PREVIEW: 2011 FORD FIESTA - Party like it's 1976

BY Larry Printz. Apr 24 01:00 am

The year was 1976. With the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 fresh in our memories, Ford introduced a car smaller than the compact Pinto and Maverick: the Ford Fiesta.

Designed in Dearborn, Mich., and built in Germany, the Fiesta was a three-door, front-wheel-drive subcompact, about the same size as a modern-day Mini Cooper.

The car featured a 66-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine.

In 1980, the car was replaced in the United States by the Ford Escort, but continued to be sold in Europe.

With the 2011 model, which goes on sale a year from now, Ford is bringing the Fiesta back to the States.

The reintroduction is Ford's attempt to capture a larger share of the gas-conscious market with an automobile that is strong on mileage and style.

In Europe, the car has been showered with accolades from Top Gear, Car and Driver and AutoWeek magazines. Britain's What Car? Magazine named the Fiesta its 2009 Car of the Year.

A panel of 28 international designers bestowed the vehicle with the Red Dot international design award; previous winners include the Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz R-Class and Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster.

That's heady company for a subcompact. But with the Fiesta, Ford has mixed brilliant design with above-average road manners.

"In the past, we've always treated small cars like econo-boxes, and this car just changes it completely," said Moray Callum, executive director for Ford Motor Co.'s American design.

"We thought people were going to be more conservative with smaller cars, but we found out that people want something more exciting. That's very refreshing."

And challenging.

Callum admits having a smaller area to work with made creating a distinctive design more difficult, but Ford designers have accomplished that. The Fiesta's kinetic exterior looks as though it's made from a solid chunk of carved steel.

At 13 feet long, it's slightly longer than a Chevrolet Aveo5 and 10 inches longer than a Mini Cooper but a half-foot shorter than a Honda Fit and a couple inches shorter than a Kia Rio or Hyundai Accent.

Yet the Fiesta's roomy cabin feels larger than its numbers suggest, offering seating for four and 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 35.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Beyond its roominess, the Fiesta's interior sports an instrument panel as sculpted as its exterior. The center stack features a cluster of buttons that resembles a cell phone keypad.

They control the car's communications, including audio, navigation and cell phone. Microsoft Sync, which allows for voice control of those functions, is optional. Farther down are three climate-control knobs, and their distinctive design makes them easy to identify. Although Europeans get a long list of engines to choose from, U.S. customers will be offered only a 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. The engine has more than enough power for a car of this size.

Callum said the car returned fuel economy in the 40-mpg range, although the EPA has yet to certify the number.

A quick preview drive recently during the New York International Auto Show revealed the car to have crisp steering, a tight turning radius and a nimble, enthusiastic feel. It's always ready to play, like a frisky puppy.

Ride quality is good, as is bump absorption. The cabin is fairly quiet.

Threading through Manhattan traffic proved easy, thanks to the Fiesta's combination of small size, confident handling and adequate power.

This little grocery-getter is a blast to drive and proves an American car company can build a great small car -- even if it is built somewhere else.


-- Associated Press



Every day is a party in this car

Pro: Big car features, great handling

Con: Some expected cheap plastics

Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Length: 156 inches

Weight: 2,467 pounds

Cargo space: 10.5-35 cubic feet

Fuel economy: 40 mpg (estimated)

Fuel type: Regular unleaded

Base price: TBA

Competitors: Chevrolet Aveo5, Honda Fit; Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mini Cooper, Nissan Venza, Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Golf


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