2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2011 Ford Fiesta

It’s pretty rare that a small car makes the front page in “bigger-is-better North America”, but the 2011 Ford Fiesta has been a highly-anticipated little car since Ford started hyping it nearly two years ago.

Canadians are typically more receptive to subcompact cars, so I think the Fiesta will sell better here (per capita, anyway) than in the U.S. Small-car buyers on both sides of the 49th parallel should find a lot to love in this car, for many reasons.

Highlights at first glance include a wide range of catchy colours (magenta, yellow blaze and lime squeeze) and there are four interior colour choices, depending on what paint you choose. The Fiesta is also the first subcompact available with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, currently the transmission technology of record but typically only found in luxury and sporty cars.

The Fiesta’s only powerplant on this continent is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that comes matched with a five-speed manual transmission or that six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Manual transmissions are loved by both enthusiasts and budget-conscious drivers, but for once, the automatic might be the gearbox of choice here. The engine makes 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque, but the latter peaks at a high 5,000 r.p.m., meaning the engine must be wound out to high revs for the car to feel anything like quick. Social Media Editor James Bergeron has driven Fiestas with both transmissions, and says the automatic’s six ratios are far better suited to the engine’s power band.

Gearing issues aside, the manual is pleasant to use, with a light shifter and clutch that work well together and make it easy to drive smoothly in and around town. The third-to-fourth shift can be tricky, though; my tester’s shifter often got hung up going into fourth gear.

2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback
2011 Ford Fiesta SES hatchback. Click image to enlarge

Ride and handling are the real highlights to the Fiesta’s drive. The ride is firm without being harsh, and even with a weekend’s worth of camping gear loaded into the car, the suspension rarely felt unsettled over rough roads. Handling is balanced and eager, but without the twitchiness inherent in some small “sporty” cars. Brake and steering feel are surprisingly good for a low-budget car, and it all makes the Fiesta a riot to pilot down twisty two-lanes. All I’d ask for would be gas and brake pedals just a touch closer together for easier heel-and-toe downshifting.

The Fiesta’s interior is one reason why we North Americans should be more cautious about asking automakers to bring cars originally designed for the European market over here without any modifications. Case in point – the radio controls are weird, the centrepiece being the toggle/buttons used to scroll through radio stations and menu settings. A rotary knob would be much more intuitive to use. Steering wheel audio controls are part of the deal on the top-trim SES model, which is nice. Less so is the lack of a volume control on the wheel, a conspicuous omission.

The ventilation controls are a bit low on the dash, but easy to use. Turning the system off also apparently effectively shuts off all flow-through ventilation, so it must be on with the fan running to get any air flowing through the car, rather than allowing air to flow in naturally at highway speeds when the car is moving.

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