The Ford Fiesta subcompact is fun to drive, having impressive steering and handling, with a nimble and maneuverable feel. Its design is bold and spunky, at least in the popular five-door hatchback. There’s also a four-door sedan that looks ungainly and skinny compared to the five-door. There’s a sporty turbocharged ST five-door with tweaks that make it look stylish and a bit racy.
Base engine is a 1.6-liter four cylinder making 120 horsepower that isn’t quick but feels peppy enough with the 5-speed manual transmission if you keep the revs up. The Fiesta only weighs 2600 pounds so that helps. There’s also an available 6-speed dual-clutch automatic manual that we don’t much like.
There’s also a tiny 1.0-liter three cylinder, that with turbocharging makes 123 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. We find this engine enjoyable. You have to keep the revs up, and if driven aggressively it can win fans. It was designed to be a fuel miser, and is especially popular in Europe. We got 41.9 miles per gallon on a 350-mile road trip that was two-thirds highway and one-third city.
The Fiesta ST is a true pocket rocket. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged engine makes 197 horsepower and 214 impressive pound-feet of torque, in its overboost mode. It comes only with a 6-speed manual transmission, and has performance improvements to the suspension, steering and brakes. It rides on summer performance tires, and is a blast to drive.
For 2017, the only major change is to the top Titanium model, which loses its manual transmission and gets the PowerShift 6-speed twin-clutch automatic manual.
The 1.6-liter engine is EPA-rated at 28 city, 36 highway and 31 combined miles per gallon with the manual transmission. The overachieving 1.0-liter three cylinder gets about 5 mpg more, at 31/43/36 mpg with the 5-speed. The ST gets 26/33/29, pretty darn good for a hotrod.
The NHTSA gives the Fiesta four stars overall in crash tests, with five stars for side impact. The IIHS gives it the best Good score in large frontal, side, rear, and roof-strength tests. In the small frontal offset test it earns a Marginal rating.
The 2017 Ford Fiesta comes in S, SE, Titanium, and ST models.
Fiesta S sedan ($13,660) and hatchback ($13,960) are very basic, with rollup windows and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, but at least they have air conditioning, and Bluetooth, a 6-speaker sound system, and adjustable steering wheel. The 5-speed manual is standard, and three-cylinder engine costs another $1000. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Fiesta SE hatch ($15,190), comes with fabric upholstery but of a higher quality, while adding power windows, cruise control, keyless ignition, ambient lighting and theft alarm.
Fiesta Titanium ($18,950) adds leather, heated seats, automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, a Sony audio system, and the more sophisticated Sync 3 infotainment system.
Fiesta ST ($21,140) is equipped like the SE, except with all the sporty things, such as sport seats, black interior trim, aluminum pedals, black headlamp rims, a tall spoiler, special bodywork, and 17-inch alloy wheels. This in addition to the mechanical upgrades to the engine, suspension, steering and brakes. Options include Recaro seats.
Seven airbags are standard, but, stunningly, a rearview camera is only available on the Titanium, as an option.
The Fiesta five-door has a crisp profile, with a wedge shape and arched roofline. The headlamps sweep back into the fenders, while a wide mouth with low fascia makes it look almost mean, for a subcompact.
The proportions aren’t the same with the sedan. Definitely not crisp. Its long body and short greenhouse make it look tall and narrow from every angle.
The ST brings it all together, emphasizing the confident lines with an aggressive air dam and black mesh grille, along with a low stance on chunky wheels, and cross-patterned rear diffuser with twin exhaust tips.
The cabin hasn’t changed much since the Fiesta joined us seven years ago, and it shows. The plasticky feel lingers, and the infotainment screen isn’t integrated. Other subcompacts have managed to find more interior room with their redesigns, but the Fiesta still feels cramped and busy inside, with too many switches and knobs on the dash.
The S model seats are flat and unsupportive, although we can’t think of any subcompact with good seats in their model that’s stripped for the sake of low entry cost. And the driving position itself is excellent. The SE seats have better fabric and contours, but still feel like bar stools. And like in a bar, you might be rubbing elbows with the person next to you. The optional $2000 Recaro seats on the ST are great, but for two grand we expect no less than greatness.
In back, legroom and headroom are very tight; three adults don’t fit. And the 60/40 rear seats don’t fold flat.
There isn’t anywhere near the amount of cargo space in the rival Honda Fit, for example. The Fiesta offers 26 cubic feet, while the Fit has twice that. At least the sedan has a good-sized trunk, with 12.8 cubic feet.
Thank heaven for small things. The soft-touch materials on the dash and doors, around the plastic, are fine. And the Sync 3 system, with its 6.5-inch touchscreen, is a feature you might expect on a more expensive car. The cupholders are well placed, and there are plenty of small storage bins. The cabin is also fairly quiet for a subcompact, with a sound blanket under the hood to dampen the coarse-sounding engine, and a laminated windshield.
The ST goes the other way, with piped-in intake noise. In that car, we like it.
With the base engine and fine 5-speed gearbox, it takes some work to be happy with the performance; you have to keep the revs up because there isn’t a lot of torque. But at least you can find that happiness, at least, if you can ever be happy with ten seconds from zero to sixty miles per hour. But don’t forget, it’s an engine that can get 36 highway miles per gallon.
For us, it’s harder to be happy with the higher-tech 6-speed twin-clutch automatic manual transmission. It doesn’t always downshift promptly or upshift as smoothly in the lower gears as an automatic transmission. We’d say it does a poor impression of an automatic, with these clunky and poorly timed shifts.
Not unlike the original Mazda Miata, the Fiesta’s good steering and suspension tuning makes it feel hotter than it really is. The electric power steering is just right, in its weight and feedback. The Fiesta is nimble, responsive, and secure on the highway.
At least it’s secure on a smooth highway. With a short wheelbase, the Fiesta tends to hop over rough pavement, and the nose dives under hard braking.
If 120 horsepower and 36 highway mpg is okay with the base engine, 123 horsepower (with more torque) and 43 highway mpg seems worth $1000 extra for the three-cylinder turbo. It has a distinctive exhaust note, to boot; three-cylinder engines tend to howl. You still have to shift a lot to run with the fast guys, but it’s fun.
But for real fun, it’s the 197-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged Fiesta ST. And since it comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission, there’s no twin-clutch downside (but there’s also no upside, for those who would like an automatic). Its 214 pound-feet of torque comes at just 1400 rpm, so response is always there. When you add a lowered and stiffened suspension, rear disc brakes, quicker steering ratio, and torque vectoring to minimize if not erase torque steer, the ST can easily take on the Mini Cooper S, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and Volkswagen GTI.
Each Fiesta hatchback model has its virtues. The ST offers superb value in a pocket rocket. The 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbo offers superb value in a spirited high-mileage car. But we say avoid the 6-speed twin-clutch transmission with its problematic shifting, which leaves you with a standard manual. And the interior is tiny.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.