2012 Ford Fiesta Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
March 29, 2012

You could do better if you most value space and comfort, but the 2012 Ford Fiesta packs in a lot of style and substance.

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.

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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.

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Styling

Thankfully, the stylish 2012 Ford Fiesta sure doesn't have a hint of that bargain-basement small-car feel.

There was quite the buzz around the introduction of the all-new 2012 Ford Fiesta to the U.S. last year, and we can see why. There's just no other subcompact that looks this daring or handsome, and we soundly agree with Ford's descriptors like "expressive" and "vibrant."

Overall, we're big fans of the crisp profile and arched roofline, as well as how the curves around the hatchback's rear pillar nip and tuck. Also of note: how the headlights sweep well back into the fenders--a styling cue we've seen more of in the new 2012 Ford Focus--and the high-mounted taillights, again in the hatch, that rise into the rear pillars. The four-door sedan doesn't raise our pulse nearly to the same degree--it feels a bit like an afterthought designed after the hatchback--but nevertheless it's neat and trim.

The 2012 Fiesta doesn't get any less exciting inside. The instrument panel is a but more angular and modeled than most in this class, deliberately based on mobile-phone keypads, with angled keys in the sculptured center stack, as well as controls for the sound system, heating, cooling, and ventilation, and other switches. Drivers can choose among seven "mood lighting" colors to illuminate areas like the cup holders and foot wells. Interior colors on higher trim levels aren't limited to standard black, but include hues like plum and cashmere, definitely distinctive for the class. In all, it looks great--but in execution it all doesn't work as well; this isn't the vehicle for those who want simplicity and function over form.

Ford has given the Fiesta an especially bright--some might say shocking, or garish--palette of colors, including ones like Lime Squeeze and Bright Magenta. But if you're less shout-out-loud, there are silver, black, and white shades, plus a new Oxford White package this year that includes the sharp contrast of tuxedo black. Also, a Race Red packag gets you a hot red-and-black leather seating theme, a red steering wheel, and other red trim. 

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Performance

The 2012 Ford Fiesta isn't downright quick, but it always feels responsive and surefooted.

While the 2012 Ford Fiesta seduces (and succeeds in some counts) with much more raciness than other small cars, once you're behind the wheel this small car is what it is: a small, maneuverable, high-mileage four-cylinder car with a choice of automatic or manual gearboxes.

That said, It's one of the best performers in a group of cars that put most of their time and effort into frugality--which, coincidentally, it does pretty well too. The Fiesta's 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is actually enough to move the 2,600-pound Fiesta quite rapidly; we're talking about ten seconds to 60 mpg, which isn't quick by any gauge, yet it's more responsive than you'd expect for a model that comes with ratings up to 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.

You have two gearboxes to choose from: a six-speed manual, and a six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic. Between the two, we like the light, precise manual a lot better (though you'll see slightly lower gas mileage); the PowerShift gearbox can lurch a bit in slower around-town driving, and it also hesitates for too long to downshift when a burst of power is needed. Beware, the engine can be quite thrashy when pushed or revved.

Overall, much like the original Mazda Miata, the Fiesta does a great job convincing you it has more performance credentials than it really does. Great electric power steering gives just the right amount of weighting and feedback, and the Fiesta feels nimble around town, secure enough on the highway. The only exception is a fair amount of dive for this short car under hard braking.

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Comfort & Quality

While Ford has done a great job appointing the interior of the 2012 Ford Fiesta, it's lacking some of the seating space and comfort of same-sized rivals.

Considering its fashionable exterior, you might expect the 2012 Ford Fiesta to be compromised or flawed in some critical way. But other than being a little tighter inside than many of its rivals (especially the roomiest ones like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa), it's not; what you get is a fully functional small car that would do just fine for commuters who need to belt the kids in back at times.

With two bucket seats up front and a standard 60-40 split rear seatback, the Fiesta's layout is pretty much par among small sedans and hatchbacks. Cloth is standard, with leather and contrasting piping on higher-end models--a nice MINI-like touch in a car available at almost half the price. But the Fiesta's body is quite narrow, meaning that you won't be able to fit three adults in back and front driver and passenger will find elbows close. The front seats themselves are short and flat--like barstools, almost--and some contouring would be welcome. Headroom and legroom in back is tight for rear passengers, and adults over six feet tall will find the rear seats tight; front and rear passengers may have to negotiate over how far the seats go back.

You definitely get more versatility with the Fiesta five-door hatchback models, with their capacity of up to 26 cubic feet, but the sedan offers a roomy (for this small of a car) 12.8 cubic feet of trunk space in its trunk.

We applaud Ford's work in making the Fiesta's interior a cheerful, stylish place, entirely escaping the dram and grim look that used to scream 'economy car.' You might find better interior materials within this class, but the Fiesta's design details never make it feel downmarket or cut-rate. Ford has made some significant efforts with sound-deadening here, with a laminated windshield and a sound blanket under the hood, as in luxury cars, but at highway speeds or on rough pavement the Fiesta's on-a-budget origins will reveal themselves.

Some typical small-car traits, like a busy, sometimes hoppy ride on expressway expansion joints, are also hard to mask—it's a matter of the Fiesta's short wheelbase. But overall the ride is compliant enough. About the only remaining quibble: You do hear the engine's sometimes coarse, thrashy note at the top of first and second gear in even moderate acceleration.

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Safety

The 2012 Ford Fiesta has some advanced safety options, and scores better than many subcompacts in crash tests.

You're seldom as well protected in a car as small as the Fiesta if you happen to be in a multiple-vehicle accident, as so many other vehicles in the U.S. are larger and heavier. But among the smallest cars in the U.S. market, the 2012 Ford Fiesta appears to be one of your safer bets.

The 2012 Ford Fiesta so far has some pretty impressive crash-test ratings—including Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with top 'good' results in frontal, side, rear, and roof-strength tests. In federal tests, the Fiesta performed quite well, with four our of five stars overall, including top five-star results for frontal impact but a four-star result in side impact and an asterisk noting that the rear passenger dummy had a high level of rib deflection, and thus a high likelihood of thoracic injury.

It comes standard with seven airbags: front and side bags for driver and passenger, rear side curtain bags, and a knee airbag for the driver (a class-exclusive, according to Ford). Electronic stability control is standard, as are seatbelt pre-tensioners. The electric power steering incorporates Pull-Drift Compensation, which keeps the Fiesta tracking properly despite angled road surfaces or side winds.

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Features

With items like Ford's SYNC interface and heated leather seats on offer in the 2012 Ford Fiesta, you might actually forget you're in a value-priced subcompact.

While the 2012 Ford Fiesta is the smallest car in Ford's U.S. lineup, as well as one of the smallest cars on the market, the automaker is going against the grain in offering most of the amenities and features of a larger vehicle.

The PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission, SYNC connectivity and infotainment system, push-button start, and tilt/telescopic steering wheel are all features you'll be hard-pressed to duplicate on other entry subcompacts. The adjustable cupholders are also particularly useful for households that might have both espresso sippers and Big Gulp gulpers. Another exclusive is the seven-color ambient-lighting system, and heated seats in a subcompact are a rarity in North America.

Between the Fiesta's four trim levels: base S, SE, SES Sport, and SEL, there's a staggering range of options and packages, with the bottom-line price ranging from a quite-affordable $13,995 all the way up to about $23k for a fully loaded SEL hatchback. 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.

The SE adds a several options, including remote keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, power windows and automatic door locks, an instrument cluster message center, visor mirrors, metallic interior accent trim and additional interior lighting. The SES Sport and SEL add a premium 80-watt sound system with six speakers, LED driving lamps, European-style side indicators integrated into heated door mirrors, a 12V auxiliary power point for rear passengers, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. A 17-inch Ford Racing wheel package and a power-operated moonroof can be ordered with several trim levels.

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2012 Ford Fiesta

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Ford Fiesta has good gas mileage, but that doesn't position it as any greener than its small-car peers.

Gas mileage numbers as high as 30 mpg city, 40 highway are definitely a strong selling point for the 2012 Ford Fiesta, whether you're looking to reduce your carbon footprint or just keep your motoring budget as low as possible. But with the arrival of the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Accent, and special versions of the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, and Ford Focus, all of which achieve 40 mpg or more on the highway, those numbers are no longer the icing on the cake.

To get those top ratings, what you need is the $395 Fuel Economy Package. With it, you add aerodynamic improvements, low-rolling-resistance tires, and cruise control. But perplexingly, it's only offered on the SE trim.

EPA ratings are 28 mpg city, 37 highway with the five-speed manual gearbox, or 29/38 with the six-speed Powershift dual-clutch transmission, which replaces a conventional automatic.

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