Ford’s entry level sedans and hatchbacks have never been packed with technology or exciting to drive. They were always something you bought as a compromise; you really wanted an Acura, but the Ford was cheaper. As soon as you could swing something else, the old Fiesta / Escort / Focus was relegated to trade in or sell-on-Craigslist status.
Times have changed, and Ford has high hopes for their global platform Fiesta. I had a chance to drive one this past weekend, and I’ll be the first to admit that Ford has a winner on their hands. How good is it? It’s very good. Very, very good.
Let’s start with the build quality. Previous entry level Fords have felt suspiciously like imports from Japan or Korea; there’s nothing wrong with a price point built car, but we all want something more for our money. Why can’t a Focus have the same solid feel as VW Golf, for example?
Throw away your biases, because the Fiesta feels solid. VW or Audi solid. The door closes with a convincing ‘thunk’ to envelope the driver in silence. You get the feeling that you’re in a much more expensive ride, and the instruments and dash help to convey this. Interior fit and finish is outstanding, and Chevrolet would do well to take notes on the Fiesta. The interior in this entry level Ford is nicer than the interior in the new Camaro, which stickers for 2x the price.
Ford has up-contented the hell out of the Fiesta as well. It comes with Synch, Ford’s excellent do-it-all electronics interface developed with Microsoft. Want nav? You can get it. Want leather? That’s available, too.
It’s clear that I like the interior, but how does it drive? Better than you’d expect. I drove the SE Hatchback and was surprised at how much feedback I got from the electronic power-assist steering. There was decent feel at turn-in, and the car transitioned in a quick left-right track segment with no drama. Sure it understeers at the limit, but I was really surprised at how high that limit was. Put on a set of stickier tires, drop the ride height an inch and you’ll surprise more than a few drivers in the corners. Stability control, called “Advance Trac ESC” in Ford-speak, comes standard on Fiestas, which should keep all but the most ham-fisted out of the weeds.
So what’s the weak link? My only gripe was that it could use more power, but what sub-$20k car couldn’t? The 1.6 liter Duratec motor features variable valve timing, but only generates 118 horsepower. Coupled with the six speed automatic, it felt like less horsepower than that. Still, the motor with the automatic transmission will get up to 40 mpg highway, so at least you’ll quickly save enough for an aftermarket intake and exhaust.
Based on my experience, I’d definitely add the 2011 Ford Fiesta to my “must drive” list for anyone looking for a solidly built and relatively sporty commuter car. Ford has really upped the entry-level ante, and both Chevy and Chrysler would be wise to buy a Fiesta for reverse engineering. They’d better get their orders in quickly, since I suspect Ford is going to sell a boatload of these.