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2011 Ford Fiesta Sedan SEL Review

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2011 Ford Fiesta SEL Sedan

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyers Guide


2011 Ford Fiesta Sedan SEL

Ford's Fiesta is a "world car", meaning that it's sold around the world in as close to a single specification as possible. There are minor differences under the skin, as American safety specs are just different enough from European or Asian to require such, but a North American Fiesta still looks nearly identical to its foreign counterparts.

With one exception. While the rest of the world has only hatchback versions of the Fiesta, in two- or four-door form (three or five counting the hatch as a "door"), we get the four-door hatch and a four-door sedan.

Conventional thinking in the auto industry is that hatchbacks are seen as entry-level, bottom-feeder "econoboxes", with a smattering of performance models. Hatch sales are far less than ten percent of total passenger cars, so Ford's strategy seemed to make sense. Except that in early sales, 60% of Fiesta buyers have opted for the hatch. Still, that's a sizable 40% for the sedan, and the mix could change. The other surprise with early Fiesta sales is that premium, not entry-level, trim levels have been the best-sellers.

In the Fiesta sedan lineup, that means SEL, not the base S or mid-level SE. And SEL means "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. Where there are a variety of small gasoline and diesel engines in other markets, the extra weight from U.S.-spec emissions and crashworthiness standards and the longer distances traveled here mean any engine you want as long as it's a 1.6-liter, 120-horsepower four-cylinder.

Transmission choices are five-speed manual, no surprise, or a six-speed "automatic". Why the quotation marks? The PowerShift is not a conventional torque converter-based automatic, nor is it a CVT. It's an electro-hydraulically controlled dual-clutch automated manual, as used in high-performance and racing cars. It's more efficient than a torque-converter automatic, for improved fuel economy, and uses a variety of electronic systems to work nearly seamlessly.

I spent a week with a Fiesta SES hatch with the five-speed a few weeks ago and found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable car with a fun-to-drive character, good power, and good fuel economy. And a surprising amount of interior for its small exterior. So when offered a sedan with the automatic, I was most interested. It's different, but not by much.

There are minor exterior styling changed to go with the sedan body, but the interior of the two versions is identical. For any given trim level, the sedan is about 70 pounds heavier, which is not enough to make a significant difference in performance or fuel economy. Suspension settings are identical, so enjoyable but comfortable driving is a given. The biggest difference is between the manual and the automatic. The stick offers driver control and involvement, and slightly quicker acceleration at the expense of more annoyance in traffic. The PowerShift works as well as a regular automatic, with only a few minor quirks. So really, any way you take it, the new Ford Fiesta is one of the best small cars available today, with something for everyone looking for a mix of fun and frugality.

APPEARANCE: Besides the obvious -- the sedan instead of hatchback body -- the Fiesta sedan gets a larger upper grille with three horizontal chrome slats to show kinship to Ford's other sedans. The long passenger cabin, with highly-sloped windshield and rear window, and short hood and rear deck show an emphasis on passenger space. It's definitely a sedan, but the usual "three box" description hardly applies as the "boxes" are integrated almost to the point of a one-arch look from the side. An aggressive lower grille and pointed headlights are shared with the hatchback, and the tail gets an interesting wraparound look. Wheel arches are prominent but not overdone, and a rising shoulder line adds presence. The Fiesta sedan is just over a foot longer than the hatchback, and that length is all aft of the rear wheels, in the trunk.

COMFORT: The SEL sedan is analogous to the SES hatchback, which means fully-featured, with an interesting but functional futuristic styling motif that does not compromise function. Multiple shapes and materials are interesting, not distracting. In the SEL, 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 SEL 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, with a moderate but useable passthrough to the trunk.

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: There is really no difference between the Fiesta hatchback and sedan on the road. The weight difference is around 70 pounds, the difference between a large and small driver or passenger or a medium-large dog. The suspension tuning is the same, supple and compliant in the best European manner, with spring and shock rates 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 Fiesta's 1.6-liter aluminum alloy twin-cam engine uses variable cam phasing on both camshafts to best balance efficiency, low emissions, and performance. It makes 120 horsepower at 6350 rpm, with 112 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. Yes, that means spin it hard to get maximum performance, and if that's your goal, get the stick as the PowerShift automated manual does not have a manual mode and is programmed more for fuel efficiency than performance. Anyone who wants automatic shifting will be hard-pressed to tell that the PowerShift is not a regular automatic. It's a dual-clutch automated manual, as used in nearly all top-level racing cars. Why here? With dry clutches instead of a power-absorbing torque converter, it's more efficient than a torque converter automatic. It's also lighter, by around 30 pounds. Ford has been using a similar transmission in European commercial vans for a while now, for similar reasons. Shifting is computer-controlled, via electronic control of hydraulic actuators. A low-speed creep function, independent of the throttle, allows easier low-speed parking and backing maneuvers, as with a regular automatic. Hill Start Assist keeps the car from rolling backwards when starting on a hill. The PowerShift transmission is tuned for smoothness, so shifts, while quick, are not race-car quick, and shift points, even under wide-open throttle, are for economy more than performance. There is a second to second and a half penalty in 0-60 acceleration, which should be a non-issue to those concerned more about fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: Sedan or hatch, stick or automatic, Ford's new Fiesta is one of the best affordable small cars made today.

2011 Ford Fiesta Sedan SEL

Base Price			$ 16,320
Price As Tested			$ 19,160
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			6-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Wheelbase / Length		98.0 in. / 173.6 in.
Curb Weight			2628 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.9
Fuel Capacity			12.0 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		30 / 40 / 31
0 to 60 mph				est 10.5-11  sec

Rapid Spec 301A - includes:
  Intelligent Access with push-button start, heated front
  seats, chrome beltline and decklid moldings,
  perimeter alarm					$   795
Yellow Blaze tricoat paint				$   300
PowerShift 6-speed automatic transmission		$ 1,070
Destination charge					$   675