It's being pitched with sex appeal and a sporty spin, but the 2011 Ford Fiesta is what it is: a small four-cylinder car with a choice of automatic or manual gearboxes. 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 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine here puts out a total of 120 horsepower and 109 pound-feet of torque. Since it weighs about 2600 pounds, the Fiesta's numbers could rightly be compared with those of a first-generation Miata. You're looking at about 10 seconds to 60 mph, respectable for anything that can also dole out 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.
To get those numbers, you'll have to wind through some muted but noticeable four-cylinder thrash--and you'll need to stick with the new PowerShift automatic and opt for a special SFE version. The PowerShift automatic is a dual-clutch gearbox that operates automatically via one of two clutches, with the next gear up or down always ready to engage as soon as the current gear is disengaged. It's more efficient, but it's also more expensive to build--and it's a noticeable buzzkill in the Fiesta, slow to downshift even with a sport button engaged. We like the manual six-speed much better; it's light and simple, yet still hits 29/38 mpg fuel economy numbers.
The typical small-car ride is finessed in the Fiesta, which does just about as much as it can with a short wheelbase. It's compliant enough, and since it's small, you'll have good clean fun thrashing it around on its bump-stops. And the electric power steering just might be the best we've ever felt; it's fast but in the right amounts, with some well-programmed feedback. The same goes for almost all its controls, which do a great job convincing you there's more performance here than you can measure with science.