Handling & Ride Quality

Like the larger Focus, the Fiesta's European roots play out through its handling. The car steers precisely, darting from one corner to the next with remarkable aplomb Ч perhaps even approaching Mini Cooper territory. Body roll is limited, and short of the most demanding handling situations, the nose-heavy tendencies that most front-wheel-drive cars exhibit remain masked here.

Especially remarkable is how well the Fiesta tracks. Get up to 70 or 80 mph on the highway, and the steering wheel requires few corrections to stay on course. Ford endowed the car's electric power steering Ч a setup popular these days for its fuel-efficiency benefits Ч with systems to compensate for crosswinds and even tire imbalance. The result: The subcompact Fiesta feels as settled on the highway as a compact or midsize car.

Highway wind noise is impressively quiet, and the engine doesn't get loud until pushed hard. Our test cars came with 16-inch wheels and P195/50R16 tires, which picked up some road noise depending on the surface.

The suspension Ч independent up front and semi-independent in back, with similar tuning across all trim levels Ч responds skillfully to expansion joints or pavement ruts. The cushioning isn't pillow-soft, but it dispatches bumps cleanly, with no reverberations afterward. Still, any shopper stepping out of a larger car may find the setup too firm. Poorly maintained highway sections send the Fiesta into an up-and-down rhythm that's sure to fatigue road-trippers, and sudden dips in the road can bottom the car out unsettlingly. If you find the Fiesta too firm, check out the Versa; it has one of the smoother rides in this class.

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