I have good news.  After years of anticipation, Ford’s subcompact Fiesta is finally making its way back to North American shores. Long a global success, the last tread the Fiesta left on U.S. roads was back in 1980. But, with small and frugal all the rage, it seems the right time for Ford’s Fiesta to make its return. Still, after such a long break, can the Fiesta get the party started once more?

Well, its extroverted styling should help. It is in a word, progressive. The Mexican assembled 2011 Ford Fiesta subcompact arrives here as a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. Both ride on the same tidy 98-inch wheelbase—nearly five inches shorter than the Focus. The sportier Fiesta hatchback has a concise overall length of 160.1 inches, with the more conservative sedan adding about 13 inches more.

Up front, the hatchback wears a single mail-slot grille, while the sedan dons a tiny version of the corporate three-bar face in body color or chrome. Both sit above a huge trapezoidal lower intake. Elongated, blade-like headlights slice across the front fenders rearward, as upswept body lines accentuate the entirety of the Fiesta's tall gumdrop shape. Wheels, pushed to the corners, are 15 or 16 inches, in steel or painted aluminum. ABS brakes are standard, discs front, drums rear.

Available in S, SE, SEL, and SES trim, the Fiesta's equally expressive dash belies its small-car price-point. Standards include tilt-telescoping wheel, power locks, air conditioning, and aux-in music jack. Options include push-button start and keyless entry, unique to the subcompact class.

Controls for climate and music key off a four-inch display set at the top of a flowing center stack. This is also the hub for the available Sync hands-free system. Unlike Honda's Fit, there is no factory nav unit available.

But, there is a class-leading total of seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag. The standard cloth trim looks durable, although leather is optional on upscale trims, and front seat heat is available for either.

The rear seat is very cozy for two adults, but it does split and fold. That takes the hatchback's 15.4 cubic foot trunk up to 26 cubic feet. Acceptable, but still way short of the Honda Fit.

On our coastal California drive, we were especially struck by how quiet the Fiesta's cabin is, much quieter than the Fit. The Fiesta's sole U.S engine is a 1.6-liter I4. It uses Ford's new Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing, which increases peak power, low-end torque, and fuel efficiency. Output is a modest 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque.

A genuine three-pedal, five-speed manual is standard, with Ford of Europe lending the U.S.-spec Fiesta its optional dual dry clutch six-speed "PowerShift" automatic. Sadly, mated to either transmission, the 1.6 felt breathless in the hilly country above San Francisco. Highway passing almost always required a lot of effort and faith.

On the other hand, the domesticated Fiesta's strut front and twist-beam rear suspension, with standard stability control, yields excellent handling. And yes, it is as good as Fiesta's sold elsewhere.

The well-weighted electric steering assist kept us fully informed of the Fiesta's mild tendency to understeer. New high-tech driver aids include Pull-Drift Compensation that adjusts for road crowns and crosswinds, while Active Nibble Cancellation smoothes out tire balance irregularities. The sum total is a silky ride quality that's unique to the Fiesta's class.

The PowerShift automatic takes the top spot in Fiesta economy, with projected Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 30 miles per gallon city, and 40 highway on regular gas, that's Best in Class.

Arriving at dealerships now, the Fiesta's premium features result in what sounds like premium pricing. The base Fiesta S Sedan is stickered at $13,995. The entry level SE hatchback goes for $15,795. Still, the hatchback is only slightly more than the Honda Fit, and Fiesta has more features.

So, we came away suitably impressed with the 2011 Fiesta. It has a lot going for it-slick style, quality interior, and plenty of chassis. It does come up short in reserve power, but boy do those MPG numbers look good. That's a compromise that we think a lot of folks will be able to live with, and that should make the 2011 Ford Fiesta the life of the party.


  • Engine: 1.6-Liter I-4
  • Horsepower: 120
  • Torque: 112 Lb Feet
  • EPA: 30 MPG City/ 40 MPG Highway