Review: 2011 Ford Fiesta SE

By Charles Krome

Getting into a new Ford Fiesta had been pretty high on my list, so I was plenty happy when the Blue Oval obliged me by sending over a Blue Flame model with a five-speed manual transmission, along with a full tank of gas. And more importantly, I was plenty happy driving it, too. Well, maybe not “driving” it, but certainly being transported in it.

But don’t get the idea that the Fiesta operates poorly in any way, it’s just that an odd combination of transmission factors work against it as a driver’s car. The five-speed’s gears are very tall, which does wonders for fuel efficiency, and it’s one of the smoothest-shifting units I’ve ever come across. In fact, if it wasn’t for having to use my left foot every now and then, I could almost have believed it was one of those “sport-matic”-type transmissions. Then there’s the fact that you don’t reach peak horsepower (120 hp) until the Fiesta’s 1.6-liter Duratec is spinning at 6,350 rpm, and peak torque (112 lb.-ft.) isn’t available until 5,000 rpm.

The result is that, in everyday situations, you can almost forget that you’re actually driving the car because it moves so effortlessly, and that did include effortlessly soaking up most of Michigan’s typical road-surface problems. And while I was able to get nearer to having fun as I got nearer to the engine’s redline, it’s obvious you’ll have to wait for the Fiesta ST or go elsewhere if your focus is on performance. I’ll also point out that many industry “experts” say the next generation of drivers isn’t all that interested in the driving part of owning a car, so the Fiesta’s somewhat uninspired performance may not even be a negative for its target audience.

Plus, nearly everything else about the car far exceeded my expectations, especially in the cabin. The Fiesta showcases a finely detailed interior with a very nice use of soft-touch materials. Both the front and rear door have fabric inserts, and the rubbery/grippy stuff Ford uses on most touchable areas of the dash has a unique and notably interesting pattern that can look sort of “digital” or nearly organic depending on where you look at it.

I consider this especially significant, because I’ve seen a fair number of vehicles from different automakers that use the same basic pattern in their soft plastics. It’s nice that these companies have upped the touchability quotient in their cabins, but when you see the same (or very similar) designs from different brands, it dilutes some of the appeal, at least for me.

Another high-detail touch is evident in the Fiesta’s map lights. Many vehicles, especially at this price point, skip these things altogether, but Ford obviously took an extra step to add a “swiveling” ability to the Fiesta’s, and again, this includes taking care of the back-seat passengers in the same way. And the funky pattern on the seats is yet another extra-step accent, and it got plenty of good reviews from the younger folks who saw it. The seats themselves were well-bolstered and very comfortable, although they might feel a little snug for larger drivers.

The steering wheel—and the steering itself—were both comfortably firm, but I did have one rather large nit to pick regarding the Fiesta’s steering-wheel-mounted controls. Surprisingly missing from among them was a way to adjust the volume of the sound system. And although the car did have some SYNC capabilities, surprisingly missing from among those was a way to control the radio. Thus, any time I wanted to change the volume while listening to the radio, even the Sirius satellite radio, I had to lift one of my hands from the wheel.

Now, the volume control on the center stack takes no great skill to find and use, but I’m still very surprised at the situation. Also, there was no interior release mechanism for the hatch, which, I guess, isn’t all that necessary, since there is a release on the key fob.

A few other stylish interior accents:

  • The front outboard climate vents were in their own little binnacles and looked really cool when they were closed; almost like some kind of auxiliary instrument housing.
  • The car had both front and rear quarter windows, which seemed to brighten things up and make the car feel bigger inside.
  • Some of the interior pillars were body-color metal.
  • The little piece holding the speedometer and tach needles were quite elegantly designed (but I forgot to get a good picture of them!).
  • Optional ambient lighting (packaged with Sirius for $370) was included. Personally, I prefer a minimum of extraneous lighting in the cabin, but you could change it to six different colors and my kids loved it.

The Fiesta even had one of Ford’s “Sound Screen” acoustic windshields, specifically designed to cut cabin noise. Overall, to put this interior into context, I’d say it’s noticeably nicer than that of the Hyundai Sonata 2.0T I drove a few months back.

Next, let’s take a look at the outside of the Fiesta, where you get more careful attention to detail with one more glaring exception, which I’ll handle first: The Fiesta does fail the Krome roof-seal test. If you check the photo, you can see that the end of the roof seal is left completely unfinished, as if someone just sliced off the excess with a utility knife. I noticed the same thing on the new Focus, although the roof seal on the Fusion (which I’m driving now and will be reviewing soon) is very well done.

But that’s just one of my wacky pet peeves. Much better are the Fiesta’s lights. I’m particularly impressed with the relatively intricate patterns on the front of the lenses of both the head- and tail-lamps. I’m less geeked about the car’s sheet metal, which puts a lot of emphasis on a relatively common styling cue: The parallel character lines that sort of angle back from the front wheels. There’s a lot of that going around elsewhere, particularly in the Hyundai car lineup, and I think Ford should have gone in a different direction. There’s a lot of front overhang, too, but it helps the car look lower and longer than something like the Honda Fit, providing a sportier appearance for the Ford. As an FYI, the Honda is about 1.5 inches longer and 2 inches taller than the Ford. The strakes on the side-mirror housings were another nice touch.

The Fiesta also more than lived up to its reputation in terms of fuel efficiency. As I implied above, I wasn’t all that light-footed with the car, but it still turned up a bit more than 27 mpg for me. For comparison’s sake, the EPA rates the car at 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway/32 mpg combined. Oh, and the actual process of filling up was greatly eased by Ford’s nifty capless fuel-filler system.

Last—but definitely not least—is the Fiesta’s price. I was driving the Fiesta SE, which is the least-expensive hatchback model, and it started at $15,500. (As a point of reference, that’s already within $400 of the Toyota Corolla, which is a size bigger in class, and $505 more than a Kia Forte, likewise a size up on the Ford.) Added to this was $1,245 worth of Rapid Spec 203A content (including SYNC, an 80-watt “premium” sound system with six speakers, the sport-appearance package, cruise control, painted 15-inch aluminum wheels, and black-bezelled front parking lamps, which glowed a cool-toned ambient blue); the Sirius/ambient light package for $370; and the winter package, listed at $195, which added heated front seats and the heated blind-spot side-view mirrors, a Ford feature I really like. A $675 destination/delivery fee, counterbalanced by $490 in “Rapid Spec Savings” brought the total to $17,115.

Of course, I fully realize that the Forte or Corolla you get for a little over $17,000 would be a far different beast from a Fiesta at that price. I’ve spent serious quality time in a Kia Forte, so I speak from personal experience. The Forte’s interior is what I euphemistically call “spartan”—although there is a volume control switch on the steering wheel—and you’d never mistake its five-speed DIY gearbox for a manumatic, but I personally don’t mind that stuff and preferred the bigger, faster (well, relatively) car. But all that being said, the Fiesta is in fact quite a bargain from the standpoint of how much content and quality you get for your money, and I’d recommend it, to the right customer, without fail.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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2 Comments

  1. How about comparing a Toyota Yaris, the one I rented had the speedometer in the middle of the dash! Thought I was in a motorcycle!

    As for your comments on the sunroof, with the way the roof is made its not going to fit flush as say as in my daughers Volkswagen Jetta!

    My complaint against this car and its a big one is the lack of ‘headroom” in back and front as well, I am only 5.8 !

  2. Interesting review…I’d be interested to see if the new Focus SE 5-door, 5-speed manual is even better.

    BTW, you mentioned the Kia Forte’s 5-speed DIY shifter- the 2011 Forte has a new 6-speed manual. =)

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