2011 Ford Fiesta sedan: 9 days

MSRP $13,320 - $17,120 MPG City: 28 - 29; Highway: 37 - 38

The Fiesta is Ford's new subcompact car, intended to compete with models like the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris. The 2011 Fiesta sedan and four-door hatchback are Americanized versions of Europe's second-best-selling car, the current generation of which has been sold since 2008. More

Upgraded cloth upholstery comes in SE, SES and SEL models, with leather optional in the SES and SEL. For a $15,000-odd car, these are some fine seats. The bottom cushions provide ample thigh support. The bolsters hold you in on curvy roads without pinching your sides getting in and out. The optional leather feels deserving of a $25,000 model, though driving enthusiasts will want to stick with the grippier cloth.

Either way, taller drivers won't care; rather, they simply won't fit. The driver's seat height adjustment pumps up on a forward plane, and with the seat cranked to an appropriate height, I needed it all the way back in its tracks. The gearshift sits on a hefty outcropping, leaving little room for your knees to move.

The standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps out, but I'm 5-foot-11, and anyone much over 6 feet may deem the Fiesta too small. Total passenger volume in both the sedan and hatchback is 85.1 cubic feet.

The rear seats sit low to the ground. Adults may find their heads touching the ceiling and knees digging deeply into the front seats, which at least have plenty of give for such situations. The Fiesta sedan has a competitive 12.8 cubic feet of volume; the hatchback's 15.4 cubic feet trails most competing hatches. Fold the seats down, and the Fiesta offers 26 cubic feet of maximum cargo room.

Go-go gadgets

Optional on the SE and standard on the SEL or SES, Ford's latest version of its Sync infotainment system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation via any Bluetooth-equipped mobile phone. Pair your phone with your car on Ford's SyncMyRide.com Web site, hit Sync's voice button on the turn-signal stalk and request directions, and Ford's data affiliates will send turn-by-turn directions to any address or point of interest (a nearby Starbucks, for example) to the display above the radio. Sync now includes a GPS module, so it can alert you if you make a wrong turn and reconnect to Ford's data partners for revised directions.

Sync picks up your directions by voice-command. That requires a certain level of specificity: You may need to know that it's 3rd Street and Jefferson Avenue. Ford's system works off your cell phone, so it will use a minute or so of your voice plan, a Ford spokesman told me. It does not require using your data plan. Sync's directions are free for three years and $60 a year thereafter.

Sync also offers USB compatibility with iPods and other MP3 players, with voice activation to pull up any songs. Bluetooth smartphones can also connect through streaming audio. Ford's latest AppLink feature allows BlackBerry and Google Android smartphones to run hands-free versions of Pandora, Stitcher and Twitter module OpenBreak. Next year it will also work with the iPhone.

Safety, features & pricing

The Fiesta has yet to be crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, are standard; so are antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. The stability system is notable: It's standard on about half the cars in this class, though that could well improve come the 2011 model-year changeover this fall. Stability control will be required industrywide for 2012.

The Fiesta S sedan starts at $13,320. It comes with standard air conditioning, power mirrors and locks and an AM/FM stereo with an auxiliary MP3 jack. Ford expects most buyers to get the Fiesta SE, which runs $14,320; it adds power windows, painted dashboard trim, a trip computer, a CD player and remote keyless entry. Add $800 if you want an SE hatchback, which isn't available in S trim.

The SEL sedan ($16,320) or SES hatchback ($17,120) top things off. Both add Ford's Sync system and a USB/iPod input, alloy wheels, cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Leather upholstery, heated front seats and a moonroof are among the options; the SFE package comes only on the Fiesta SE. On all trims the automatic adds $1,070.

Load a Fiesta up with factory options, and it tops out around $20,000.

Fiesta in the market

The waning recession could produce a permanent shift in shopping habits, and analysts point to the need to capture the all-important first-time buyer. The Fiesta has plenty of potential for just that. Throw the redesigned 2012 Focus alongside, and Ford could win big with young buyers this decade.

2011 Ford Fiesta snapshot Starting MSRP $13,320 -- $17,120

EPA Fuel Economy: City: 29 -- 30 Highway: 38 -- 40

Available Engines: 119-hp, 1.6-liter I-4 (regular gas)

Available Transmissions: 5-speed manual w/OD 6-speed auto-shift manual w/OD

New or Notable * All-new subcompact model * Sedan and four-door hatch * Manual and automatic transmissions * Optional Sync system can run some smartphone apps * Seven airbags, stability control standard * Upscale options

What We Like * Handling * Low wind noise * Fuel efficiency * Cabin quality * Seat comfort * Safety features

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