Ford’s small Fiesta offers an inexpensive price, great gas mileage, and a lot of option choices — as you’d expect from an American car. But the Fiesta isn’t as American as you might think.
By Aaron Gold
THE BIG PICTURE
There are a lot of things Americans do well. Nuclear submarines? That’s us. Action movies? No one does them better. Need to fly to the moon? Canada sure as heck won’t get you there. But when it comes to subcompact cars, we haven’t historically done such a great job — just ask anyone who has ever driven an AMC Gremlin.
That’s why, when it came time to design the subcompact Fiesta, Ford — flag-waving, apple-pie-eating, all-American Ford — turned to their people in Europe. Yep, Ford has an entire division devoted to designing cars just for the Old World, where roads are narrow and gas is expensive. The 2013 Ford Fiesta has been mildly Americanized, primarily to meet our more rigid safety and pollution standards, but the Fiesta is very much a European car — and that means it’s innovative and a lot of fun to drive.
The Ford Fiesta’s interior is quite a bit nicer than what I generally expect in a small, inexpensive car. The design is a bit off the wall — I’m guessing whoever penned the dashboard drinks a lot of coffee — and the plethora of buttons on the stereo would do a 747 pilot proud. (You’ll want SYNC — see the Gizmos and Tech section below.) But the rest of the control layout is fairly straightforward, the materials are top-notch, and the visibility is pretty good.
The 2013 Ford Fiesta back seat is fine for baby seats and little kids; it’s actually quite comfortable and supportive. But legroom is in short supply, even by small-car standards, which will be a problem as your children get older. Trunk space is decent in both hatchback and sedan models, but the sedan’s small trunk opening could pose a problem for big strollers. Bottom line: It’s no Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris.
The Ford Fiesta is surprisingly well defended for such a small car. (Makes sense, what with European countries’ love for invading one another.) Along with the usual six airbags (two in front, two side airbags for the front seats, and two “curtain” airbags that cover all four side windows), the Fiesta has a driver’s knee airbag, which can prevent injury from all the nasty sharp bits under the car’s dashboard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Fiesta a Top Safety Pick rating for acing its own crash tests, but the Federal government gave the Fiesta only four out of five stars.
GIZMOS AND TECH
The Ford Fiesta is designed for a tech-savvy audience, and one of my favorite options is the SYNC system, which allows voice control of the stereo, iPod and Bluetooth phone. Lots of cars have this feature, but few work as well as SYNC. If you have an Android phone, iPhone or Blackberry with the free Pandora Internet Radio app, you can listen on your car’s speakers and control the app by voice command.
But wait, there’s more: The SYNC system can be used to get turn-by-turn directions, which are displayed on the stereo — a nice feature to have, since the Ford Fiesta isn’t available with a traditional navigation system. You can also get traffic information, news, weather, movie times, and other useful information. And, like GM’s OnStar system, SYNC will automatically dial 911 if you have an accident severe enough to deploy the airbags. The only drawback is that SYNC relies on your mobile phone, so if you don’t have a signal, these features don’t work (you’ll have to yell for help, just like the old days).
Under the Fiesta’s the hood is an eager (but noisy) 1.6 liter engine, with either a 5-speed stick-shift or a 6-speed automatic. The latter is a special type of transmission called a twin-clutch. (Don’t worry, non-stick-shifters, it doesn’t have a clutch pedal.) Twin-clutch automatics were originally developed for sports cars because of their lightning-fast shifts, but automakers found that they also improve gas mileage, which is why Ford chose one for the Ford Fiesta. It’s a little slower from a stop than regular automatic cars, but other than that, you’ll scarcely notice the difference.
Speaking of gas mileage, the 2013 Ford Fiesta is rated at 29 MPG city/38 MPG highway with an automatic transmission, 28/37 with a manual. You’ve probably seen Ford advertising the Fiesta as a 40 MPG car. It is, but only if you buy the $695 Super Fuel Economy package. That seems rather silly to me — after all, the Hyundai Accent delivers 40 MPG on the highway right out of the box.
MPG aside, the Ford Fiesta is great fun to drive. Bred for the narrow, twisty roads of Europe, the Fiesta feels happy and eager, and I even had fun just tooling around my neighborhood. I wish all small cars had this much personality.
Ford was right to have their European small-car experts design the Fiesta. It's cute, it's fun to drive, and thanks to an extensive options list, it's easy to find a Fiesta to suit your taste and budget. The 2013 Ford Fiesta is an all-around great little car -- just don't expect it to get you to the moon.
Cheeky personality, huge fun to drive.
Cute styling, easy-to-park size
Cramped back seat, 40 MPG costs extra, another American car that's built in Mexico.