Big-car ride; small-car handling; subcompact fuel economy.
Price easily creeps over $20K; automatic transmission troubled in stop-and-go traffic; problematic audio interface and display.
The first thing you'll notice when driving the top-of-the-line $17,795, 2011 Ford Fiesta SES four-door hatchback is all the attention it earns.
This test car's Yellow Blaze Metallic paint ($300 extra) certainly is eye-catching, but that's not the only reason the Fiesta gets so much attention. With so-called "Kinetic" styling from Ford's international team — meant to play equally well in Milan, Italy, or Milan, Michigan — the Fiesta is sleek, cool and a little daring. It's not what you expect from a car this size.
The 2011 Ford Fiesta looks like nothing else on the road today, including its main competitors, the Honda Fit, Mazda 3, or even Mini Cooper Clubman. And it also wants to be a different kind of car, too.
The Fiesta also drives like nothing else on the road, and certainly differently from the cars listed above. The four-door hatchback technically is a subcompact according to government regulations, but you'd never know it from the large-car ride and hushed cabin we experienced while driving on every kind of road surface we could find in Los Angeles.
Powered by a 120-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4 engine that requires just 87-octane fuel, the Fiesta's mission is clearly not breathtaking acceleration but instead awe-inspiring fuel economy. Equipped with the six-speed automated manual transmission (a $1,070 option), the Fiesta's EPA-rated fuel economy is 29 city/38 highway mpg and 33 combined mpg. Our average over 300 miles was 31 mpg, leaving a bit more than 2 gallons of fuel in the car's 12-gallon tank.
Racing to 60 mph in the automatic-equipped 2011 Ford Fiesta SES Hatchback takes 10.5 seconds, a performance that places it midpack with similar cars in its segment. It comes to a stop from 60 mph in 116 feet.
Ford has introduced the 2011 Fiesta in hopes of capturing the attention of people who would never have considered a small car before, and it has made available a premium package with all the comfort and convenience items you'd expect in a larger car.
Part of this effort is an optional six-speed automated manual transmission instead of a conventional automatic with a torque converter. More manufacturers intend to adopt the automated manual in place of the conventional automatic because it delivers fuel economy nearly as good as that from a manual transmission. Compared to the Fiesta's five-speed manual, the six-speed automatic improves fuel economy by 1 mpg EPA city and loses only 1 mpg EPA highway, while its EPA combined fuel economy is just 1 mpg less.
Since it shifts automatically, you'll usually be unaware of what kind of transmission you have, as there's not much shift shock in a dual-clutch automated manual and it goes about the business of seamlessly selecting appropriate gear ratios at the appropriate time, enhancing fuel economy even as it delivers set-it-and-forget-it use.
At the same time, the electronic programming that triggers a shift might still be in its infancy at Ford, as stop-and-go traffic seemed to flummox this automatic. There were times when its judgment about the timing of a shift didn't match our own, and we couldn't anticipate the way it would respond to changes in traffic patterns. Computer-chosen judgment calls about holding a gear, properly timing a smooth upshift, and conversely, providing a prompt and positive downshift to accelerate are sometimes misguided, late or absent altogether.
The six-speed automated manual is exactly the right kind of transmission in a car like the 2011 Ford Fiesta because it offers convenience with almost no sacrifice in performance or fuel economy. And yet we think that this Ford PowerShift unit needs a bit more development. At the moment the Fiesta's automatic has a low-range position for the console-mounted shift lever as well as a hill-descent program button, but we think it still needs to offer the ability to change gears manually and perhaps even shift paddles on the steering wheel.
The 2011 Ford Fiesta SES benefits from Ford's noteworthy Sync infotainment system that integrates wireless phone, music (from a wired storage device or streaming through Bluetooth) and now what Ford calls TDI (traffic, directions and information). TDI amounts to turn-by-turn voice navigation thanks to instructions that are downloaded through your mobile phone via a toll-free call to the car.
At the same time, the red LED display at the top of the center stack that indicates Sync's presence requires a trip or two to the owner's manual to discover the full extent of its capabilities. Ford says it has designed the keypad and other buttons that accompany the screen to be as intuitive as those of a mobile phone, but we're not sure it has met the standard.
In terms of driver and passenger access and accommodations, the Fiesta SES offers ample space for front-seat passengers, who can enjoy leather buckets thanks to the $715 L package. Meanwhile, rear-seat passengers will find plenty of headroom, and only slightly less legroom than in a midsize car at 31 inches. Luggage space with all seats occupied is small at 15 cubic feet, but the L option package features 60/40-split folding rear seats, so cargo capacity can be expanded to 26 cubic feet.
Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the Ford Fiesta is the quality with which it seems to have been put together. All doors shut with a reassuring thud, body panels fit evenly and even the interior looks and feels as if it belongs in a more expensive car. This might be meant to be an affordable car, but the interior has been designed with more than durability in mind.
If small-car safety is a concern, you'll be happy to learn that standard equipment on all Fiesta models includes stability- and traction-control systems, antilock brakes and seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag). Though the NHTSA crash tests have yet to be completed, the IIHS awarded the Fiesta Sedan and Hatchback its "Top Safety Pick": the first time a subcompact has ever earned the influential organization's highest recommendation.
While our well-equipped top-tier Fiesta SES Hatchback cleared the $20,000 bar, we've observed the same build qualities in a base $13,995 Fiesta S sedan as well. So if you're looking for a simple small car as well as a nicely equipped one, the alternative is here for you.
With the 2011 Fiesta, Ford has bet its future in the U.S. on small cars. It's a big challenge to make a small, affordable package deliver the same standard of everyday comfort as the larger cars to which Americans have grown accustomed, yet the Fiesta is very much the stylish, economical, safe and well-built car that Europeans have been endorsing. The 2011 Ford Fiesta is a big deal in the small-car world.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Ford Fiesta in WA is: