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June 14, 2011 > Auto Review: Ford Fiesta Hatchback: Let the party begin

Auto Review: Ford Fiesta Hatchback: Let the party begin

By Steve Schaefer

After selling half a million Fiestas in Europe, Ford now builds Fiestas in Mexico for American buyers-just in time for $4 a gallon gas.

You can buy a four-door sedan version-I tested one last summer. In Blaze Yellow, it was a dandy warm weather car, but it lacked hatchback versatility and came with the America-special automatic transmission, so I was very happy to spend a week with a Bright Magenta Metallic manual-equipped hatchback recently.

Small cars are inherently more fun to zip around in. One with modest horsepower, such as the Fiesta, with its 120-horsepower 1.6-liter four, encourages energetic digging into the revs to keep up, so the manual is better for play. However, the automatic delivers slightly better fuel economy-29 City/38 Highway versus 28 City/37 Highway for the manual. I averaged 30.8 mpg-nothing to sneeze at, certainly.

The EPA gave the Fiesta a "6" for Air Pollution and a "7" for Greenhouse Gas scores (8 for the automatic). That's SmartWay territory. So either way, you're being a good citizen by driving one, and it will take a while before you need to refill the 12-gallon tank.

A good part of the fun of the Fiesta is just looking at it or sitting in it. It's highly styled inside and out. As a hatchback, its little windows are pulled up tight at the back, giving it a cute, pumpkin-like appearance (they don't make an orange). The headlights are squinting with glee, and the boldly massed forms zoom up from the front fog lights to the shoulders.

Inside, all is angles and edges and carefully matched surfaces. The intent apparently was to create the familiar interface of a cell phone, and the buttons on the center console do look like those of a giant Nokia unit. As a youth-oriented, first-time-buyer's car, this resemblance, I expect, was carefully planned.

Having a USB port ready for your iPod is the right thing, too, as is standard Sirius Satellite Radio and the SYNC system to control it with voice commands (in upper level models).

I spent a lot of commute time in this little car, and it seems made for it. I did get some jiggling on the freeway when road surfaces were rough, but overall the car was impressively quiet. Engineers added a laminated windshield, hood blanket, tight door seals and padding in the headliner and door pillars to create a nearly silent interior. This makes it feel more expensive, too, and silences complaints from those who remember cheap econoboxes from years ago. I remember Hyundai Excels and this is not one of them.

You can order a Fiesta in sedan or hatchback form, but only the middle level SE includes both body styles. The S-level base car is a sedan only, and the premium versions are the separately differentiated SEL sedan and SES hatchback. My tester was an SES.

The S sedan may be at the bottom, but is far from basic transportation. At a price of $15,670, you get a four-speaker AM/FM audio system, traction control, air conditioning, intermittent wipers, and a rear window defroster, and, sorry - manual windows. Keeping the factory build simple, with this price leader you can't order any extra packages and only minimal options (such as a CD player).

The SE volume seller adds some niceties, including a computer message center, metallic interior trim, power windows, an LCD screen on the dash, a CD player in the audio system, power mirrors with integrated wide-angle blind-spot sections and more.

The SES hatchback brings in standard Sirius satellite radio, the SYNC system with USB, premium audio, rear spoiler, 16-inch alloy wheels and more. My tester had the Rapid Spec 301A package, with heated front seats, a chrome beltline molding, keyless entry and an alarm system. There are other packages available. And coming with the 2012 model, you'll be able to select a two-tone interior worthy of an auto show concept car.

I liked the reading lights, which were swiveling ball sockets, and the ambient lighting, which put illumination in the cupholders and along the top of the glovebox. The overall effect was cheerful, from the shiny accents to the clever patterned cloth on the seats. Ford's new Easyfuel capless filler is convenient and keeps your hands clean.

The days of driving a little hatchback purely for price and economy are gone. My SES tester, at $18,590, was neither a rocket nor a limo-but was just right for my life-and I think many people would agree. The Fiesta is the baby of the Ford car family; you can now start there and step up to the brand new 2012 Focus, then to the midsized Fusion and finally to the recently reinvented Taurus.

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