2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback
Fiesta like a rock star
Ford Motor Company has this cute little car in Europe called the Fiesta Hatch and it’s arriving on our shores too. It’s selling like hot cakes across the pond—and orders are coming in like crazy here in the U.S.—and for good reason. The all-new Fiesta hatch is not only easy on the eyes, it’s economical, and right-sized. It’s also well-built.
The five door Fiesta hatchback measures a mere 160.1-inches long. The car is 58-inches tall, 67.8-inches wide and rides on a 98-inch wheelbase. It tips the scales at a feathery 2,537 pounds too. As a result, it battles in the highly competitive subcompact segment. In this match, competitors include Toyota’s Yaris, Honda’s Fit and Nissan’s Versa, to name a few. It’s a tough crowd. But in Europe (against similar, if not greater odds), the Fiesta quickly rose to the continent’s number two-selling car and Ford of Europe’s top-selling vehicle. Over half a million Fiestas have been sold since the car was launched little more than a year ago. In Europe, the Fiesta name has long been synonymous with outstanding drive quality, design and value. Equally important, the Fiesta is winning enthusiastic media reviews right in the back yard of its major competitors—Asia.
Performance and Handling
There’s a reason the reviews are strong. There’s also a reason this particular car is such a hot seller: Not only does the little Ford radiate quality, it’s also a fun car to drive. To us at least, that’s critical (and it just might be the key ingredient Ford’s competition has missed). Part and parcel of the architecture is a MacPherson strut/coil spring, twist beam axle on the rear. Shocks are performance tuned and there’s a healthy 22-mm stabilizer included in the suspension mix. There’s nothing startling here, but the way it’s tuned is what makes the difference. On our rain-soaked roads (and pot-holed, too) the little SES hatchback took it all in stride. It was as sure-footed and as solid as plenty of high end sport luxury cars we’ve had the opportunity to get our hands on. It might be a heavily worn automotive cliché, but the ride and handling was decidedly “Euro.”
We discovered that part of that “Euro” handling might very well be due to the new Electric Power Assist Steering (EPAS), which, according to Ford, decreases complexity, saves weight and improves fuel economy by significantly reducing parasitic drag on the engine (in comparison to traditional hydraulic power-assisted steering). EPAS is speed-sensitive, providing optimized assist based on vehicle speed, steering wheel angle, cornering forces and acceleration or deceleration. The new steering arrangement is tuned to provide what Ford calls an “engaging driver experience.” The truth is, we agree.
Our screaming Yellow Blaze Metallic SES was outfitted with grippy all-season 16-inch rolling stock (including a set of radical-looking five-spoke aluminum wheels). Braking wasn’t an issue either. Ford Fiesta includes power-assisted disc/drum brakes along with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and Ford’s AdvanceTrac Electronic Stability Control as standard equipment.
Powertrain and Transmissions
Providing the punch for the tiniest North American Ford is a small but extremely willing 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Based on a state-of-the-art DOHC arrangement, the engine delivers an estimated 120 horsepower and 112 ft.-lb. of torque. What we truly appreciated was the throttle response. It gets it by way of Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT), which allows the engine to be downsized for fuel economy while continuously optimizing camshaft phasing for throttle response, performance and flexibility.
The Ti-VCT system provides variable, yet precise control of valve overlap (the duration of time in which both intake and exhaust valves are simultaneously open). Ford engineers note that valve overlap management by sophisticated controller mechanisms is critical to eliminating intake and exhaust flow compromises. This technology also optimizes phasing on both intake and exhaust camshafts by spinning them ever so slightly to advance or retard valve timing, resulting in improved throttle response at initial throttle pressure, reduced emissions at part throttle, and enhanced efficiency at higher rpm. The result is a “little engine” that offers more power, responsiveness and fuel efficiency than many larger powerplants.
Our test Fiesta came equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox. Fifth gear is overdriven and, at least from our perspective, the ratios are very well placed for the majority of North American driving conditions. Most will find that when you have to pull out and pass something like a slow moving RV or a heavily laden semi, a drop back to Third gear will get the job done quickly and surely. Coupled with a nicely modulated hydraulic clutch system, it added up as an entertaining to drive package. Optionally available is an all-new, PowerShift six-speed “automatic” transmission that is said to combine the responsive performance of a manual shift with the convenience of a traditional automatic. We didn’t sample a car with this equipment, but internally the PowerShift transmission is essentially a dual, dry disc transmission engineered to keep the gears in constant mesh. Basically, what we’re talking about here is an automatic/manual transmission design configuration once reserved for use on the most exotic of sports cars. But what it provides is a transmission choice that is actually simpler, more responsive and more fuel-efficient than a conventional four-speed automatic transaxle.
Safety and Economy
As far as fuel economy numbers are concerned, we didn’t manage to nail down hard and fast figures. Our test was all too brief (and to be quite honest, we used our time briskly running the little Fiesta through it’s paces). However Ford notes that 38 miles per gallon with the manual gearbox and 40 miles per gallon with the PowerShift six-speed are the projected fuel economy figures (both highway numbers).
From a safety perspective, the Fiesta meets considerable (new) 2011 model year standards. It includes a total of seven airbags: dual-stage front and side-impact bags for the driver and the passenger, rear side curtain bags along with a class-exclusive knee airbag for the driver. There’s more too: Ford went through the entire vehicle structure and made a number of changes to the basic European model so that it would pass more stringent U.S. impact tests. As a result, more than half of the vehicle shell is manufactured from high-strength steels. As pointed out earlier, electronic stability control is standard and so is the electric power steering system that includes a pair of electronic safety features not found in the competition. Ford includes “Pull-Drift Compensation,” which is engineered to keep the Fiesta tracking properly on heavily crowned road surfaces or when excessive crosswinds are present. The second technology is “active nibble control.” This technology senses for irregularity in wheel balance and the related steering wheel vibration (or shimmy) it can cause. Like Pull-Drift Compensation, Active Nibble Cancellation is designed and integrated to be seamless and unnoticeable to the driver while sensing and compensating for rotational oscillations due to wheel balance issues or uneven brake rotor wear.
Loaded with Style
To us at least, part of the allure of the Fiesta hatchback is the look. The car is definitely an attention-getter. It’s certainly not one of those “so ugly it’s cute cars” that seem to be popping up with regularity. Instead, it’s a cohesive, flowing sort of arrangement where the car appears as if it has a definitive purpose. Part of that “let’s get the job done” look is due to the rolling stock that’s positioned at the extreme outer ends of the body shell. Ditto with the nostril scoops and the heavily sculpted body flanks. Factor in the big wheel arches with rubber situated on the extreme outer limits of the wheel houses and the car looks the part of a planted driving machine—one that beckons you to drive. And a good part of the look, which on our five-door hatchback test car included a rear-mounted spoiler, a considerable front chin spoiler and body mounted mirrors, is responsible for a remarkable aero coefficient of drag number of 0.33.
Open the driver’s door and you’ll be met with an interior that’s both comfortable and modern. Like the exterior, the cabin has a look of its own. Cloth seating is standard, but our upscale SES test car came equipped with leather seating surfaces complete with contrasting piping and heated front seats. The dash has a feel that, for some, might seem vaguely familiar, perhaps intuitive. The reason is, Ford designers spent consider time to invoke the same familiarity and usefulness as a cell phone’s interface. As a result, the car’s centerstack represents the focal point of the car, and houses switches, audio and heater-air conditioning controls. There’s metallic trim on instrument panel registers, door handles, center stack and shifter bezel (automatic only).
Power door locks and windows are standard on the hatchback. A 12-volt power source is standard and so is an auxiliary audio input jack and USB port. The SE comes standard with an AM/FM stereo with single CD player, MP3 capability and four speakers while the SES has an AM/FM Premium sound system with single CD player, MP3 capability, six speakers and 80 watts of power (this system is optional on the SE). A Sirius satellite radio receiver is standard on the SES and optional on the SE. Inside, the car is a perfect place to dial in the tunes. Ford engineers also placed considerable emphasis into sound damping. Even items such as the specially laminated windshield and the headliner as well as the sound blanket under the hood were all configured to suppress noise and vibrations. The soft touch instrument panel gives you a sense of driving in a much more expensive car—there are no compromises here.
There’s more to this sense for value within the Fiesta hatchback: Ford includes a laundry list of separate features that none of its competitors have. It contains 15 class-exclusive features to be exact. Included in the bunch is the previously mentioned PowerShift transmission, Ford’s popular Ford SYNC information and entertainment system, an available push button starter, a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes, a capless fuel filler system, adjustable cup holders (configured to accommodate anything up to and including everyone’s favorite, the Big Gulp), and a cell phone holder. Within the two hatch trim levels (SE and SESL), there are considerable individual options available along with comprehensive option packages. What this means is the buyer can literally tailor the Fiesta Hatchback to suit his or her personal needs and personality. The truth is, Detroit hasn’t done this for years, and it’s refreshing to see the return of personalized transport.
So what’s the bottom line when it comes to the Fiesta five-door? Compared to the competition, Ford didn’t just come out with a base hit, it hammered a home run right out of the ball park. The Fiesta is not only fun to drive, it’s also the segment’s value leader—by a long stretch, too. (www.fordvehicles.com)
About the Author
A true hands-on “gearhead,” Wayne Scraba has a diverse background in both writing and motorsports. Over the past two and a half decades, Scraba toiled as a magazine editor, technical editor, freelance magazine contributor, and has authored five automotive books. His background also includes racecar fabrication, muscle car and street rod restoration and construction, and operating his own automotive parts and repair business.
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