For far too long, small cars were the homework US automakers didn't want to do. Think back to the grim, joyless Chevrolet Chevette, or the first Ford Escort--and even today, the breathtakingly mediocre 2009 Dodge Caliber and its misbegotten half-brother, the 2009 Jeep Compass.
OK, now stop thinking that way. The stars have realigned in such a way that US drivers will soon get to buy cars just as good as the ones our European counterparts enjoy. In fact, ours will be better. They'll have more equipment, and they'll cost less.
Today's example is the 2011 Ford Fiesta. Or, rather, a European version of the Fiesta that Ford will start selling as a 2011 model next spring, after choosing 100 "Fiesta Movement Agents" who'll get to drive one this year and report on it.
We were able to spend two hours thrashing Ford's future subcompact around New York City, and we're delighted to report that it's good. Really good.
This is a small car you'll want to own. Not because it's small, but because it's fun to drive (kinda like a Mini Cooper), it comfortably carries four people and some of their stuff, and you can get it serviced at any Ford dealer--including the ones in those really rural areas who mostly sell pickup trucks to farmers.
Will it change? Probably. Ford has already shown different front-end styling for a Fiesta sedan. Truth to be told, we thought our Fiesta's grille was its least attractive area--unlike the very stylish rear, which is often the hardest part of a small car to design.
US-spec Fiestas will also get various upgrades: more robust emission controls on the engine, additional airbags, and dozens of tweaks to meet North American requirements. We only hope that the added weight doesn't compromise the car's delightful handling. And we won't know about gas mileage until next year either.
The best part about the North American Fiestas, though, will likely be their price. In Europe, a top-of-the-line five-door subcompact can easily run $25,000. For that, US buyers can get a car two sizes bigger--so we're likely to get nicer Fiestas much cheaper than the Europeans.
But it would be terribly unfair to say, Eat your heart out, Europe. After all, they designed the Fiesta (it's got a bit of Mazda in there too). So while we cross our fingers it stays great, we'll work on saying "thank you" in as many languages as we can muster.
Next year, that is, once we drive the actual Fiesta that we'll be able to buy here.
As much as we hate to say it, green is good, but green cars haven't always been. So we're pleased that early indications for the Fiesta are positive. A green car that people want because it's good is always better than one they buy because they should. Yawn.
2011 Ford Fiesta logo
Euro-spec 2011 Ford Fiesta on New York City side street