By David Colman
Hypes: Cute, Practical, City Parking Champ
Gripes: Auto Gearbox Kills the Buzz
The newly reissued Fiesta is small, practical, affordable, and cute. But along with those virtues, it also never lets you forget that it is cramped and underpowered. On the positive side of the ledger, the Fiesta is short enough to slip into any parking spot you can find. It’s even a pleasure to parallel park since side and rear vision is unrestricted. Its diminutive 98 inch wheelbase is 6 inches shorter than that of the Ford Focus, which itself is hardly a limousine. Hence the agile Fiesta is a lot of fun on twisty roads, willingly following your steering wheel command to flick it from side to side. Appealingly grippy performance rubber – 195/50/R16 Hankook Optimo H426 tires – underline the Fiesta’s innate balance and proclivity to carve corners.
The interior appointments of the top line SES model are soothing and handsome. The cloth trimmed seats feature tone on tone inserts that look like they belong on a tapestry in the museum of modern art. Their branch-like patterning contributes an air of Zen simplicity to the cabin. Even the pebbly dash top finish, which resembles compressed shipping cardboard, does a good job of quelling reflections and looking starkly modern. The center stack of the dash, constructed in a V-pattern to replicate a smart phone faceplate, works well with one exception. There’s a center volume control knob for the entertainment unit, but no matching knob to access station settings. This lack requires you to resort to an infuriating scan of the various push buttons, none of which accomplish the simple task of changing radio channels.
The Fiesta is well sized to handle 4 adults, as long as none of them are taller than 68 inches. Even 5’8” adults will find that accommodations are cramped, with little head or legroom for the back seaters. Think of the Fiesta as an occasional ride for 4, or a perfect size for 2 parents and 2 children. The rear seats flip forward for flat carry space, and the hatchback trunk is decently sized for a sedan that weighs just 2,660 pounds.
If you decide to buy a Fiesta, be sure to chose the 5-speed manual transmission version, as this gearbox will help you extract every last horsepower from the 120 available from the in-line 4 under the short front hood. Since peak torque only amounts to 112 lb.-ft., it is essential that you micromanage this engine in order to complete passing maneuvers and freeway merges. Unfortunately, our test Fiesta was saddled with the $1,095 optional “Power-Shift” 6-speed automatic transmission. Since the PRNDL gated Power-Shift does not allow you to select individual gears, you can only chose between Drive and Low in the forward speed ranges. Neither of these options work well when you need instant pick-up, as Drive is geared too high for the task, and Low is geared for crawling speed only. Ford does provide a “Hill Assist” button on the side of the floor-mounted shift lever which theoretically provides some boost when climbing grades, but in actual practice, this device is virtually useless in squeezing blood from that turnip under the hood.
Aside from its lack of straight line urge, the Fiesta is a worthy product, with attractive interior and exterior design, good packaging and a base price of $17,500 that will entice many bargain hunters into a Ford dealership for a closer look.
2012 Ford Fiesta SES
- Engine: 1.6 Liter DOHC, 16 Valve Inline 4
- Horsepower: 120hp
- Torque: 112 lb.-ft
- Fuel Consumption: 29 City MPG/39 Highway MPG
- Price as Tested: $20,210
- Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars