I spent a few days recently enjoying a really fun party. Actually, I was enjoying a really fun fiesta, or more accurately, a really fun Fiesta. Yes, as a noun a fiesta is the Spanish equivalent of a party. As a proper noun, the Fiesta is a European car from Ford, and driving it is a bit of a party.
What I got to experience was actually a preview of the car Ford will be selling here next year. As part of their plan to offer more choices in small cars, the suits in Dearborn Michigan are reaching across the Atlantic to their European division and summoning up the Fiesta, which has been a big hit over there. A few tweaks will be required for it to meet our federal highway laws, but in essence, American buyers will be driving the same car found in other parts of the world.
If you were born in the first two thirds of the twentieth century, the name Fiesta may ring a bell. Ford sold a previous European Fiesta here in the late 1970s, as a way to offer a small car that was fuel efficient and yet fun to drive. (Sound familiar?) Part of a string of European Fords that landed on our shores over several decades (starting with the Cortina and culminating with the Merkur), the Fiesta gave U.S. drivers a taste of economical driving flair, but ultimately didn’t make for a good business case. Currency exchange rates and tough competition pretty much doomed the car.
Ford’s hoping the time is right once again for a car like the current Fiesta. Thanks to the ability to manufacture cars anywhere in the world to quality standards, they’ll build the car in Mexico for distribution in North America. That saves lots of money and will allow it to be priced competitively with other subcompacts on the market. No pricing has been announced yet, but the target is $16-20,000.
So what will you get for your money if you RSVP for this Fiesta? Well, if the European-spec example I drove a bit is any indication, a really nice little car with a surprising amount of luxury. I actually hated to give the thing back; it was so much fun to drive, and it had every creature comfort you could want. The Fiesta is proof that a small car doesn’t have to lack amenities.
For example, you open the door and are greeted by nicely sculpted leather seats. They’re comfortable too, and would probably serve well on a long drive. The instrument cluster is sort of futuristic looking, and there are things like steering wheel controls for the radio, automatic climate control, built-in Bluetooth phone integration, and so on. I don’t know how the packaging will be for the version we’ll get, but I assume the German-spec car I drove was a high-end trim level.
The fun part came from the zingy 1.6 liter four cylinder engine. It makes 120 horsepower, which doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but keep in mind this is a pretty light car. Adding to the driving fun was a 5-speed manual gearbox and a nicely firm suspension. According to Ford, they won’t soften the suspension on the U.S. model, which is good news. An automatic transmission will be an option, obviously, though I think a lot of the youthful buyers the car is targeted at will want to learn to drive a manual and choose that for their Fiesta. All part of the “Euro experience.”
Practicality abounds in this little Ford; four doors and a hatch make it a versatile cargo carrier. Fold the back seat down and the luggage space is absolutely tremendous. There’s generous head, leg and shoulder room for front seat occupants too. It’s also a snap to park, so shopping trips should be a breeze, all while not using much gas. Though I didn’t get a lot of miles in the car, I averaged about 36 miles per gallon in mixed driving.
Ford’s already getting lots of feedback on the Fiesta, as about 100 of them are in circulation right now in the hands of special “agents” of what Ford calls the Fiesta Movement. After submitting online applications, the agents were assigned their Fiestas earlier this year and have been getting the word out on their travels via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Whatever it cost Ford to hand these cars over to the agents, they’re getting ten-fold advertising value for it.
We’ll see the official U.S. version of the Fiesta in a few weeks when it’s revealed at the upcoming Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, but it should look pretty close to the car I got to drive. Or more accurately, the car I got to party with.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.