- Stylish exterior design
- Impeccable road manners
- Silky smooth clutch
- Modern, well-appointed interior
- A bit pricey for a subcompact
- Could use a few more ponies under the hood
- Final US version could be watered down
Small is the new black
For Americans, bigger is often better, especially when it comes to automobiles. It’s no surprise, then, that American car manufacturers have generally avoided producing the kind of practical and efficient small cars that are so popular in the rest of the world. That is, until now. The folks at Ford believe there is a significant shift occurring that will make small cars as successful in the next decade as SUV’s were in the 90’s. Don’t believe it? Here are several factors that could lead to our parking lots looking a lot more like those in Europe.
First and most obviously, there is the economy. With millions of Americans out of work and future economic growth far from certain, consumers are downsizing new car purchases. Take the recent cash for clunkers program. The most traded-in used vehicle? That hallmark of 90s success, the Ford Explorer. The most purchased new vehicle? The practical and reliable Toyota Corolla.
Second, there are the Millennials. No, this is not some new boy band. We’re talking about the generation of Americans between the age of 15 and 30. Turns out, this young group is attracted to everything small and efficient, whether it’s the new iPhone or the latest little hatchback. Fully 50% of sales to buyers under 30 consist of small cars and Ford predicts that small vehicles (compact cars and SUVs) will capture 36% of the market in 2013.
Finally, there are those pesky high gas prices that just won’t go away. Although last summer’s $4.50 a gallon seems to have been an anomaly, the days of a buck fifty gallon of gas are over and consumers are justifiably more conscious of MPGs, and more wary of large gas-guzzling SUVs. Ford also points to the increasing urbanization of America and changing demographics as key factors leading to the increasing popularity of small, maneuverable subcompact cars.
Driving impressions: Euro-spec Fiesta makes for a refined and agile ride
Enter the new Fiesta, Ford’s answer to the global demand for small cars. Already a best seller in Europe, America finally gets this attractive subcompact next year as an early 2011 model. Ford promises that the Fiesta will undergo only minor modifications for the US market, mainly to meet different safety regulations. US bound Fiestas will be built in Mexico and offered in three different body styles (3 and 5 door hatchback and 4 door sedan). We had the opportunity to briefly drive a Euro-spec Fiesta through the streets of scenic Sausalito, California, and came away quite impressed.
At the heart of this little world car is a 1.6 L 4-cylinder engine that puts out a modest 118 hp. Acceleration isn’t super quick, but the engine revs eagerly and sounds quite smooth and refined, a pleasant surprise for an inexpensive small car. Our tester featured a 5-speed manual transmission that helps maximize the available power and gives the car more of a sporting feel. The shifter is a bit notchy, but the clutch is marvelously smooth and light, which makes for effortless shifting, even at redline. For Americans not used to a stick shift, the Fiesta will also be available with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
Out on the road the Fiesta continues to impress, with a well-balanced suspension that sucks up the bumps while keeping body-roll in check. The suspension is so good that overall ride quality more closely resembles a luxury sedan than a typical econobox. Steering response and cornering grip are also commendable, although we wish we’d had more time to really fling the Fiesta through some turns. Another pleasant surprise is the Fiesta’s responsive brakes. Quite a few small cars suffer from underwhelming stoppers, but not this one. Hit the middle pedal and the Fiesta comes to a quick and convincing stop.
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