2014 Ford Fiesta SE. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Justin Pritchard, additional photos by Grant Yoxon and Tom Sedens
Not so very long ago, it came to Ford’s attention that countless shoppers were bellyaching about the lack of small, European cars available on this side of the globe. Sick of driving compact-car appliances with the stylistic passion of a toaster oven and the fun-to-drive factor of a fully loaded wheelbarrow, the solution, said the bellyaching small-car aficionados, was to have automakers ship their European wares over here.
Why all the fuss about cars from Europe?
Europeans love small cars – and automakers selling cars to Europeans build entry-level machines that are upscale and fun-to-drive beyond the soulless machinery that passed for basic transport in Canada for decades. In Europe, shoppers demand small cars they can be proud of. Small cars that look good, handle nicely, get good gas mileage and are even a little bit exciting.
All of this is why, when Ford announced their European-designed Fiesta was coming to Canada, the bellyaching masses rejoiced, researched, and ran off for test drives.
Your writer did, too. A test drive of the inaugural 2011 Fiesta saw me enjoying a small car with upscale features, above-average handling and steering dynamics, relatively athletic performance and surprising interior room. Plus, with a Jolly Rancher-inspired colour palette, the delicious-looking Fiesta was as fun to look at as it was to drive.
It was highly maneuverable, fairly comfortable on the highway, and built with a solid and dense feel that conveys quality and toughness. Even on rougher roads, Fiesta’s suspension doesn’t feel all flimsy and delicate and loosely bolted together.
The gist? When Fiesta launched, it didn’t make you feel like you were driving an appliance. The cheeky looks, upscale cabin, sporty dynamics and refinement all hit above its price point. I advised readers that this was a must-drive in its segment.
Model year 2014 has seen Fiesta updated significantly above the skin – with a styling re-do inside and out, as well as the inclusion of new features and technologies. Importantly, they’ve left the underlying character, personality and mechanical setup of the little thing largely untouched.
That’s aside from the newly available Fiesta ST model, which packs a 1.6L EcoBoost engine with 200 hp, and the all-new 1-litre EcoBoost fuel-mileage hero engine that’ll find its way under the hood soon. More on these another time.
My tester was powered by the same 1.6L four-cylinder I’m familiar with from 2011. The average compact car driver will find it relatively punchy, very decent on fuel, more refined than expected, and plenty responsive at low revs. Thank the trick variable cam timing system here, which ramps up engine breathing in real time, meaning well-planned passing and merging maneuvers can be pulled off without a downshift.
Said downshifts come from the same five-speed manual transmission I visited previously. It’s a tall and lanky shifter, perhaps a little ropey and definitely not an enthusiast’s dream – but, it’s easy to use and eager to shift quickly when drivers are in a rush.
Steering, additionally, is slightly on the quick side – backing up the lightly sporty suspension calibration for a ride and handling experience that’s above average in terms of responsiveness and grin-factor.
In town or on speedy highway runs, the quick steering, quick shifting, taut suspension and punchy little engine make the Fiesta a competent little cruiser for effortlessly flitting around slower traffic and bends. For fun-to-drive factor, the Mazda 2, Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit Sport are in the same ballpark.
Performance from the braking system was also notable, and when called upon, Fiesta hauls down to standstill with urgency and good brake pedal feel even on slippery, split-traction surfaces.