2012 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2012 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback. Click image to enlarge
Test Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta SEL
First Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta
DBDR: 2011 Ford Fiesta SESManufacturer’s website
Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 Ford Fiesta

America’s automakers are getting more serious than ever about taking on the imports on their own turf. Dodge’s Alfa Romeo–based Dart is coming soon, Chevrolet’s Cruze is a global car sold in near-identical form around the world, as is Ford’s compact Focus.

Ford’s other small car, the subcompact Fiesta, has a similar international lineage. It was introduced to us North Americans in 2010 as a 2011 model, to do battle against established little cars like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Aveo, which was then replaced by the far-superior Sonic.

Changes for the 2012 Fiesta are minor. There’s a new base hatchback, in the entry-level S trim level, so the five-door lineup now echoes that of the sedan. Hatchback trims are S, SE, and SES, while the sedan can be had as S, SE, and SEL models. SE, SEL, and SES models get a driver’s seat armrest and available remote start and keyless entry keypad, and satellite radio is available in SE trim. The rest of the Fiesta, including its 1.6L four-cylinder engine (120 hp, 112 lb-ft of torque) and standard five-speed manual and optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions, is carried over unchanged. The Fiesta I tested last year had the five-speed manual transmission; this time around, Ford sent one with the optional six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic.

2012 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2012 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2012 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback. Click image to enlarge

As I wrote in my mini-review of the Focus included in our recent compact car comparo, this gearbox likes it rough, responding to aggressive acceleration with smooth, quick shifts every time. The automatic’s extra gear ratio and gear spacing are better suited to the Fiesta’s motor, but as in the larger Focus, the transmission’s operation in normal driving is disappointing, at least as compared to dual-clutch gearboxes from Mitsubishi and Volkswagen. At around-town speeds, it can feel clunky and indecisive, it’s slow to downshift for acceleration, and there’s an occasional shudder from the clutch as first gear is engaged. A manual control option would be nice, too. Such a thing is available (but not standard) with this transmission in the Focus, but here, you’re stuck with an overdrive lockout and a low range, which simply keeps the car in the lowest gear possible without over-revving the engine.

The transmission’s ratios are well matched to the engine, and certainly better than the five gears in the manual, which are spaced too far apart to keep the motor in its torque sweet spot. The engine itself is a smooth, eager-revving piece. It never feels more powerful than its 120 hp (at 6,350 rpm) and 112 lb-ft of torque (peaking at an also-high 5,000 rpm) but is nonetheless entertaining to run out to its rev limit.

With the automatic transmission, the Fiesta’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings are 6.9/5.1 L/100 km (city/highway), or 8.1/6.0 by the U.S. EPA’s more realistic testing standard. My test car averaged 7.6 in mostly city driving. (A 2011 Fiesta with a manual transmission that I tested in the summer of 2010 also averaged 7.6 in the city, and 6.4 on a short highway trip.)

Connect with Autos.ca