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May 12, 2010

First Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta -- Let's Throw a Party for this One!

2011_Ford-Fiesta-hatchback Ever since I first saw it debut as the Verve concept at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, I've been gushing about Ford's upcoming new Fiesta. I admit, in the beginning, I had my second thoughts about its name,  but that was because I remember the original Fiesta as being a rather plain econobox. I owned a Festiva in the late 1980s and fondly remember it as my own auto-sized 58-hp rollerskate. It averaged 40 miles per gallon on my freeway commute, and the rear seats flipped and folded flat to create a cargo space large enough to carry a giant rolling craftsman toolbox and matching top box. It wasn't high-tech: it didn't have ABS, fuel-injection, or airbags. It was cute and fun to drive, but it was NOTHING like the sleek and sexy Verve concept I had just fallen in love with.

My_ford_festiva_lx_red_1988 However, it turns out that the sporty Fiesta had a very successful presence worldwide, so much so that Ford wanted to build on that global reputation with the new model, and because they were marketing it to the new generation of Millennials, they weren't worried that new buyers would remember it as I did.

Ford-fiesta-photografitti Since that time, Ford created the "Fiesta Movement," a social media marketing campaign that offered the European Fiesta to American "Agents" to drive for six months while using their online network to create buzz about the upcoming American version. Can we say WINNER? The first Fiesta Movement  generated more than 6.2 million YouTube views, more than 750,000 Flickr photo views, and nearly 4 million Twitter impressions. Ford debuted its American version at the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show, and invited journalists (ME!) to see it up close and personal, inside and out. We learned about its special technology, including a brand-new PowerShift dual-clutch automatic transmission sealed for the life of the vehicle and expected to help the Fiesta garner an expected best-in-class fuel-economy rating of 40 mpg on the highway. (That's equivalent to my original Festiva, with twice the horsepower and style!)

2011-ford-fiesta-sedan Earlier this year, Ford began taking reservations online. More than 120,000 people raised their hands in interest, and approximately 11,000 actually specified and reserved their own models, some influenced by the offer of a free Sync package for early orders, others simply because the wanted to be among the first to own the sassy little car that is bound to send the import compacts running for cover.

2011_Ford_Fiesta_interiorAnd I should know: I've owned two Honda Civics (as well as two Accords and an Odyssey). I know the standard the imports have set, and recognize that this little car could very well become Ford's own Civic beater, bringing a new audience to American cars.

So guess what? After an opportunity to take an extended test drive of the American-spec 2011 Ford Fiesta with a collection of journalists in San Francisco last week, I am even more in love with this car.

2011_Ford_Fiesta_rear_seat What do you want to know about it? I drove both the automatic and the manual version with the 1.6-liter/119-horsepower DOHC four-cylinder engine. I sampled both the stylish little five-door hatchback and the more elegant, 13-inch-longer four-door sedan. I drove it up and down curvy mountain roads of Santa Cruz, up the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway, and then (bonus!) raced it on an autocross course in the parking lot of Candlestick Park. Regardless of the transmission, the car was perky and fun to drive on the variety of roadways.

2011-ford-fiesta-sunroof Handling was firm and responsive, thanks to Ford's standard electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) system tuned to offer refined overall driving dynamics. It works with a software-based technology called Active Nibble Control - a Ford proprietary invention - which senses road imperfections that can disrupt a smooth ride, and compensates for it so the driver isn't even aware it's happening. "Nibble Control," sounds funny and we made a few jokes about the name, but in the end, the feature seemed to work just fine, seamlessly adjusting for roadway situations that might otherwise cause the car to pull.

2011-ford-fiesta-sedan-pushbutton-start The 1.6-liter/119-horsepower DOHC four cylinder engine was perky enough that we were able to chirp the tires (oops!) more than a few times in first gear. The automatic also had sufficient power off the line that launches from stop signs provided torquey thrills. A recent road test at  reports 0-60 times of 9.5 seconds; it may not be quite as fast as some of its competitors, but with numbers of 30 mpg city and 40 highway, it beats the fuel economy of all of them by 3 to 6 miles per gallon. I sometimes wished the manual had a sixth gear, and favored third gear when I needed more torque, but was otherwise pleased with the shifter's feel. Ford's six-speed PowerShift transmission is one of the few automatics on the market that can actually beat the fuel economy of a manual. The choice is yours, their performance is otherwise nearly equal.

2011_Ford_Fiesta_sync-applink As for technology, hands-free Bluetooth, cellular, and audio functions are now commonplace in most vehicles. However, Ford and SYNC are taking hands-free safety one step further in the Fiesta with voice and vehicle control of smart devices like Android(TM), BlackBerry(R), iPhone, or Palm Pre smartphones. If you've got one of these devices, you can be among the first to use Ford's new AppLink feature to stream Pandora internet radio, Stitcher "smart radio," and Orangatame's OpenBeak Twitter application in the SYNC-enabled Fiesta. Even without a smart phone, you can use your cellphone to connect for turn-by-turn navigation and even daily on-demand headline updates.

2011-ford-fiesta-sedan-easyfuel Ford prides itself on the high level of safety features in the new Fiesta. With seven airbags, the Fiesta features more standard airbags than any other 2010-model year compact cars in its class. That includes side curtain airbags and an airbag at the driver's knees. The passenger compartment is protected by a "safety cage" made of high-strength boron steel -- an element so strong it's used in the aerospace industry. Fiesta's AdvanceTrac(R) ESC system automatically applies the brakes and modulates engine torque whenever it detects wheelslip. The system helps modulate oversteer and understeer to reduce skidding, and fishtailing, and to maintain control under conditions such as ice, gravel or rain, for more confident stopping power. Finally, integrated blind-spot mirrors alert the driver to potential dangers while maneuvering in and around traffic.

2011-ford-fiesta-sel I ordered my own Fiesta last week: A five-speed manual Yellow Blaze SEL sedan with sunroof and heated, leather seats; multi-color ambient interior lighting; SYNC in-car connectivity system; and Intelligent Access with push-button start. Pricing for my car as ordered is right around $19,000. Because the sunroof is a late-availability feature, I'll have to wait to take delivery until August, but I don't mind: Good things are worth waiting for.

Brandy_schaffels_s By Brandy Schaffels Editor

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