Get-Up & Go

The Fiesta's sole offering, a 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder, moves the car capably around town; drive solo, and this should suffice for all your local errands. Getting up to highway speeds requires a steady prod on the accelerator, and uphill stretches call up the engine's full reserves to maintain speed, but this is the norm in the entry-level class.

The five-speed manual has medium throws and a light clutch, but I wonder why Ford didn't offer a six-speed. Curvy mountain roads had me swapping second and third gear, which are just too far apart. Wind out second to get some satisfying high-rev punch, then third dumps you to a feeble 2,500 rpm. Fourth and fifth, in contrast, seem too close together: Earnest passing on the interstate can't be done with either, forcing you down to an engine-howling third. Six manual gears, with more even spacing, would do a lot of good.

In a class where most competitors have four- or five-speed automatics, the Fiesta's optional six-speed, dual-clutch auto is mechanically impressive. As is often the case for dual-clutch automatics, however, it isn't the smoothest. Encounter stopped traffic on a city boulevard, and pulling out to pass requires a long gap Ч not because the Fiesta's engine can't muster the power, but because the automatic takes so bloody long to kick down. It eventually stumbles down two or three gears in quick succession, but others Ч the Versa's CVT automatic, for one Ч are far more responsive. I noticed a few jarring transitions getting back to first gear in the Fiesta, and there's no manual control to take matters into your own hands. Ford's transmission is nowhere near the train wreck that Smart employs in the single-clutch ForTwo, but other automatics are more responsive.

That said, in undemanding situations, the automatic behaves like any other Ч and don't forget the Fiesta's price. This is an entry-level car, after all.

With a five-speed manual transmission, Ford expects the Fiesta to earn EPA ratings of 29/38 mpg (city/highway); the dual-clutch automatic will get an even better 30/38 mpg, an engineer estimated. An optional Superior Fuel Economy Package on the automatic-equipped Fiesta SE, which adds aerodynamic enhancements and low-rolling-resistance tires, bumps that up to 30/40 mpg. Those figures top the current class-leading Toyota Yaris Ч in the automatic SFE's case, by around 10 percent. Impressive.

Small-Car MPG Compared
EPA Combined Mileage
  Automatic Manual
2011 Ford Fiesta* 33-34 33
2010 Toyota Yaris 31 32
2010 Honda Fit 30-31 29
2011 Mazda2* 30 31
2010 Hyundai Accent 30 30-31
2010 Nissan Versa 27-30 28-29
2010 Kia Soul 26-28 26-28
*Preliminary estimates.

Source: EPA data. Ranges exist because of transmission differences (e.g., the Versa offers a four-speed automatic and a CVT automatic) or special high-mpg versions.

As is common in this class, the Fiesta employs disc brakes up front and drums in back; antilock braking is standard. Though not as confidence-inspiring as the Fit's brakes, the Fiesta's pedal feels reasonably linear.

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