2012 Ford Fiesta review:

2012 Ford Fiesta

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With an Android phone, AppLink works a lot more seamlessly. First, I did not have to cable it to the car, as it worked over Bluetooth. I was also able to use voice command to launch new apps while driving.

Each app includes its own set of voice commands, which can be a little confusing. However, I assume that most people will have just a few favorite apps, and end up learning the voice commands for those. These commands can get pretty deep. For example, with NPR News, I was able to say "Car Talk" and have it start playing that program.

Ford Fiesta
Sync AppLink works with about 10 apps as of this review, with more expected soon. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

One navigation app coming soon to Sync is Telenav's Scout, which should prove very useful. But Ford offers its own navigation for the Fiesta through its Sync Services. This turn-by-turn navigation, along with a variety of other data features, such as traffic conditions, comes through an offboard telematics system. Rather than a full-color map on an LCD, Sync Services navigation offers voice prompts and a visual on the monochrome screen for each turn. I would prefer a full, onboard navigation system, but those are rare in the Fiesta's class.

The cabin's audio system, with only six speakers and an 80-watt amp, is also what I would expect from a car in the subcompact class. However, this system sounds better than its specs would suggest. It does not have much bass, but the highs show a lot of detail and crisp reproduction. It made acoustic guitars sound particularly good.

The Fiesta comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but CNET's car was optioned up to a six-speed dual clutch automated manual. This type of automatic transmission behaves very differently than the more common torque converter automatics. When I took my foot off the brake with the transmission in drive, it was not prone to creep, as a traditional automatic transmission would. I had to give it some gas for it to move forward.

Ford Fiesta
The Fiesta's automatic transmission option is a six-speed dual clutch gearbox, which gets better fuel economy than a traditional automatic. Josh Miller/CNET

Most earlier dual-clutch transmissions have been sport-oriented, but Ford's is focused on attaining superior fuel economy. As such, it does not include a manual gear selection mode, merely a single low range and a hill mode, the latter being activated by a button on the side of the shifter. The low range is very aggressive, letting the tachometer run up to red line, while the hill mode button feels milder.

Both modes pull more satisfying power from the engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that peaks at 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque, than the drive mode. In drive, the car pushes along decently under normal circumstances, but feels anemic when trying to pass. With the gas pedal mashed, the engine makes tortured noises and it can take a while for the acceleration to kick in.

The low range and hill mode do a good job of getting more prompt acceleration, but at the expense of fuel economy. The EPA rates the Fiesta at 29 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. In a mix of city and freeway driving, I found an average in the low 30s was reasonable.

In sum
As a subcompact car, the 2012 Ford Fiesta faces pretty fierce competition from the Chevy Sonic and Honda Fit, to name just a couple. Sync remains one of the best voice command systems for controlling devices brought into the car, giving the Fiesta a slight edge. AppLink shows promise, but its usefulness depends largely on the driver's phone. A full-fledged navigation option would be nice, and Ford could really do a better job making the cabin tech interface more usable.

For performance tech, the Fiesta shows promise with its electric power steering system and dual clutch transmission. The engine manages good fuel economy and power, fitting the Fiesta well, but I would really be interested in seeing Ford's 999cc EcoBoost engine here, which might give a big fuel economy boost.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Ford Fiesta
Trim SES
Power train 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed dual-clutch transmission
EPA fuel economy 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 31.9 mpg
Navigation Offboard with Sync Traffic, Directions, and Information
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod, Zune, many others
Other digital audio USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system 80-watt six-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $17,500
Price as tested $20,210

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