The Inside

With sharply raked contours and cell-phone-like center controls, the cabin is big on style. It's a good thing there's substance to back that up. Materials are handsome for this class, with high-rent stereo and climate controls. It's a step in the right direction for Ford, whose self-described "poke-through" controls in cars from the Escape to the Focus have been hit-and-miss.

The upper dash is padded, which Ford claims is segment-exclusive. Car reviewers care way too much about padded dashboards, though, and I'm as guilty of it as the next guy. Far more important in most cars are the door panels, where arms and elbows regularly rest. The Fiesta's are rock-hard, and I'm not sure why Ford didn't invest there instead of on the dash. To the automaker's credit, the Fiesta at least has cushioned armrests, front and rear. A lot of budget cars forgo that.

Upgraded cloth upholstery comes in SE, SES and SEL models, with leather optional in the SES and SEL. For a $15,000-odd car, these are some fine seats. The bottom cushions provide ample thigh support. The bolsters hold you in on curvy roads without pinching your sides getting in and out. The optional leather feels deserving of a $25,000 model, though driving enthusiasts will want to stick with the grippier cloth.

Either way, taller drivers won't care; rather, they simply won't fit. The driver's seat height adjustment pumps up on a forward plane, and with the seat cranked to an appropriate height, I needed it all the way back in its tracks. The gearshift sits on a hefty outcropping, leaving little room for your knees to move. A lot of competitors, including the Versa and Fit, free that space up by mounting the gearshift closer to the floor.

The standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel helps out, but I'm 5-foot-11, and anyone much over 6 feet may deem the Fiesta too small. Indeed, total passenger volume in both the sedan and hatchback is 85.1 cubic feet — that's Yaris-sized, and some 5 to 10 cubic feet short of a Versa or Fit.

The rear seats sit low to the ground. Adults may find their heads touching the ceiling and knees digging deeply into the front seats, which at least have plenty of give for such situations. The Fiesta sedan has a competitive 12.8 cubic feet of volume, but the hatchback's 15.4 cubic feet trails most competing hatches, in some cases considerably. Fold the seats down, and the Fiesta's 26 cubic feet of maximum cargo room trails all but the Yaris.

Cargo Volume (Cubic Feet)
  Hatchback, cargo area Hatchback, seats folded (max.) Sedan, trunk
2010 Honda Fit 20.6 57.3 --
2010 Kia Soul 19.3 53.4 --
2010 Nissan Versa 17.8 50.4 13.8
2010 Hyundai Accent 15.9 n/a* 12.4
2011 Ford Fiesta 15.4 26.0 12.8
2011 Mazda2 13.3 27.8 --
2010 Toyota Yaris 9.3-9.5 25.7 12.9-13.7
Source: Automakers.

*Hyundai does not supply specs for maximum cargo volume in the Accent hatchback.

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