from its engine. By today's standards, 1.6 liters is not very big, and 120 horsepower (at 6350 rpm) and 112 lb-ft of torque (at 5000 rpm) not very much. But then, the SES's 2500-pound curb weight is light for a car today. The aluminum alloy twin-cam engine uses variable cam phasing on both camshafts to best balance efficiency, low emissions, and performance. As you might notice from the specs, power is developed at relatively high revs. There's enough to keep up with traffic at low engine speeds, but for maximum performance, drive it like you stole it… keep revs above 4000. The five-speed manual gearbox is a good thing for that. Even driving in the engine's sweet spot as much as possible, I managed 28mpg. A lighter foot should return even better mileage.

CONCLUSIONS: If you think "subcompact hatchback" means "cramped, uncomfortable, ugly econobox", drive a 2011 Ford Fiesta and get a much-needed attitude adjustment.

2011 Ford Fiesta 5-Door SES

Base Price			$ 17,120
Price As Tested			$ 18,890
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
				 on both camshafts
Engine Size			1.6 liters / 97 cu. in.
Horsepower			120 @ 6350 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			112 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		98.0 in. / 160.1 in.
Curb Weight			2537 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.1
Fuel Capacity			12 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular gasoline
Tires				P195/50 R16 94H Hankook Optimo H426
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, ABS and AdvanceTrac
				 electronic stability control standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				   twist-beam axle with coil springs
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		29 / 38 / 28
0 to 60 mph				est 9.5 - 10  sec

Rapid Spec 301A - includes:
  Intelligent Access with push-button start, heated front
  seats, chrome beltline and decklid moldings,
  perimeter alarm					$ 795
Destination charge					$ 675