Ford, Road Test Reviews, Road Test Special, Vehicles

We Drive The European Ford Fiesta A Year Before Arriving In North America

Road Test Special – 2011 Ford Fiesta Ride & Drive
Ford is the only one of the “Big Three” that didn’t declare bankruptcy and they didn’t go crawling to the U.S. and Canadian governments for money to keep them alive. Thanks to CEO Alan Mulally, Ford lined up loans and lines of credit worth $23.6 billion against its assets while they were still worth something – just in case they ran into trouble.  Ford is poised to emerge as the largest US automaker, and Mulally has said many times that Ford should return to profitability in 2009 (which in fact they already have).

Apart from arranging loans while the banks were still drunk with stupidity, Mulally also sold off Jaguar and Land Rover. Looking to the huge successes of the European arm of Ford, Mulally quickly set about arranging to bring some of that success to North America.

First up is the all-new Ford Fiesta that has recently been launched in Europe and around the world.  With constant threats of higher fuel prices, the timing might be perfect for the second smallest Ford to be re-launched over here. The original Fiesta was sold on these shores from 1978 -1980 and we haven’t had one since – unlike the rest of the world.

Brief Introduction…
Designed and developed in Europe for customers in Europe, Asia, South Africa, Australia, South and Central America as well as North America, the new Fiesta is the first major product of Ford’s new global product development process. Around the world, the Fiesta has been Ford’s “B” class car, enjoying strong sales and a large following for more than 30 years.

Ford has sold more than 12 million units of the Fiesta since its introduction in 1976. The next-generation Ford Fiesta was developed by Ford’s European arm and represents the blueprint for future global product development. Ford will be tailoring the Fiesta to meet customer preferences for interior features, exterior colours, body styles and other options in each region of the world.

It went on sale in Europe in late 2008, is currently being launched in Asia and will hit the North American market in early summer 2010. Around the world, the Fiesta is available as a 3-door and 5-door variant, but in North America the new subcompact will be offered as a 5-door hatchback and the popular four-door sedan. Production of Fiesta for North America will begin in early 2010 in Mexico.

So why am I reporting on the new Ford Fiesta now?

Well, Ford have imported a bunch of European Fiestas from Holland to get them into the hands of auto journalists so that we can tell everyone over here that it’s coming next year and it’s great and you have to go out and buy one…

If you’ve read any of my reviews you’ll know I don’t just spew whatever the PR department from any manufacturer has dreamt up – I do my own reporting and you get to read about the good or the bad… that’s the way it’s always going to be…

So, after a day terrorizing the citizens of Toronto with a little bright blue European Ford Fiesta – what’s the verdict in one word?


Ford are gonna sell a ton of these little beauties.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of a nice sunny day in September..

Ford invited 18 or so of us to a Test Fest – a full day of driving the car. After a brief introduction and some details as well as a question and answer period, we went out and drove the Fiesta around a test track in the controlled environment of a parking lot. Ford also brought in three cars from the competition – Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and a Nissan Versa to give us an opportunity to drive them all back to back for comparison. After that they let us loose on the streets of Toronto for several hours driving a pre-determined course to give us a good idea of the cars’ behavior in the real world.

After we all left the meeting tent to head to the closed course, we (my trusty side-kick and co-pilot Gail and I) found ourselves ahead of everyone else with the choice of any of the cars.. what do we drive first? We jumped into the best looking Honda Fit knowing full well that it was probably the sportiest of the three competing cars. The Fiesta was better looking than the Fit, but if the Fiesta was as good as the Fit around this course I’d be very surprised. The test cars were all manual transmissions – the Fiesta currently comes in a standard transmission only, but fear not – we’ll see a 5-speed automatic for North America when it finally goes on sale here.

Our mission was to get up to 60 kph and into second gear, after that it was just braking, accelerating and maneuvering the car around the course. Off we went zipping through the course – just as I suspected – the Fit was going to win this test!  Up next was the Fiesta. Gail got behind the wheel and laid some rubber off the start line. Even from the passenger seat I instantly knew that the Fiesta had just blown the doors off the Fit on the course – I was shocked!  It turned in sharply and had virtually no nose dive when braking and cornering hard – very impressive. We were back before we left – that’s how fast we went around the course!

Everyone else had caught on to our idea and started lining up to drive the competing cars, so we went out in the Fiesta again – this time with me driving. I was amazed at the extremely light clutch and the smooth shift of the gearbox. The electric steering was light, but not over-boosted and the chassis was solid and tight – just like a European car traditionally is.. wow! This little car is impressive. I say “little”, but really it’s not that little. It’s barely smaller than a Focus – I was expecting to be touching elbow to elbow with my co-pilot yet we weren’t even close – there’s plenty of room in this car even for larger people.

OK time to drive the rest of the competition. Yaris or Versa? Well the Versa is just revoltingly ugly – it’s like a bastard child of a love affair between a donkey and a warthog! Fortunately, the Toyota Yaris came available first. Now “fortunately” is a relative term… I’ve never driven a Yaris because I’ve always regarded it as a car for people that really hate themselves. After getting behind the wheel and fastening the seatbelt, I knew my prejudices were well-founded. This car is a dog. Driving around the track felt like I should have had a rope and a team of horses in front of me!

Flooring the gas pedal summoned lots of noise but little else. If you’ve ever been on the top floor in a double-decker bus then you’ll get an idea of the cornering sensation. (Sorry Toyota – I love just about all your cars… but what were you thinking??!!) Once we returned to the corral, we decided that was enough – we wanted to take the Fiesta out and we skipped driving the Versa – what would the point be after all?

We grabbed the bright blue Fiesta and off we went. When the Ford PR person told us the Fiesta had a 1.6 litre engine putting out 119 hp, I didn’t exactly get excited shall we say.. but in the real world it was more than adequate for the car. I never say (well I did once) that a car doesn’t need more horsepower, but in this case, I don’t really think more would matter that much.

Out on the streets of downtown Toronto, the Fiesta continued to impress us every minute. Whether zipping past slower traffic, cyclists or pedestrians we were in our element the whole day. Our drive consisted of 45 minutes then a break, driver change, another 45 minutes then lunch. We were then introduced to a couple of Ford execs – including the president of Ford Canada and demonstrations of Ford’s MyKey and Park Assist (see additional reports for more details on these in another Special Report). After lunch we had another 45 minutes, a break/driver change and then back to the beginning. All-in-all a very comprehensive test of the Fiesta.

As I mentioned earlier, the light clutch and gearbox were a joy to use – especially when we had to deal with stop and go traffic. One thing I would change would be the actual location of the shifter – I think it needs to be moved rearward about 5 cm to make it a perfect placement, especially when shifting into 5th gear. Gail commented that it was so smooth and easy to use you could teach an idiot to drive a stick-shift.

Around the highways and byways of Toronto, we really got a good feel for the car – we also got to see parts of Toronto we’d never seen before and are pretty sure we won’t see again. At one point we were in the collector lane of the 401 (one of the busiest roads in North America), when we happened upon an accident that was on the main section of the road.

As per usual, everyone on our side had to come to a full stop and have a good look – even though there was nothing to see. The bonus part though, is once you’ve cleared an accident 99% of the drivers have still got their brains in neutral AND the cops are all at the accident, so….. mash the pedal and off we went.  Screaming along an empty highway, our speed climbed higher and higher while our impressions of the Fiesta rose along with it. At 120 kph it was extremely quiet – we both commented on how shocked we were that it was so serene at our usual travelling speed.

What about at higher speed? Well there’s no point in asking the wife that question… she was already well on her way to finding out the answer to the question we hadn’t asked yet. At 160 kph it was just as quiet! What a fantastic little car. Even at those speeds it wasn’t just quiet, but also very smooth and stable with no sensation that you were already well within the losing your license and car territory if caught travelling at that velocity!

Once we were clear of the highway and returned to the streets of Toronto, something became clear: one thing missing that I would certainly like to see in the Fiesta is an “Oh my God” bar or grab handle for the front passenger. I could have used one several times on our trip, but had to hang onto the seat instead. When my wife decides she’s going to push a cars’ limits – she has no concept of the meaning “easy does it.”

The chassis and suspension of the Ford Fiesta are extremely good as we both got an opportunity to test it around the rough streets of Toronto. For those of you in the southern part of the country – be glad you don’t have to deal with the ravages of winter and the toll it takes on the roads everywhere. Crashing over tram car tracks and manhole covers, not once did the Fiesta get edgy or upset – it just handled it like a much larger car staying well planted on the road.

My wife commented that although she hates driving around in big cities like Toronto – dealing with plenty of pedestrians, cyclists and even worse drivers, along with cabs and busses – she was very relaxed driving the Fiesta and wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated when changing lanes or turning. Perhaps it was the excellent visibility that made it easier on her, but she felt more comfortable driving the Fiesta after a few minutes than she would have driving her own Mazda that we’ve had for 2 ½ years.

The seats are comfortable and quite firm. On my first stint, I was getting a bit of bum-ache after 45 minutes, but it wasn’t an issue for the rest of the day. The driver seat gets height and lumbar adjustment. Getting into a comfortable position was quick and easy, with no need for ‘tweaking’ the position later – that doesn’t happen very often with me!

Elbow room was surprisingly good. When you think small cars, you usually expect to be elbow to elbow with your passenger, but not so with the Fiesta. I would say it is just about as good as the larger Focus and certainly better than the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit that we encountered earlier.

The Fiesta’s interior is very nicely laid out with top-notch materials incorporated throughout. Leather is an option, but wasn’t in our test vehicles. The audio system was far better than we expected – it was fantastic to be honest – and even had an auxiliary input and USB for portable players. There’s even a dedicated spot for storing said devices.

There is very little storage space, however (other than the small door pockets) – absent and clearly needed was an armrest/storage compartment, but it did have three cup holders. The glove box is a pretty good size – better in fact than Ford’s own F-150.

Ford is definitely on to a winner in the 2010/2011 Fiesta. For years auto journalists have been begging Ford to bring over their European cars so we can enjoy them here in North America … finally it’s going to happen. We’re even going to be getting the European Focus – possibly sometime in early 2011! While our driving habits and needs are completely different from Europeans, hopefully Ford will find a way to blend North American cars with European/world cars a little more often in the future.

My wife kept talking about the Fiesta for weeks after we had driven it and now she’s comparing everything to it …. I’m thinking her next car might be one… and I won’t be upset about taking it out for a spin regularly.

When the Fiesta arrives on our shores.. well not really arriving – just driven up from Mexico…in the summer of 2010,  it will be 90% of the car we drove. The front will remain unchanged, as will the crease down the side and the centre stack/console. Ford Sync will be available, as well as the easy-fill fuel filler, Sirius satellite radio heated seats and push-button start. There will be 7 airbags including a driver’s knee airbag. Pricing and colors will be announced at the L.A. Auto Show in December of this year (2009). Fuel mileage is expected to be 5.8 L/100 km / 40 mpg (U.S.)

Copyright © 2010 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland / Gail Shankland and Ford

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