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Let The Party Begin

The 2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback

The 2011 Ford Fiesta

My computer’s dictionary defines fiesta as (in Spanish-speaking regions) “a religious festival,” and for the rest of us it’s “an event marked by festivities or celebration.” With the arrival of the 2011 Ford Fiesta in dealer showrooms, both definitions might just fit. This is the car which may well define Ford Motor Company in North America for years to come. And that, to shareholders, may just be reason to spend a little time in church giving thanks, and for car-buyers to celebrate that finally we are seen on a par with the rest of the world, which has been driving Fiestas for decades.

First, a little history. The Fiesta made its US debut back in 1977. A small German import, very competent at what it did, but a much smaller car than drivers in this country were used to. We bought Pintos in droves (yes, I too am guilty there) but the Fiesta, which was really a better car, languished on dealer lots. Again, I’m guilty here, as in 1981 I was this close to buying a leftover 1980 Fiesta. The salesman then directed me to the brand new 1981 Escort which was not only roomier but cost about the same. Sold! And the 1980 Fiesta was the last one to land on our shore. Until now.

Looking back: The 1980 Ford Fiesta
The 2011 Ford Fiesta Sedan

Fast-forward to our latest gas price crisis, which was about two years ago—two years being pretty much the minimum time a manufacturer has to decide on new product availability. Seemed like as good a time as any to reintroduce the Fiesta to America. It had been getting rave reviews in the European press since its latest revamping in 2008, so why not have not only a new price leader but one that also just happens to get superior gas mileage while delivering good handling, a roomy interior, and sporty good looks to boot?

And this is how I found myself on the lot of West-Herr Ford of Amherst last Friday, where manager Joe Perry sent me on my way in a new Fiesta five-door hatchback (a sedan model is also available, which will only be sold in North America and China). Salesperson Andy Garrigan showed me the many features of the car before starting me off on my test drive. Happily, it brought back absolutely no memories of either my Pinto or my Escort. Other than the name, it was also far removed from that Fiesta I drove 30 years ago. Roomier, zoomier, and much better-looking, the new Fiesta is actually a car to want, not just a car to buy. It’s a bit smaller than the current Focus, mainly because the new, upcoming Focus (which will also mimic the European version) will increase in size.

This week’s test car had a starting price of $15,120 (sedans start at $13,320). Options included the six-speed automatic transmission and the preferred package 301A (intelligent access with push-button start; heated front seats; chrome exterior moldings; perimeter alarm), which brought the total to $19,660. Ford is telling us that the 1.6-liter Fiesta with the automatic is EPA-rated at 40 miles per gallon. And I’ll tell you that the interior is very roomy, not just for a sub-compact car, but it’s just plain roomy. I’m six feet tall and didn’t need the front seat moved all the way back, so you taller folks should also have no problem, helped by the steering wheel, which is of the tilt-and-telescoping variety. I even sat in the back seat comfortably, with plenty of head and leg room. Behind the 60/40 folding rear seat is a large cargo area, which I’m told will have no problem swallowing your golf clubs.

It looks from here that the nimble-handling, good-looking, affordable Fiesta should make a much better impression on American buyers this time around than it did 30 years ago. The next party at Ford may well be a car-of-the-year-award-winning fiesta.

Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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