By Lary Coppola
In my view, the Ford Fiesta rates well against an impressive choice of recently redesigned subcompacts. Completely redesigned in 2011, Fiesta offers no significant changes for 2012. Any bugs have been worked out in the first year, yet the design is still new enough to offer the latest advances in safety and fuel efficiency.
Model Lineup: The 2012 Ford Fiesta comes as four-door sedan or five-door hatchback (our test vehicle, which this review will focus on).
The Fiesta hatchback has two trim levels, SE, and SES. The SE comes standard with air conditioning, cloth upholstery, a new driver’s-seat armrest, 60/40 split fold down rear seatback, four speaker, 40 watt AM/FM stereo, power door locks and outside mirrors with new spotter mirror, carpeted front floor mats, rear seat heat ducts, and cloth door panel trim, steel wheels with eight spoke hubcap, that wear 185/65R15 tires.
Option packages include the Microsoft SYNC entertainment center with six speakers and 80 watts, redundant audio controls on the steering wheel and USB equipped center console, and a sport appearance group that includes painted aluminum wheels, cruise control, LED running lamps and deck lid spoiler.
The 2012 Fiesta SES hatchback also offers a new premium sport appearance package with polished alloy wheels, blacked-out trim, and on manual-transmission models, a numerically higher final drive ratio. Also new is a two-tone leather option our test vehicle featured, available in black-and-red or black-and-white. Single-tone leather is available in plum, cashmere, and black.
Other options include a power sunroof, keyless entry keypad, illuminated interior accessories, cargo organizer, and various appearance items.
Walkaround: The Fiesta hatchback offers a European-like profile — wedged side character lines and rounded rear face.
The lower grille opening looks like a reverse trapezoid, while the body colored treatment of the hatchback’s upper grille is a better fit for the car’s proportions.
Viewed head on, the stance is almost aggressive, with a raked windshield and front tires visible outside of the leading edge of the fenders. However, viewed from the side, the front wheelwell arch slightly overwhelms the parallel character lines on the upper and lower door panels that lead to wraparound headlights.
The side hindquarters of the hatchback comes together with vertically arrayed taillights bracing a liftgate hinged far enough forward that opening it requires minimal space behind the car. A spoiler sits atop the rear window, while the lip running the full width of the liftgate ties into the upper side character line.
Interior: The quality of interior materials is on a par with — or actually a tick or two above — the standard for cars in the Fiesta’s class. Comfortable seats offered enough side and bottom bolsters to keep occupants properly positioned without obstructing ingress and egress. Our test model had the optional leather seating surfaces, armrests, and heated front seats.
The dominant dashboard feature isn’t the instrument panel, with its analog speedometer, tachometer and fu
el gauge, but the screen at the center of the dashboard. The Fiesta features the voice activated SYNC infotainment system that augments the traditional AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo setup. Audio and podcasts can be streamed into the sound system via a Bluetooth link to a smartphone. The system does rely on cell phone coverage, and users should be forewarned that when connected to those internet streams, the clock is ticking on that cell phone user’s data plan.
Non-voice audio controls and creature comfort settings are basic knobs and buttons arrayed and sized for ease of use with minimal distraction.
Under The Hood: All 2012 Fiesta models are equipped with the same 120-horse, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The standard transmission is a 5 speed manual; optional is the 6 speed twin clutch, electrically shifted, automated manual — which our test vehicle was equipped with.
Behind The Wheel: I found the Fiesta more fun to drive than I anticipated. It’s right at home zipping around town and running errands. Its size allows it to slip conveniently into those fleeting gaps in stop and go urban traffic, as well as easily into parking spots with no backing and straightening.
Ride quality was at least equal to everything in this very competitive market segment, but seating 4 adults comfortably in the Fiesta is another story.
The 120-horse 4-banger takes the daily commute in stride, with relatively smooth ride quality. To my surprise, wind and road noise is decently muted — especially for a car this size, this low to the ground. Steering is certain, with the Fiesta going exactly where you point it, and it doesn’t lean much in corners at responsible speeds.
Fuel economy is an EPA estimated City/Highway rating of 29/38 miles per gallon for the automatic against 28/37 mpg for the 5 speed manual.
Whines: I found the Fiesta’s low profile a little difficult for ingress and egress with the front seat on its highest setting. The placement of the USB slot in the center console is within problematic spill distance of the conjoined, three-slot cupholders. The amount of truly usable cargo space limits what you can bring home from Costco or Home Depot.
Bottom Line: The Ford Fiesta is a fresh, fuel efficient runabout that will hold its own in an increasingly competitive — and important — market segment.