Daily Drivers

Fiesta Sedan (7)

The Fiesta did not make a good first impression.
What awful seats, I thought as I struggled to find the recline lever.
What an awful noise, as the engine wheezed to life.
What an awful car.
I had been curious about the Fiesta ever since I’d ridden in a European model with an acquaintance who works in Ford’s Vehicle Dynamics department. It had a nice interior, good looks, and a chassis that, from the passenger seat, seemed oriented toward handling rather than comfort. It was the first time since the first-generation New Mini JCW that a front-wheel-drive car had interested me. It had the makings of a truly ideal daily driver- comfort, style, space, economy, and, most importantly, driving excitement.
I had resolved to drive one as soon as it arrived in the States, but the combination of a cross-country move and a plethora of available supercars in my new location conspired to keep my attentions elsewhere. Finally, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I went forth in search of an appropriate test vehicle.

The first dealership I stopped by had two dozen Fiestas in stock. The salesman was enthusiastic if unhelpful; seeing my S2000, he promptly whipped out his phone to show me photos of his Morgan Plus 4 (beautiful), but was unsure if any of the Fiestas on the lot were five-speeds (frustrating).
Eventually, we located a manual sedan. The sedan body-style seems to have been conceived for the sole purpose of offering North-American-market buyers the option of hitting the Fiesta multiple times with the ugly stick. Hunchbacked, white, dusty, and rolling on what appeared to be shopping-cart castors, it was the epitome of poverty-spec. This would not normally be an issue, as manual-everything saves weight, but I’ll trade standard iPod integration for more serious tires any day.
The interior, too, represented a step back from the European model. The wheel was prodigious and lacking contouring, the plastics were dismal, and the console had been rearranged to accommodate an enormous cupholder. The driving position, however, was excellent, the visibility good, and the accommodations spacious.


Turning out of the dealership, foot flat to the floor, a small eternity and two redline shifts were required to reach sixty; in California traffic this is downright hazardous. Admittedly the gearbox is very nice; far better, in fact, than that in a Miata. It needs to be, though- the gearing is absurdly short (48mph in second) and frequent downshifts are required for passing/hills/any hope of actual acceleration. Heel-and toe is difficult but not impossible- the deep-set gas pedal requires a determined jab to rouse the engine.
I was instructed to make a right turn at the first intersection. I lined up, braked firmly (in the process discovering that the Fiesta is much better endowed with stop than go), and smoothly but firmly turned the wheel. The immediate result was yards of unusually smooth understeer, comedy body-roll, and the car winding up in the leftmost of three lanes instead of the rightmost.
The remarkably composed salesman swiftly suggested that we relocate, at slower speeds, to a large parking lot nearby, where I could explore the handling without becoming a road hazard. It seemed unlikely that the Fiesta had dynamic qualities outside of the domesticated-animal-on-linoleum spectrum, but I agreed.
What I discovered surprised me. With sufficient provocation (heavy trail-braking), the Fiesta is actually very neutral. Real rotation is out of the question, and grip and roll levels remain alarming, but it is entirely conceivable that the little Ford could be hustled around an autocross. The Fiesta is probably the most exciting economy car on the market, a trait its target market will no doubt totally fail to discover or appreciate. It’s not entirely to my taste- the no grip, no grunt approach to automotive thrills has never worked for me- but it is unquestionably an achievement.
After the car was returned to the far reaches of the dealer lot, the salesman asked me what I thought.
“It’s a good car, but I wouldn’t want to drive it every day,” I replied, and climbed back into my noisy, thirsty, impractical, uncomfortable, and utterly brilliant car.
Photos Courtesy of Ford APA and Connect With Fiesta, on flickr

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  1. tonyola Avatar

    It shouldn't be a surprise that the Fiesta has been decontented for the USA. While the Fiesta is a lower-middle class car in Europe, it's not the bottom car of the Ford range like it is in the US. The European models can be better trimmed because they're allowed to occupy a higher price point. This is a sticking point with the "world car" concept, and the US Contour/Mystique suffered the same problems in the US. No-one would pay the price of a well-optioned Taurus for a Contour, so the latter suffered from cheapening.

  2. salguod Avatar

    "The Fiesta is probably the most exciting economy car on the market"
    Have you driven the Mazda2 or the Honda Fit? Both have gotten praise in the auto press for being more enthusiast oriented than the average econo-wedge.

    1. Andrew Avatar

      I have. And I have to be totally honest- dynamically speaking, I couldn't tell much of a difference between the Fiesta and the 2. The Mazda has marginally sharper turn-in, but the overall impression is very similar.
      The Fit is even less sporty, and feels enormous due to its height. It is, however, noticably quicker in a straight line.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Interesting. I haven't driven any of them, only read about them. I think C&D preferred the Mazda of the Fiesta and they've always liked the Fit.
        Matters not to me, I plan on driving my Mazda3 for at least 5 more years.

    2. ptschett Avatar

      Plus there's the Fiat 500 coming shortly and it sounds like an entertaining drive (though it's an A-segment car where the Fiesta is a B-car.)

  3. CJinSD Avatar

    The Ford Fiesta isn't even the most enthusiast oriented North American market small car based on its own platform! I don't think any of the high expectations people in the press claimed to have were justified. This car's gestation was no different from that of the first US market Ford Escort, or that of the Chevy Cavalier v. the Opel Ascona, or that of the Contour v. the Mondeo. Taking a car that doesn't have to compete with the Japanese on equal footing in its home market and then softening its dynamics, cheapening its materials, building it with UAW labor, and trimming it with a Detroit design sense is never going to produce a particularly good car. I'm surprised you thought the gearing was too short. It is actually taller than competitors, leading to lethargic acceleration. It is more likely that the engine is just such a joyless nail after getting out of an S2000 that you felt like you were ringing it out.

  4. Lex Avatar

    I tried one out this summer. The saleslady who got to ride with me because the guy i talked to earlier was not very happy. I don't think she expected to head straight for the nearest twisty road and have all the shifting done just below the red line. You really do have to ring it out to find any get up and go.
    I was left with, "Well, it's ok but i could get a lot more used car for a lot less money." (And i qualify for the Ford Z-plan so prices don't get much lower.) It wouldn't be a bad city car, but it could use some tweeks…and the sedan is a horrid looking thing.

  5. facelvega Avatar

    Well, all the Fiesta hype seems to have ended up where we could have guessed: if you want something like a European fiesta, get a Mazda2. Otherwise, keep your fingers crossed that they don't do the same declawing on the focus that we're about to get, or that the fast version gets back the mojo that has been stripped from the US version. Thanks a lot, Ford.

  6. skitter Avatar

    I actually think it's a nice looking little car.
    I also think low power is less of a deal killer than short gearing.
    I'll send myself to the corner now.
    /good article, by the way
    //time off for good behavior

  7. Smells_Homeless Avatar

    This car is in no way, shape, or form aimed at me, so I guess I'll just keep my mouth shut.
    Well, except to say that.

  8. From_a_Buick_6 Avatar

    I kinda like the hatch, but the sedan is just atrocious. After all the hype, these cars seem pretty cheap and chintzy. I hope the Focus isn't as disappointing.

  9. Deartháir Avatar

    We are right next door to a Ford dealership. One of the salesguys was chatting with us on a quiet afternoon a few months ago. "Just wait", he told us. "When that Fiesta comes out, you're never going to sell any Golf or Jettas. Nobody would pick one of those over the Fiesta, when the Fiesta is just as good, but cheaper!"
    The Fiesta is here now. The five they have on their front lawn are still there, and I've never seen them move. I'd like to see them do well, but they just don't seem to capture the public's imagination.
    Oh, and Golfs and Jettas are selling just fine.

  10. Jim-Bob Avatar

    I know a lot of people here will disagree with me, but the biggest issue I have with the Fiesta is the price. At nearly $16k for the most basic hatchback (with destination), it simply is not a good deal. Toyota's Corolla is cheaper and larger and that is what sells in the US. I am not saying I would prefer the Corolla to the Fiesta, but it should be priced to compete with the Yaris, not a car that is a whole class larger. Plus, the Yaris is available as a cheap, base model 2 door hatch-something Ford does not offer. My wish though is not only that Ford would sell the cheap 2 door hatch Fiesta that Europe gets, but that they would sell an A segment car like the Ka here as well. After all, if Fiat can get approval for the 500 (which shares it's underpinnings with the current Ka), the Ford can surely figure out how to sell it's version of that car here too. I'd also like the chance to buy a Fiat Panda too, but that's another story…

  11. '76Mini Avatar

    Pah, luxury, getting 48mph in second, hah,! I have to get into fourth for that!
    Oh, thats not good, is it?
    How will I do a roadtrip to California in the Mini if 60mph is close to end of the world for me….

    1. CJinSD Avatar

      Swap in a built 1275 with a Weber. I don't know what you can do about gearing. Don't the engine and transmission share a case? There is nowhere in the powertrain to splice in an electric overdrive, and the Brits never figured out the 5-speed gearbox.

    2. CJinSD Avatar

      A day later and hoonnibbles is still enjoying my reply privately. 🙁