2012 Ford Fiesta SES

Going small doesn't have to mean going without in stylish global subcompact

Published: July 25, 2012, 11:00 PM
Updated: November 24, 2021, 8:52 PM

2012 Ford Fiesta

Ford has an advantage over its North American competitors when it comes to building small cars: it has a slew of award-winners running around European roads that can be converted to our safety and emission specs. GM has Opel and Chrysler can turn to its new parent company, Fiat, but the small Fords have consistently outsold and outperformed the German and Italian competitors.

Until recently Ford ignored that obvious source and imported only the name, tacking it on a decidedly inferior product — Focus, for example.

But new fuel economy regulations and a directive from a new chairman changed that. Manufacturers have to reach a really stiff new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard by 2016. Ford sells a massive number of gas-guzzling pickups so it has to sell a bunch of little fuel-sippers to improve the average. To the old Ford, that would have meant poorly conceived, cheaply built small cars that would not hold a candle to Asian competitors, let alone those from a newly invigorated Chrysler and GM.

Enter Alan Roger Mullaly. Lured away from the top spot at Boeing by the Ford family to run the family business and an engineer as well as business executive, his first move was to examine the company’s global product portfolio, followed within minutes by the question, “Why are there were so many different Fords?”

His first directive, and proof he was in command, was to toss aside Detroit-biased Ford practices and declare a “One Ford” policy. Those who knew a product best were charged with development and the resulting product would be sold globally with minimal change. Americans would do big cars SUVs and trucks, and Europeans would do smaller cars and smaller and more efficient commercial vehicles.

The current Focus and its baby sister Fiesta are the first visible results.

Developed in Europe and sold and built in several countries, the Fiesta is a truly global car, but one based on a single platform, common drivetrain(s) and supply chain. The test vehicle, like all Fiestas sold in North America, rolled off an assembly line in Mexico. But it displayed the same quality and structural integrity expected from its European siblings.

Going small does not mean having to go without

The Fiesta arrived amidst a flood of new sub-compacts introduced here over a period of 18 months or so. Expectations have risen — small cars are no longer stripped-down models with hose-out interiors, noisy and gutless engines and no amenities. The new generation of sub-compact cars gets all the latest technical developments, a heavy dose of style and the marketing support necessary to bring them to public attention.

The Fiesta more than holds its own in this new race.

For starters, it is stylish, practically bristling with visual attitude. That continues inside. The Fiesta is a small car, 500 mm shorter than its Focus sibling. There is not a great deal of space inside, especially in the rear seat, so five six-footers will not be comfy. Two adults fit up front in reasonable comfort and smaller folks in the rear. There is a small cargo area aft of the second row in the hatchback, which can be enhanced by folding the rear seats down; unfortunately they do not fold flat. The Fiesta is available in both conventional four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, the latter offering much more versatility.

In either case the interior is stylish. Some would say the instrument panel is a bit overwrought, but nobody will call it dull, or cheap. In front of the driver is a trio of round analogue gauges while the centre is dominated by a curved faceplate incorporating controls for the audio system flanked by vents. A trio of round controls for the HVAC system lies below.

Unlike previous small Fords sold here — emasculated copies of their European namesakes — the Fiesta delivers. It is not especially fast, but it is nimble and instead of feeling like you are riding inside a golf ball when the road gets rough, the Fiesta’s suspension manages to make the experience much more pleasant with a firm, but not harsh, ride. Responsive to steering inputs, it leans very little in the turns and shows an overall alacrity previously unavailable from a small car wearing the Blue Oval.

The 120-hp four-cylinder engine is mated to a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The test car had the latter.

The sedan version comes in S, SE and SEL trim levels, the hatchback in SE or SES. Standard equipment on even the $13,995 base model includes ABS, electronic stability control, multi-speaker audio system with aux input, seven air bags, power mirrors, split folding rear seat, four-way adjustable driver’s seat, multifunction LCD screen and a tilt &
telescope steering wheel.

The SES hatchback also has air conditioning, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, audio upgrade, alloy wheels, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, cruise control and heated seats.

The SES test vehicle had several options: automatic transmission, $1,250; “tattoo” graphic, $500; remote starter, $300; premium exterior package (16-in polished alloy wheels, moldings and side marker lights) $800; Premium interior package (leather seats, premium floor mats) $1,400; keyless entry and stop/start $500 – total, $4,950. I’d keep the automatic and drop the rest, saving enough to pay the taxes with no appreciable loss in use, comfort or experience.
Going small no longer means going without.