2011 Ford FiestaEnlarge Photo
The behavior of the Fiesta's automated manual transmission makes for an interesting case study. During my first day with the Fiesta, a light dusting of snow proved challenging for the automated manual gearbox.
If an aggressive launch happened to cause wheelspin, the transmission immediately upshifted, which left it in too high a gear once the tires found traction, causing all sorts of low-speed confusion. That's my theory, at least. What I can say is that something befuddled the transmission at low speeds on slick streets.
On dry pavement, though, it was fine. It actually behaves quite like a manual, downshifting at appropriate times when coasting to a stop, and holding onto revs during hurried acceleration.
Another plus is the steering. Ford has consistently managed to engineer good steering feel out of its electronic power-assisted system, and that's the case here. It feels sporty, accurate, and nicely weighted.
Handling is sprightly and the ride is stiff, with some unnecessary bounciness. Overdo your hot-rodding a bit, and the strong brakes will bring the car down in a reassuring manner.
Despite its pricetag, the Fiesta offers some nice touches, such as a soft top dash and soft elbow rests. These are offset by too many plastic pieces in the cabin, a noisy cabin, and an engine that loses all sense of refinement at higher RPMs.
Other negatives: The seats lack support (long drives should be used as punishment for misbehaving prisoners), visible exposed metal in the trunk, and the lack of a center console. The trunk itself is quite spacious, but the small opening reduces its usefulness.
One last carp: Rear-seat legroom is on the small side. If you're carting adults, make sure your least favorite friends sit in the back. They'll hate you for it later.
The bottom line on the 2011 Fiesta is that it's a fun urban car for those who don't need to use the rear seat often, and who don't intend to haul loads of cargo.
I would've selected the manual transmission if I were sitting in the salesman's office, but it's fun to drive, fuel-efficient, and has a fair array of available features.
Those who want more power or more space will step up to the recently launched 2012 Ford Focus. But for city dwellers on a budget, Fiesta is worth a look.