By Jim MacPherson
As anyone who has opened a gift of jewelry knows, good things come in small packages.
The Ford Fiesta is a case in point.
Sold in Europe and Asia for several years, the Fiesta has earned a stellar reputation for its ride, handling and feeling of solidity.
I found the same qualities to be true during my drives in the Fiesta, which was introduced this year in the U.S.
The Ford Fiesta comes in four trim levels and two body styles. Hatchbacks come with SE and SES trim levels; the sedan comes in S, SE and SEL trims. Ford loaned us the base hatchback in SE trim. We enjoyed it.
All Fiestas are equipped with a 1.6-liter, 120-horsepower four-cylinder engine. We drove a comparable Fiesta with a five-speed manual transmission nearly a year ago. This time around, Ford loaned us one with the more popular six-speed automatic.
Purists will be quick to object to that last sentence. Yes, the car has a transmission that works, from the driver’s perspective, like any other automatic, except that it’s actually a six-speed dual clutch manual. The driver doesn’t have a clutch pedal and the shift lever goes from Park to Drive, passing through Reverse and Neutral.
To the casual observer, this automatic works just as well as any other transmission that shifts for the driver.
More critical drivers will note this transmission opts for higher gears whenever possible, then lingers in those gears a little too long when immediate acceleration is needed.
Fortunately, this shouldn’t prove to be more than a minor obstacle in the enjoyment of the Fiesta’s many virtues.
Prime among these is a first class suspension system that delivers impressive handling and a surprisingly comfortable ride.
The Fiesta lands squarely in the sweet spot on the ride-handling continuum. It’s almost as crisp in turns as the Honda Fit, but the ride is more comfortable. Stacked up against the Nissan Versa, it’s almost as comfortable, but a lot more fun to drive.
The front seat is comfortable. Taller drivers will find good head room, but I found the leg room to be a little tight, just adequate for my six-foot frame.
The rear seat is tight. Head room is okay for the six-foot crowd, but leg room is limited with the front seats moved all the way back. Here, the Fit and Versa win out.
Still, the Fiesta has a lot to recommend. For a commuter, or even the long distance traveler with one companion, the Ford Fiesta delivers a solid performance.
Its fun-to-drive nature is enhanced by the smooth-shifting manual transmission that went from zero-to-60 in 10.3 seconds and fuel economy worked out to 36.1 miles per gallon. The automatic was a little quicker, 9.9 seconds for the zero-to-60 run, but mileage was not quite as good, coming in at 34.1 mpg.
Ford Fiesta: starts at $13,320
Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine
Torque (lb-ft) 112
EPA 28/37 manual; 29/38 automatic
Next week: Toyota Highlander