The major complaint proponents of small, more fuel-efficient car models make is also a truism. Europe gets the best small cars -- the so-called "super minis." The Ford Fiesta has been a best-selling model across the waters since 2008, but it's come to the U.S. for the 2011 model year and has immediately shot to the head of the affordable small car class with a base price of $13,329, fuel economy rated at 28/37 (Ford says 40 on the high end with the Super Fuel Economy package), and amenities unheard of in this genre.
What's the competition? The Mazda3, but it's $2,000 pricier than the base Fiesta. The Mini Cooper, $5,000 above the base. And then there's the Honda Fit. It can't touch the Fiesta on appearance and interior finish, but it does have superior cargo space (more on that later), and comes in at just $1,000 higher than the basic Fiesta. Everyone has to do their own math, but Ford looks to have a clear winner in the Fiesta.
Most reviewers have driven higher trims of the Fiesta, which comes in four levels S, SE, SEL, SES. There are some form factor hoops to consider. The S base and SEL are sedan only. The SES is hatchback only. The top MSRP is $17,120. By and large reviewers praise the roomy cabin, which is more than adequate for four adults six-feet and above, but all agree the hatchback is the superior choice for passenger room and cargo space -- 26 cubic feet behind the front row. The major downside is the fact the the seats fold, but not flat. On this one, the Honda Fit wins hands down with 57 cubic feet of cargo hauling.
Of course, few people go shopping for an affordable small car to haul things around. They do want a crisp, clean ride, which the Fiesta delivers in spades. Reviewers are fond of using words like "zippy," "agile," and "nimble." Trite, but on the mark as the Fiesta negotiates traffic without issue and with good pick up. Parking is beyond a pure pleasure. There's a 1.6-liter four cylinder under the hood returning 120 hp and the Fiesta knocks off zero to 60 in 8.7 seconds. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, but there's a surprising and welcome option for a dual clutch automated manual that is far and away the most efficient choice and one usually seen only in larger, much more expensive models.
Depending on trim level, the cabin can move up the ladder steadily from comfortable to near luxurious. Think heated seats for starters and even the Ford SYNC system. In a real class stand-out, the seven airbags include one for the driver's knees. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Fiesta 4 out of 5 stars overall with side crash tests coming in at a solid five stars. Basically, this is a small car that looks, handles, and performs on par with its larger, more expensive brethren. Ford has brought a proven European winner to America. Highly recommended.