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.