Thumbs Up: Sips gas, delivers solid content for the price.
Thumbs Down: Slow with automatic transmission, back seat is tight.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a subcompact hatch with a blue oval on the grille.
Ford’s subcompact Fiesta hatchback and sedan debuted to great anticipation in 2010, thanks to an aggressive pre-launch marketing campaign created by Ford. Delivery issues and component shortages led to some availability problems during the first model year, but since then the Fiesta has done a respectable job of adding to Ford’s bottom line.
At first glance, it’s easy to see why. Both sedan and hatchback look good, and carry on Ford’s global small car styling also found on the new Focus compact. The Fiesta comes with a lot of content, especially in light of its bargain-basement price, with $16,465 SE models including features like keyless entry, an anti-theft system, a roof spoiler and power windows and locks. It may be positioned as an entry-level car, but the Fiesta has the advantage of not feeling like an entry-level car.
In terms of style, it’s no bland econobox, either. Up front, a large trapezoidal intake below the grille defines the front and carries over a current Ford styling trend. Razor thin LED light bars below the headlights give the Fiesta a modern and higher-end look, as do the creased lines atop the front fenders. Flowing quad-beam headlights enhance the car’s aerodynamic appearance, as does the steeply raked windshield and sloping roofline.
From the side, black trim is used to define the daylight opening, breaking up an otherwise uninterrupted sea of body color. While the doors have clean, sculpted lines, it’s nearly impossible to see the styling touches in profile. It’s almost as if the Fiesta needs some other styling element (in black, not chrome, please) to break up the side view. We’re also not sure about the Fiesta’s noticeably short rear overhang, which likely adds interior volume but looks as if the designers ran out of time on the project.
The rear three-quarter view may be the Fiesta’s best angle, as the rear blends an eye-pleasing mix of curves and angles. We like the black rear fascia as a styling element, and think Ford made the right decision to include a rear spoiler as part of the SE trim package. Overall, the exterior styling isn’t nearly as bold as that offered up by some segment competitors (like the new Hyundai Accent), but it is contemporary and won’t put many buyers off.
It’s also worth noting that in U.S. trim, the Fiesta is available only as a five-door hatchback or four-door sedan. Other markets also get the three-door Fiesta hatchback variant, but Ford didn’t feel the market in the United States would be large enough to bring in a second (even smaller) hatchback model.
Inside, the Fiesta goes bold on styling touches. The dash is a blend of curves and angles that could have ended up looking busy; it doesn’t, which is praise for the Fiesta’s interior stylists. Yes, there is a lot of hard plastic (as you’d expect in this price range), but the dash never looks inexpensive, thanks largely to Ford’s use of different textured plastics. There’s almost a futuristic, sci-fi feel to the Fiesta’s dash, which goes counter to the bland interiors that you previously found in entry-level Ford products. Even the steering wheel is well shaped, and complete with thumb ridges at the 10:00 and 2:00 positions.
Instruments carry on the theme, and seem to borrow inspiration from the motorcycle world. Tach and speedometer are recessed in deep, irregularly-shaped pods trimmed in dark metallic paint. Between them is the fuel gauge, while a small driver information display sits atop the cluster. Even the font used for the numbers looks modern, and Ford gets credit for not just pulling parts from the “leftover interior bits” bin.
Front seats, while not particularly noteworthy, are comfortable enough for commuting distances, though we really wouldn’t want to spend all day sitting in them. They offer up a reasonable amount of bolstering, and are wrapped in patterned fabric with black trim, but don’t offer much in the way of back support. They’re a bit on the narrow side, too, compared to other cars in the class, but only the widest of drivers (who likely won’t be shopping in the subcompact segment) will find this problematic.
Rear seats offer a reasonable amount of headroom for passengers six feet and under, but there’s not much leg room to speak of. You could probably haul two friends in the back for short trips, but those with longer-than-average legs will be happiest in the shotgun seat. Rear seats fold to accommodate cargo, but the Fiesta’s hatch uses a deep well design. You’ll need to improvise if you want a flat cargo area, but for hauling things like groceries, the deep hatch makes good sense.
Under the hood lies a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine good for 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. Mated to the five speed manual transmission, that’s enough to provide reasonable forward thrust; bolted to the optional six-speed, dual clutch automatic (as in our press-fleet tester), acceleration feels lacking. Given that the Fiesta’s primary mission is fuel-sipping frugality, this isn’t a problem as long as you plan accordingly when merging into traffic. Expect the run from 0-60 mph to take in the neighborhood of 11.5 seconds, which is about two seconds slower than with the manual transmission. Fuel economy, however, is relatively impressive: the EPA says to expect 29 mpg city and 39 mpg highway, and we saw an indicated 30.7 mpg in mostly-city driving.
On the road, the Fiesta delivers a composed ride and predictable handling. Its small size and relatively light weight (just over 2,500 pounds) make it transition well, and turn-in is relatively quick despite the non-sporting rubber on 15-inch wheels. In SE trim, the Fiesta isn’t quite what we’d call entertaining, but it isn’t boring to drive, either. Given the car’s price-sensitive focus, we’d say that Ford did a good job on suspension tuning, and the car delivers a comfortable ride over even rough and broken pavement.
When Ford introduced the Fiesta two years back, calling it “class leading” wouldn’t have been a stretch. Today, however, the competition has ramped up its game to stay competitive. The Fiesta trumped the old Chevy Aveo, no questions asked, but the new Chevy Sonic is a much worthier adversary. The old Hyundai Accent was no match for the Fiesta, but the new one is. Perhaps that’s thinly disguised praise for the Fiesta, then; if Ford hadn’t built such a good subcompact model, maybe other automakers would have been more content to rest on their laurels.
Ford supplied the 2012 Fiesta SE for our evaluation. Base price on our five-door hatchback was $16,465, and options included the $1,095 PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission, the $1,245 (discounted to $695) Equipment Group 203A (SYNC voice command, premium audio, sport appearance package, 15-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, parking lamps) for a total sticker price of $18,255.
For comparison, a similarly equipped 2012 Chevy Sonic LT would sticker at $17,330, while a comparable 2012 Hyundai Accent SE would list at $16,670.