The cars we loved.
A small car renaissance is brewing in America. The harsh economy combined with strict future EPA mandates and soaring gas prices may have been the turning point in a 30+ year battle to change minds about little cars. The time has arrived where small is no longer looked down on as a means of transport for the poor or stingy, but as the means of getting about for the enlightened eco-friendly trend setters. With all the changes in small car perception happening in America, some subcompact staples have stayed true to their original missions while others have returned to a new and more accepting market. Ford’s Fiesta is an example of how an old favorite returns even better than before, but true to its original mission of being the bottom anchor of the Ford range, while still providing fun to drive motoring in a diminutive package.
When the first Fiesta was launched in 1975 in Europe, America got a version with the bigger version of its small inline-four cylinder engine. The German built two door hatchback was considerably more refined than the Pinto that it supplemented in Ford showrooms in 1978. It was small, practical and fun to drive, especially when equipped with the four speed manual transmission. The Fiesta was sold for only three years before it was replaced by the so-called Escort world car (ours was something less than world standard). In Europe, the Fiesta continued, evolving through five or so generations before returning to America in 2011 with much the same mission as it did 25 years ago.
The Fiesta has been a best seller in Europe. In hoping to repeat success in America, Ford made considerable effort to market the car to young first time car buyers by touring college campuses and other venues across the country. The Fiesta Movement campaign featured European examples that made the rounds as potential buyers were able to test drive and fiddle with the controls. Ford encouraged participants to blog and report their experiences with the Fiesta on a website, all months before the cars official appearance on dealer lots. In an attempt to make the Fiesta more like a lifestyle accessory to fashion conscious youth, a system of custom dealer applied decals was designed that could be changed to make each Fiesta your very own. Custom ground effects and other sport accessories were available to dress up any Fiesta. Another concession to the digital generation comes in the form of a “unwrapping package” (USB drive) that contains a photograph of the buyer and their car, an audio file explaining the features of the car and an interactive program describing the features and acting as an owners manual.
Today’s U.S. market Fiesta is a small departure from the Ford of Europe car. Small changes to the front were made to comply with federal collision regulations, but overall it looks almost identical to what the rest of the world has.The new car has a decidedly more upscale appearance compared to the old late 70’s cars. Near exotic features like LED parking lamps, push button starting and an advanced dual clutch automatic transmission keep the Fiesta instep with Fords larger and more expensive offerings. No longer offered in just one configuration, the Fiesta is available in four door sedan or five door hatchback (similar to the Focus options). Europe has a two door hatchback that may eventually come to America.
The hatch is the more attractive of the two, looking more like a smaller Focus. It comes in two trim levels (SE, SES), while the Sedan comes in three (S, SE, SEL). Although cute from some angles, the sedan suffers a bit from cartoon like proportions (nearly all small sedans do for that matter). The Dr. Sus look is due to having less space to play with in front and behind the greenhouse. The sedan, otherwise it looks like the hatchback from the front doors forward. Inside is where all Fiestas shine. The Transformer face theme of the instrument cluster continues from other Fords, most noticeably the Focus, but in the Fiesta its more simplified. Unlike the old car with its thinly padded cloth seats, the new Fiesta is available with comfortable heated leather seats. A broad range of digital entertainments and communication options round out the upscale feel of the new Fiesta. As expected in any modern car, the Fiesta is equipped with airbags and supplemental restraints. Unexpected however is the seven strategically placed airbags that protect occupants knees, face shoulders and head in a boron safety cage. Fully loaded, the price for all this safety enters the low 20’s, a range that would have bought two loaded 79′ Fiestas.
All that money does get you 120hp delivered to the front wheels via a 1.6 liter engine with variable cam shaft timing. The Duratec engine is capable of delivering up to 40 mpg when coupled with the dual clutch six speed automatic transmission. The five-speed manual offers slightly less mpg, but promises to be more fun. Fun is partly what the Fiesta is about. As a small car, it’s toss able and fits easily in tight spaces thanks to power assist steering. A twist beam rear suspension with sport tuned springs and shocks helps keep all four 15″ or 16″ wheels planted to the ground. With competitors like Honda’s Fit offering as much fun with more room, the Fiesta faces stiff competition compared to the field of 25 years ago.
Ford was the first US automaker to take subcompact cars really seriously, after the segment began to gain traction. GM has stepped up the evolution of its Aveo with the Sonic, while Chrysler readies a Fiat sourced 500 to secure the high-end of the subcompact market. During the summer of 2011, Ford experienced some difficulties keeping up with demand for the Focus. That demand has spilled over the Fiesta, as the hatchback model has become the more popular of the two. If the trend continues, there may be more variations of the Fiesta in the future like sport versions of the three door hatchback (ST/RS?) or maybe even a factory blessed tuner special. Either way, perceptions about the small hatchback is changing in America for the better.