From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a sporty American subcompact – the Ford Fiesta
Introduced for the 1977 model year, the Ford Fiesta brought European flair to the humdrum American small car marketplace. Unlike the clumsy, poorly built Vegas, Pintos and Gremlins of the day, the Fiesta was light, agile and better on gas to boot. But although the Fiesta is now in its sixth generation, the U.S. has only received the first and latest versions of this subcompact. But that’s fine with us, as the newest Fiesta, with its solid build quality and very likeable, fun to drive personality is so good that we’re almost tempted to chant “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.” whenever we drive one.
From Germany with love
The first Fiesta to hit U.S. Ford dealers arrived for 1977. Built in Cologne, Germany, ain, the Fiesta was truly tiny compared to American made small cars. Indeed, with an overall length of 140 inches, this two-door hatchback was nearly two feet shorter in length than a Ford Pinto (163 inches). Power came from a 1.6-liter inline four that made an earth-shaking 66 horsepower. Still, that was enough to move the lightweight (1,800-pound) Fiesta along adequately in city traffic and on the open highway while delivering close to 40 mpg.
Available in the U.S. through 1980, these first-gen Fiestas were typically offered in four trim levels: base, Décor, Sport and Ghia, with increasing standard features culminating in the Ghia with its fancier exterior trim accents and plush cloth upholstery. With the Escort replacing the Fiesta (and Pinto) for 1981, the Euro-flavored little Ford took the next 30 years off from the U.S. market. But it would return with a vengeance.
Back and all grown up
For model year 2011 the Fiesta was back in fine, make that much finer form. Once again bred chiefly in Europe but built in Mexico for the U.S. market, the modern-era Fiesta was so good at debut it had hardened car critics lavishing praise upon it. Offered in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles, the new-age Fiesta brought a winning combination of style, refinement and sporty driving dynamics, qualities previously about as foreign to the U.S. small car marketplace as Bratwurst would be on a hamburger joint’s menu.
With 120 horsepower on tap, these Fiestas had more power than one would typically see in the subcompact class (a 2011 Mazda 2 had but 100 hp). One could choose between a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, while one could choose between base S, midlevel SE and top of the line SEL (sedan) and SES (hatchback) trim levels. A few years later the top-dog trim for both body styles was changed to Titanium.
The Fiesta also offered small car buyers some rather unusual available luxuries such as voice command for phone and audio functions, keyless entry/ignition and heated leather seats. The few downsides for this Fiesta are its rather busy center stack audio controls and somewhat meager rear seat and cargo space.
That America now offered a more than competitive subcompact car was certainly noteworthy, but the big news arrived for 2014, with the introduction of the overtly sporty ST along with the debut of a fun yet frugal turbocharged three cylinder engine.
First the ST. This hot hatch (it’s not available in the sedan body) comes ready to rock with a turbocharged, 197-horse 1.6-liter powerhouse matched to a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. Rounding out this automotive athlete’s perks are a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels shod with high-performance tires, quicker steering and upgraded brakes. Visual cues for the ST include unique styling tweaks (grille, rocker flairs, foglights) and dual exhaust outlets. Able to sprint to 60 mph in about 7 seconds flat, the Fiesta ST is one of the quickest small cars you can buy. Yet there’s more than straight-line thrills here, as a romp through a twisty mountain road will readily prove, thanks to the ST’s agile demeanor and quick, communicative steering.
Although the ST has hogged the Fiesta’s headlines, the 1.0-liter, “EcoBoost” turbocharged three cylinder engine (optional on the SE trim) deserves mention. Worked through a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic available), this little dynamo can pull the Fiesta to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds while also delivering impressive fuel economy to the tune of 36 mpg combined.
Regardless of which Ford Fiesta you own (or may end up with), you may want to check out a few of the enthusiast sites such as Fiesta Owners Club and Ford Fiesta Forum. And whether you go with a base version, an ST or something in between, you’re virtually guaranteed an enjoyable driving experience ranging from fine to fired-up.
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