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The 2012 Ford Fiesta certainly isn't the most affordable small car, but especially if you consider the Fiesta's stylish appearance and surprisingly stout feature lists, it's one of the better ways to downsize—without feeling like you're moving downscale, that is.
Last year, Ford brought a version of its very successful European Fiesta to the U.S. market, and we think this model hits the spot, considering how Americans are increasingly wanting to get into smaller, more economical cars that don't sacrifice features and amenities.
In some respects, what you see is what you get with the Fiesta. This little Ford looks stylish and even a bit racy, with an urban-runabout element that had been missing from Ford's U.S. lineup. In following, the Fiesta drives just as dashing as it looks, with impressive steering and handling and a nimble, maneuverable feel that's better than most softened, numbed appliances its size. On the other hand, with 120 hp and 1.6 liters for about 2,600 pounds, the Fiesta is responsive but never quick.
Despite a top-notch interior that will pass the first-glance, first-date test in flying colors, try to pack a few friends into the Fiesta and you'll become aware of some typical small-car sacrifices. Its narrow body and tight backseat whittle down its usefulness for long road trips, though we like the added versatility of the hatchback models. We're also not so thrilled about the Fiesta's instrument-panel layout, which clumps audio controls into an odd array of slanted buttons.
Back to the initial point, Ford has held the line on pricing for 2012; the base Fiesta S starts at just $13,995 and includes a decent sound system with auxiliary input, a split-folding back seat, rear heater ducts, A/C, power locks, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel--none of them to be taken for granted in this class of vehicle. Safety ratings have been impressive, and a driver's knee bag is even included in all versions. Fully load a top-of-the-line SES hatchback and you could hit about $23k, but you'll have a small car with leather seats, premium audio, the voice-controlled Sync Bluetooth and USB interface, and an interior that has no hint of econobox.
But that begs a question: At that price, why not get the somewhat roomier, more refined Focus, or a base (but perceived as more upscale) MINI Cooper? The answer it forces is that Ford has almost--but not quite--purged the baggage of subcompacts with this great little hatch and sedan. Keep it simple and affordable, and it makes a lot of (very stylish) sense.