Long-term test: 12,000 miles with a 2011 Ford Fiesta

frontfiesta200.jpgI grew up in a Chrysler family.
Through my 27 year photojournalism career, I have abused Toyotas, a Mitsubishi, five Volkswagens and most recently a Honda Civic Hybrid.
This Is my first adventure with a Ford.
It wasn’t that I had anything against U.S. car companies through the years, they just didn’t make anything I was interested in driving.
I look for the most efficient, inexpensive, fun-to-drive, dependable car I can find.
Most of the cars in my historical list failed to hit some of these targets, until now.
2011 Ford Fiesta SES Hatchback (man trans)
~Likes: Most everything
~Dislikes: No engine tempuature gauge
~Issues: nothing
~MPG (my actual): 42-45 all highway best scenario, 35 mostly city

Usually car reviews start with the basics of power delivery, but the Fiesta is more a story of hundreds of well thought out details that all work together very well, all stuffed into a package that feels and drives like it should cost more.
A key-less entry/ignition system that knows when you have accidentally dropped the key fob in the trunk and pops it open, SYNC control of smartphone apps, traction/stability control, self dimming mirror and seven different ambient lighting colors are just of the few things nice to find in Ford’s entry vehicle.
Engine/transmission: The 1.6L 16-valve 4 cylinder uses Ford’s Twin Independent Variable Cam Timing.
Not a power house, but more than adequate and often quite fun when things get going with 120 hp moving only 2578 lbs.
The Fiesta will pull up long, steep grades like when heading south on Interstate 81 out of Hazelton, Pa in top gear accelerating the whole way.
The 5 speed manual transmission lacks any quirks with a healthy feel to the shifts through the gears. The manual’s clutch transitions are electronically monitored to help with smooth shifting with varied skill.
The Ford PowerShift automatic transmission shifted smoothly for me in a test around the block with a demo. The six speed, dual clutch automatic has no torque converter, a 150,000 mile maintenance interval and offers better fuel economy than the five speed manual.
Handling: I disliked electric steering assist and handling on my 2005 Civic Hybrid, a sloppy, never on center feel.
The Ford system is the best power steering I have ever experienced on an entry vehicle. Spin the wheel to get out of tight parking with one finger and controlled handling at road speed. Using on demand electric assist instead of running a hydraulic pump 100% of the time increases mileage.
This winter I swapped out the Fiesta’s stock tires with Hankook Ice Bears, a dedicated snow tire that matched the OEM size exactly. The Ice Bears in combination with traction and stability control, and 7 airbags, has left my aging Toyota 4×4 Pickup sleeping in the garage so far this winter for the first time in 16 years. The Fiesta uses half the gas.
Traction and stability control “limit wheel spin with engine traction control and brake traction, which may work separately or in tandem”, according to Fprd.
In winter, it means you won’t have one wheel spinning trying to start moving and a very cool headed computer tapping the correct brake to help bring you into control when things get out of control. From the Ford manual,

If the driving condition is severe and your foot is not on the brake, the brake pedal may move as the systems applies higher brake forces. You may also hear a whoosh of air from under the instrument panel during this severe condition.

I want to try that!… well maybe not. I have screwed with the car on a snowy parking lot and I would describe it as someone grabbing the back of the car and pointing it straight.
Lighting: LED front corner lights paint a faint white swath, but are mostly for show to oncoming traffic. An unintended effect of the LED lights back lights the coolant and washer fluid bottles when checking under the hood at night. An auxiliary turn signal light blinks at the outside of side mirrors.
fiestainterior.jpgThe lighting profile gives it signature look. Using the key fob to open doors triggers an interesting light sequence ending with courtesy lighting.
The head lights have a sharp cut-off at top with a super wide coverage on the sides. The high beams flood the road nicely.
An interior ambient lighting system allows you to choose between seven colors or none.

Interior lighting manually switched on will automatically shut off to prevent draining the battery after a period of time.
Controls on the steering wheel for SYNC and speed control are lit as are most of the controls in the car.
Interior Controls: Wipers are variable speed with a back wiper for the hatch. Both have a washer. Broad spray misting of the window provides a nice cleaning pattern with very little over spray drooling all over the bodywork. The rear wiper also washes.
When the wipers are on, the rear will swipe once when you put the transmission in reverse.
A nice touch after the conclusion of the front wash cycle is a single swipe a few seconds after when you would probably do one more manually.
You can adjust the seat riser height and tilt the steering column.
Heated and electrically adjusted side view mirrors are both adjustable from drivers door and have a unique split to expand coverage. The rear view mirror automatically dims when approached from the rear by bright lights.
There are two power ports that are hot all the time controlled by their own 20 amp fuse. One is available to both front and back seat passengers. The fuse is behind the glove box for a quick change.
Speed control and SYNC controls are available from the top of the steering wheel.
Using verbal commands, steering wheel buttons or dash pad, Ford SYNC fully integrates your phone into the car for voice, text messaging and blue tooth audio. It all integrated well on my Motorola Droid X smart phone.
Devices can be also be connected via USB, or audio line in. A USB memory key can be used to serve music.
The turn signal stalk houses the SYNC voice command button and a button to toggle a multifunction screen which displays mileage, trip distance, MPG, average speed and miles of fuel left in tank. The outside temperature is displayed at all times.
Previous blog entries I wrote about Ford Sync on the 2011 Ford Fiesta
-Droid X loves Ford Fiesta SYNC – greenmesh
-Updating Ford Sync with AppLink for complete verbal control of Pandora – greenmesh
-Ten days using Ford Sync AppLink with Pandora – greenmesh.com
-Using Ford Sync Android Destinations app with turn-by-turn navigation

Climate Control:The last car heating system I liked was a 1981 VW Diesel Rabbit LS. The primitive system didn’t have A/C, so the top vents were fresh air only. I love fresh air on top and blasting heat below. The ability to split cold and hot on any car would make me very happy and I haven’t had it since. Otherwise, the Fiesta provides ample cooling and heat with simple rotary knobs. I have driven the car in temperatures from 0 to 100 degrees.
The heated front seats do an excellent job of frying out the cold.
The rear defroster element dips down to with a field to thaw the parked rear wiper.
Key less entry/starting: This was something I initially thought was really pointless and was bundled with other things I wanted, but has turned into something I cherish.
The car understands that the key fob is within three feet of the car, so you can just leave it in your pocket and perform all the functions you would normally do with a key.
A push button integrated into each front door handle unlocks and locks the front doors.
A button on the dash starts the car.
A button under the lip of the rear hatch pops it. The system even understands if you drop the fob into the trunk and close it in inside the hatch, by popping it back open.
If you are someone who is in and out of a car all day long with your arms full of cameras, phones, police scanner, etc not dealing with one more thing is great.
There is a physical key is hidden inside of each fob and a good old fashion lock in the driver’s door. In the event of a weak transmitter, there is a special spot under the dash to hold the fob in order to start the car.
A keypad is also available for entry on the outside of the car that would allow you to enter the vehicle with a code.
Capless filler system: If you have had experience with curious kids poking things into holes in your car, Ford makes a locking cap which I use to secure my filler. Otherwise, enjoy never using a gas cap.
For those who like to top off fuel, the system can be slightly annoying as it seals around the filler and shoots out a vent under the car. I got over topping it off and fill to the click now.
My fuel gauge has never read totally full, but the miles left in the tank indicator seems very accurate.
Dealer Experience: An import buyer for years, I am entirely too familiar with large regional dealers of many manufacturers. Since imports got into the game later, they built their dealership networks in the middle of the business consolidation trend of the last century.
Since Ford has been selling cars in the United States since we actually had Main Street business districts, they benefit from a business model where a globally sourced company still maintains a store in many small towns. It’s unique to American car companies, the only global businesses in the United States that has a shop in many small towns.
I was, perhaps, more eager to try a small dealership that’s been around for 75 years than buy a new car.
ford1935.jpgMy hometown Ford Dealer, Beshore & Koller, brings out the first car they ever sold, a blue 1935 Model A Ford, around every Christmas. Seeing that car in their showroom means more to me than any corporate mandate for a cookie cutter building and forced debt.
My car was ordered in December 2009 directly from Ford as an early internet pre-order through the former fiestamovement.com website to be delivered before they went on general sale at dealerships.
The deal was that you ordered the car exactly as you wanted it and it came with free SYNC with an agreed upon price.
My car arrived in July 2010 and was delivered from the cool showroom floor on a 100 degree day.
Other than spending $27 (with a coupon; Ford is coupon happy) for an oil change, the Fiesta hasn’t had any issues in 12,000 miles. The one issue with SYNC, was more of a database interpretation of mileage for the Vehicle Health Report that the car can generate and send to Ford. The actual vehicle was behaving normally.
I don’t think that I have ever continued to maintain a friendship with a car salesman after the sale.
My only gripe with the car is that all cars with a cooling system should have an engine temperature gauge. I’d trade the seven color ambient interior colors and cap-less filler for the piece of mind of a needle over a light. The car has warning lights and will flash an issue on the SYNC display for almost anything you can think of, but that one simple needle would be a constant piece of mind particular in high mileage territory.
I can view the engine temperature digitally on the multi-function display using a back door troubleshooting sequence so even just adding it to the trip information sequence would seem to be simple and a welcomed addition.
I probably fit the profile of many Americans looking for tools to deal with a declining income; a need to use fewer resources more wisely. Overall, this 2011 Ford Fiesta has has been a welcome tool to that end without making it feel like i have settled for anything.

About Paul Kuehnel

Paul Kuehnel has worked for the York Daily Record/Sunday News since 1984. Follow him on Twitter @paulkuehnel.
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