The conventional wisdom used to be that Ford should sell its European models in the U.S. The 2011 Ford Fiesta, designed in Europe, puts that notion to the test. Besides a couple of power train issues, the Fiesta proves that conventional wisdom still has worth.
The Fiesta is a new entrant in the burgeoning small-car class, competing with the likes of the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Kia Forte, and the upcoming Chevy Cruze. Car companies don't make the margins on small cars that they made on SUVs, but current and predicted future market demands suggest small will be big.
We were initially disappointed to get the sedan version of the Fiesta, as the hatchback is quite a good-looking car. But the sedan grew on us quickly, especially when compared with the run of boring cars on the roads these days. The Fiesta comes on strong with ridged headlight casings providing contour to the front fenders and angular chrome inserts bookending the lower fascia.
Strong contour lines down the sides accentuate the side graphics, which end in a sly little upturn at the C pillar. The only element of the design we don't care for are the flat fender surrounds around the wheel wells, which has become pretty common on cars these days.
Onboard music, offboard nav
As the Fiesta is a Ford, we knew it would come with Sync, letting us connect MP3 players and Bluetooth cell phones, with voice command for dialing contacts and requesting specific music. This system worked every bit as well in the Fiesta as it had in previous Ford models we've tested, recognizing even fairly obscure and complex new artist names.
But Sync has plenty of competition now, as just about every new car with a Bluetooth phone system offers dial by name through the voice command system. Likewise, some cars are starting to offer voice command over connected MP3 players.
Ford is trying to stay ahead of the pack by offering Traffic, Directions, and Information (TDI), a set of offboard services accessed through a connected Bluetooth phone. We tried it out by hitting the Sync button in the car and saying "services." This command causes the system to dial out to a server, which put us in a server side voice command tree.
As suggested by the feature's name, you can request turn-by-turn directions to any destination, traffic conditions, and a variety of other information sources. We were endlessly amused selecting horoscopes from the information menu, but more useful was the traffic report, which read off a list of nearby incidents.
Though we had no problem using Sync's onboard voice command for music and phone calls, the server side TDI voice command was not nearly as good. Frequently when asked to confirm a selection, we had to repeat "yes" multiple times before the server understood. On the other hand, it did a good job recognizing addresses as we spoke them. It generally proved much easier to use TDI's voice command when we were stopped, rather than driving, when road noise was greater.
Ford justifies not offering onboard navigation because of TDI, but we prefer an onboard system because Sync TDI only works when you have a cell phone connection. Navigation can be crucial in areas where you can't reach anyone on the phone.
The Fiesta displays audio and phone information on a large monochrome display in the center of the dashboard, a European touch that provides ample room for browsing a list of cell phone contacts or an MP3 player's music library.
We were initially fooled by the knoblike controller below the screen, attempting to twist it to scroll down a list of artists. But this controller is actually a joystick, requiring us to push it down to scroll down a list. Pushing it multiple times to work down a list was tedious, but we quickly found we could hold it down and race through entries.
With its six speakers, the audio system looked pretty average, and we didn't expect much. But we were in for a surprise, as the system played music in excellent detail. It managed to bring out instruments and layers in songs that would be buried by lesser systems. From that perspective, we liked the listening experience quite a bit, but the 80-watt amp and lack of a subwoofer means the bass is a shadow of what it could be.