Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ford's Fiesta a reason to party at entry level

Sacramento, California – The Ford Fiesta is more than a party car.

Sure, it’s fun, but this all-new entry for the U.S. auto market in 2011 has serious features for those looking for basic, compact transportation at an affordable price.

The four-door, five-passenger car – it can be had as a sedan or a hatch – has been available overseas for several years, but the U.S. version is tweaked for a red, white and blue audience. For example, you can get the Fiesta with Ford’s voice-activated SYNC communications system.

Just like that, you have a leg up on overseas customers.

But wait, there’s so much more.

My tester was the top-level SES Hatchback – five trim levels are offered, with the entry-level S Sedan coming in at a mere $13,320 – but even my top-of-the-line Fiesta had a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of only $17,120. Some extras, including a PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission for $1,070, brought the bottom line on the tester up to $20,555.

Many interior features were not what I’m used to seeing on a discount compact. They included power/heated exterior mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and push-button start system.

Comfortable front seats pushed back for adults leave little room for rear passengers, but a few adjustments from the folks up front produce a surprising amount of space for those backseat riders.

Oh, it looks good, too. Sleek, eye-catching styling was enhanced on the tester by a rear spoiler and five-petal, flower-style wheel covers.

The 1.6-liter in-line 4 engine with 120 horsepower screams a high note when you ask it to deliver from a standing or slow start, and it takes a while for it to get up to speed. No surprise there. On the roll, however, the engine performs well beyond the four-cylinder/120 ponies numbers. The Fiesta cruises rather quietly and quite smoothly at 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Climbing the steepest hills will bring more loud cries from the engine, but the power plant does get the job done when asked.

Fuel mileage numbers are outstanding, at 29 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Given the car’s utility, looks and standard features, the superior gas-saving figures only add to Fiesta’s appeal.

I tried this car out on several car people I trust, and the verdict was the same: A very nice compact, and a strong all-new-car effort by Ford.

Alas, I have a couple of complaints.

I found the distance between gas pedal and accelerator to be a touch short, meaning I would sometimes hook the left-front edge of my right shoe on the brake as I was moving it to the accelerator. I had to make a conscious effort to slip my right foot all the way to the right footwell wall to make sure I was only getting gas. The fact that I wear a size 11 shoe might have something to do with that, but I haven’t experienced the problem in other cars.

Also, the PowerShift six-speed automatic gearbox sometimes struggled adjusting from hard acceleration to braking speed. These moments were very brief, but jarring nevertheless.

Overall, however, I’m most pleased with this new Fiesta, and I think it would make a good choice for young drivers and just-getting-started families. Out of five stars, I’d give it 3.5.

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