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2011 Ford Fiesta SES: Driven

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As you've probably heard by now, the small-car market has changed radically over the past few years: They've become better equipped, more fun to drive, and safer than they used to be.

But as we recently saw in a follow-up drive with the 2011 Ford Fiesta SES, sometimes those waves of small-car change feel only as deep as a features list.

First off, the Fiesta is every bit a small car. It doesn't work wonders with its interior, like the Honda Fit and that car's so-called Magic Seats. And its roofline and hatch openings are obviously the way they are more for styling than absolute functionality. Without folding the rear seats down, the hatch doesn't offer that much cargo space, and the cargo floor is higher than it would look to be from the outside. And thankfully (for this very tall driver), the front seats slide way back. Do so, though, and there's really no usable backseat space left.

Dressed up, H+M style

The Fiesta hatchback looks great, though, with a design that's crisp, wedgy, and curvaceous. And inside, the instrument panel design feels very upscale. But the feel of the switchgear, and of the cabin materials, will remind you at times that you're in a budget-priced vehicle; we didn't like the vague feel of the buttons in the center stack, which control audio, windows, and locks, or the way the dark plastic buttons collected shiny fingerprint smudges, though the menu system accessed through the central controller makes quick logical sense and looks good.

With 120 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque, the little 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine doesn't sound that promising; with less than 2,600 pounds to move around it can feel quite energetic. Ford's Ti-VCT variable camshaft timing in theory helps it be a good deal more flexible than smaller fours of the past, as well. Unfortunately, if you seek MINI Cooper-like enjoyment and responsiveness, you won't find it with the dual-clutch automatic (opt for the manual and you might find it); we found the DCT, which returns impressive fuel economy ratings of up to 40 mpg highway, to be the weak link on our mission for driving fun, and it regularly exposes the engine's lack of scoot due to sluggish downshifts.

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