Ford is targeting the 2011 Fiesta at the urban/suburban market, and the first charge up a freeway onramp confirms the carmaker has succeeded. Once it gets up to speed, it'll run with freeway traffic, cruising reasonably comfortably at 70 mph and 80 mph. Hit a slight grade, though, or undertake an overtaking when running 10 mph or 15 mph slower, and the limitations of 112 pound-feet of torque become obvious.
We found ride quality in the Fiesta SES to be comparable to that of other subcompacts. Steering response was what was expected from the wheel and tire package, that is, not especially sharp but still sufficiently precise that there were no surprises. Driving it to the limit of grip, we found understeer (where the car wants to go straight instead of turning), which was easily controlled. On freeway and two-lane alike, the 6 speed, automated manual transmission's gear changes were frequent and not always consistent or predictable, shifting down or up in some situations but then doing neither in virtually identical situations. As uncertain as the 6 speed's shifts were at times, it still would be our choice any time over the Nissan's continuously variable transmission. The Fiesta's shifts when executed were quicker and more certain than in a regular automatic but not the equal of other, twin clutch automated manuals. Ford's box is unique, however, employing electric servomotors instead of the more popular, electronically managed hydraulics to effect the gear changes.
It's quite comfortable in its intended environs. Flitting around town, from the parking garage at work to dinner at the neighborhood bistro, the new Fiesta delivers everything as promised. Of course, those environs are where cell phone signal strength commonly is at its best and most constant, so the audio streaming in through SYNC is crisp, clear and full. It's tidy size lets if slip easily through narrow gaps in city traffic. Odd, seemingly whimsical shift points for the most part go unnoticed, as long as any impromptu stoplight grands prix are dutifully avoided. Also to be avoided is offering transit to any more than three people in addition to the driver. Likewise, it'll be quite competent for running over to the mall to pick up some kitschy frames for the latest classic cartoon cel addition to the collection. The shortage of truly usable cargo space militates against a stop at the gardening/hardware big box or warehouse store, however.
We noticed no brake fade after driving 30 miles on winding, two lane, hilly roads at a moderately aggressive pace, even though we saw a few wisps of smoke from the front brakes while stopping for a driver change.
Handling is easily controlled. We saw little body roll through the tight corners, the car maintaining a relatively flat composure. Powering out of those corners, however, did not shove our backsides into the seat cushion. On the other hand, over the 60-plus miles for that same drive, much of which was navigated with wide open or nearly wide-open throttle, the Fiesta managed 27.1 miles per gallon. That real world figure is in the neighborhood of the EPA's lower, your mileage may vary, city ratings for the Fit (27 mpg), Yaris (29 mpg), and Versa (28 mpg), but considering the equivalent EPA rating for the Fiesta is 30 mpg, that's a very respectable performance.