The city-sized Fiesta was originally designed for Europe, where small-car shoppers expect some of the same amenities they get in larger vehicles, and it indeed has a certain je ne sais quoi that distinguishes it from other basic-minded affordable subcompacts like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. But the Fiesta also earns kudos for its excellent gas mileage—as high as 30 mpg city, 40 highway according to the EPA—and for that, along with its fun-to-drive character, substantial feel, and long feature list we give the 2012 Ford Fiesta an 8 out of 10 at GreenCarReports. A tight interior, compared to other cars its size, is the main tradeoff.
But to get those top mileage ratings, you have to get the Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package, which includes low-rolling-resistance tires, aerodynamic improvements, and taller gearing, plus cruise control. And with that package only offered in SE trims, there's no pairing that 40-mpg rating with leather seats or any of the other extras you can only get in the top Fiesta SEL. Other models range down to 28/37—so really not all that much lower.
Considering that frugality, the Fiesta feels surprisingly frisky and responsive. The 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine does well with either the five-speed manual or the six-speed PowerShift dual-clutch automatic. Between them, the PowerShift transmission simply isn't at the level of smoothness you'd get with a conventional automatic. But its electric power steering is phenomenally good for a budget-priced small car—well-weighted, making it a lot of fun to toss the Fiesta around tight city streets and cul-de-sacs.
The 2012 Fiesta has a feature set that wouldn't be out of place in a mid-size car costing ten grand more. Base Fiestas bottom-line for less than $14k and include A/C, power locks, a split-folding back seat, a sound system with aux input, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel—all features that aren't often together standard in this price class. SYNC connectivity, push-button start, ambient lighting, and heated leather seats are all on offer.
And for more on features, interior comfort, and safety, as well as what other sources have said, see The Car Connection's full review of the 2012 Ford Fiesta.