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The average European hotel room takes up about a quarter of the space of a typical Motel 6 room. The Poang armchair represents the height of comfort at Ikea, while America came up with the La-Z-Boy recliner. Obviously, different notions of luxury prevail in each region.
I was reminded of these differences while driving the 2012 Ford Fiesta SES, a subcompact designed in Europe. We Americans would look at the cabin and think three could fit, as long as it was a short trip. Europeans will see room for a family of five on a summer vacation.
Americans are unlikely to drive the hatchback version of the Fiesta, the model delivered to CNET, as hatchbacks make up less than 20 percent of compacts solid in the U.S. Hatchbacks are much more popular in Europe. Personally, I do not understand that difference, as hatchbacks have more practical space and are just so much cooler-looking than a small sedan.
The Fiesta's European influence makes itself felt in the ride quality, which comes across as a bit hard. There is little in the Fiesta that shields the passengers from the outside world. Although the front suspension uses Macpherson struts, the rear is a simple torsion beam. Similarly, the Fiesta sports rear drum brakes instead of the discs it uses up front.
Along with the hard ride, the Fiesta shows another, more positive aspect of its European heritage. Roads in Europe were mostly designed for a single horse pulling a cart, and were not much expanded with the advent of the automobile. As such, European cars need to be very maneuverable, and the Fiesta exhibits this characteristic in its quick response to driver input.
Its electric power-steering system always feels connected, and that hard suspension feels taut when making turns. In fact, the whole car moves as if it is a single piece when driving down the road, with no squeaking panels or loose parts, imparting a sense of quality construction. I have driven a few rental cars in Europe that displayed a similar tautness, but American and Japanese economy cars just do not behave with this kind of responsiveness.
The controls on the Fiesta's dashboard also follow an arrangement that showed a non-American influence. Having driven a number of Ford cars equipped with the excellent Sync voice command system, I was surprised to find the voice activation button not on the steering wheel, but hidden away on the turn-signal stalk. Ford keeps the steering wheel buttons limited to two small sets, one on each spoke. There is also no volume control on the steering wheel, but it is not exactly difficult to reach the volume dial on the center dashboard.
Ford Sync, based on technology from Microsoft, does have American origins, and blends perfectly well into the Fiesta's cabin. A USB port sits on the center console, and connects to USB drives, iPhones, and MP3 players. The really impressive feature of this audio source is that it treats any music storage devices plugged into it in exactly the same manner. The Fiesta performs the same indexing on a USB drive as on an iPhone. That means I can look up music on a USB drive by album, artist, and genre using the car's stereo interface.
However, using the buttons in the car to select music is not all that straightforward. After tugging the quad-directional button on the center dashboard around to no avail, I started pushing other buttons, finally digging into a series of menu items, and finding I had to be in the Play menu before I could drill down into categories. The buttons are not particularly intuitive, and despite the index-card-size of the monochrome display, it only shows one line at a time from a music library.
Voice command is the easier way to choose music, and it works extremely well. Whether with an iPhone or USB drive plugged into the car, I could always request music by album or artist name. I only had to remember what I had in my music libraries. Likewise, the voice command system worked great for controlling a paired phone. I could make calls just by saying the name of someone in my phone's contact list. That feature is one many automakers have copied.
More interesting is Ford's effort at app integration through its AppLink feature. The Fiesta currently supports about 10 apps, all audio-oriented. Music apps include Pandora, Slacker, MOG, and iHeartRadio. Drivers can also get news through Stitcher and NPR News apps. Openbeak will read out a user's Twitter feed, but this app is only available for BlackBerry.
In its current state, the iPhone does not work very well with AppLink. To use mine, it had to be plugged into the car's USB port and I had to launch the app I wanted on the phone before I could control it through the car. I found it safest to start AppLink on my iPhone while parked, and I did not switch apps while driving. A Ford executive told me that iOS6 might work more smoothly.