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First Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta

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2011 Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta

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First things first: The Ford Fiesta is fun. In the best tradition of European small cars, it has room for four plus some stuff, a whizzy engine and manual gearbox, and quick, responsive handling. It didn’t make me shriek and babble incoherently like my first MINI Cooper, but it sure made me grin as I tossed it through momentary gaps in Manhattan traffic.

At least, the one I drove did. Ford has brought over 100 Euro-spec Fiestas to get feedback from potential buyers, a full year before the Fiesta goes on sale next spring.

I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that Ford doesn’t mess it up in the process of bringing the Fiesta to North America and actually building it here. Hey, Ford? Keep it just the way it is, plus the absolute minimum of legally required extra airbags, side-intrusion beams, IIHS-worthy bumpers, and so on.

Our five-door, 5-speed Fiesta in “Squeeze Green” (a lurid lime that stood out at 500 feet) was a blast to drive—as long as you kept the revs up. It’s redlined at 6000 rpm, but not much happens below 3000 rpm. Sure, it’ll idle-creep its way up a hill in traffic, but there’s not a lot of kick until the engine starts to scream.

I ended up running one gear lower than I should have been for fuel economy, just for the sake of goosing it around town and overtaking an occasional unaware Audi driver. I even remembered the old double downshift—direct from fifth to third—to take advantage of gaps in freeway traffic.

Like the best subcompacts, the Fiesta drives smaller—but feels bigger inside—than it actually is. You can fit four adults, though the front two will have to slide their seats forward. The rear seat cushion is higher than the front, so adults can see out just fine despite the rising beltline. And there’s enough dome in the roofline to give a six-footer good headroom in the rear as well.

Equipment is good. Ours had a USB port, an iPod input, and a 12-Volt power supply (“cigarette lighter” to old folks) neatly arrayed below the gear lever. In our limited time, we didn’t explore the electronics, but the joystick built into the upper console promises more functions than a PSP.

We couldn’t measure fuel economy either, but we suspect it’ll be good. If you keep yourself from goosing it for fun, that is. As for tuners, we wonder if the Honda Civic crew should start to worry—it’s that much fun.—John Voelcker

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