The Ford Fiesta is in its final year after a long good run; and if you count its years in Europe before it came to the U.S., that run has been longer and better.
The Fiesta is a subcompact sedan and hatchback with a choice of three engines, from perky and inexpensive, to tiny and unique, to pocket-rocket responsive. It’s got a spunky personality with nimble handling that makes it fun to drive, while its tiny size makes it easy to park. This is the ninth year of its generation, but because it’s being phased out, there are no changes for 2019.
The 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 work to keep the revs up. The Fiesta only weighs 2,600 pounds so that helps. It gets 30 miles per gallon with the 5-speed, or 31 mpg with the available 6-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The newest engine is Ford’s 1.0-liter 3-cylinder, with 123 horsepower and a strong 148 pound-feet of torque. You still have to keep the revs up, with the 5-speed gearbox, but the little 3-cylinder likes it. Before the engine was put in the Fiesta, it was successful in Europe, where fuel mileage matters more because of high taxes on gasoline. The EPA rates it 36 mpg Combined; we got 41.9 miles per gallon on a 350-mile road trip that was two-thirds highway and one-third city.
The turbocharged Fiesta ST is perfectly named because it’s as fun as a party on the road. Its 1.6-liter turbo-4 engine makes 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque, in overboost mode. It only comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, along with tighter steering and a firmer suspension and brakes, with summer tires. A Fiesta ST can easily take on the Mini Cooper S, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, and Volkswagen GTI, three other hot hatches. The little hot rod ST gets 29 Combined mpg.
Full EPA numbers for the base 1.6-liter engine are 27 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined for the twin-clutch 6-speed. Opting for the 5-speed manual drops those figures to 27/35/30 mpg. The Fiesta ST gets 26/33/29 mpg.
Some rivals get more. For example the Honda Fit is EPA-rated at 40 highway miles per gallon, 3 mpg more than the base Fiesta.
The 2019 Fiesta offers no automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, or active lane control. Ford’s subcompact is one of few new cars not to offer any of those features.
The NHTSA rates the Fiesta at four stars overall, partly because a rear door panel struck a crash-test dummy in side-impact testing, the agency said. The Fiesta earned the top â€œGoodâ€ ratings in most of the IIHS tests, with a Marginalâ€ rating in the driver-side small-overlap test.
The Fiesta comes as S, SE, Titanium and ST models.
The Fiesta S sedan costs about $15,000, but count on it being discounted in 2019. Standard equipment includes a 4.2-inch display for its AM/FM/CD/Bluetooth 6-speaker audio system, air conditioning, rearview camera, fabric upholstery, manual windows, and 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. The 5-speed manual transmission is standard, with 6-speed twin-clutch optional. The turbocharged 3-cylinder engine is also optional. The hatchback costs $500 more.
For about $1,200 more, the Fiesta SE adds better fabric upholstery, plus power windows, cruise control, keyless ignition, ambient lighting and theft alarm. Options include heated seats, a power moonroof, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. With the infotainment upgrade and heated seats, the Fiesta SE hatchback costs about $18,000, before any discount.
Titanium adds leather, heated seats, automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, a Sony audio system, and Sync 3 infotainment system. It uses a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. At more than $20,000, its value is dubious.
Available only as a hatchback, the Fiesta ST costs about $22,000, but it has the performance to match in its 197-horsepower engine. It features upgrades to the suspension, steering and brakes, plus sport seats, black interior trim, aluminum pedals, black headlamp rims, tall spoiler, special bodywork, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Its available Recaro seats cost a hefty $2,000 and may not fit all physiques, so try before you order.
The Fiesta 5-door hatchback 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 tough, for a subcompact.
The proportions aren’t the same with the sedan. 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 in its nine years. It’s flush with switches and knobs and a small infotainment screen. Other subcompacts have found interior room in new designs, but the Fiesta is still narrow inside. Even front-seat occupants might brush shoulders.
The soft-touch materials on the dash and doors, around the plastic, are fine. The Sync 3 system that comes on the SE and above, 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 noise is acceptable for a subcompact, with a sound blanket under the hood to dampen the engine, and a laminated windshield.
The ST goes the other way, with piped-in intake noise. In that car, we like it.
The driving position is excellent, with a chunky steering wheel that fits the Fiesta’s spirit. The S model seats are flat and less supportive, though we can’t think of any subcompact with good seats in their base model. The SE seats have better fabric and contours. If you want to talk seats, jump to the optional and very expensive Recaro seats on the ST, which we love.
In back, legroom and headroom are very tight; three adults don’t fit. And the 60/40 rear seats don’t fold flat, but the Fiesta hatchback still has surprising utility.
There’s 26 cubic feet of cargo space. The Honda Fit has twice that.
The sedan has a good-sized trunk, with 12.8 cubic feet. Surprisingly, the hatchback doesn’t hold much more, a bit more than 14 cubic feet.
Because the Fiesta was bred in Europe, its communicative steering and good cornering are par for the course. It’s nimble and responsive. The electric power steering is just right, in its weight and feedback. Not unlike with the original Mazda Miata, the Fiesta’s handling makes it feel quicker than it really is, and it loves to zip down back roads.
The 1.6-liter, 120-horsepower base engine is smooth, and powerful enough to keep up with traffic, but it takes some work; you have to keep the revs up, and shift the 5-speed gearbox a lot, because there isn’t a lot of torque. It takes nearly 10 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph, about the same as a less spunky but more versatile Honda Fit. But after all, we’re talking about a car that gets 36 highway miles per gallon after it gets to 60 mph and begins cruising.
The available 6-speed dual-clutch transmission has been improved once, but it’s still not as smooth as a conventional automatic.
The Fiesta’ is firm and composed on a smooth highway, but on rough pavement its short wheelbase lets the ride turn choppy.
The 3-cylinder turbo seems worth $1,000, considering it brings more torque and 5 more miles per gallon. The exhaust note has the chirpy howl of a 3-cylinder engine. You have to shift the 5-speed a lot to run with the fast guys, but it’s fun, because the gearbox is so good.
The Fiesta ST changes the game, and the adjectives. With its turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine making 197 turbocharged horsepower, forget what we said about having to work the gearbox to have fun. But that’s not because of the horsepower, it’s more from the 214 pound-feet of torque that all comes at a very low 1,400 rpm. And there’s only one transmission, a smart 6-speed manual gearbox. Now lower and stiffen the suspension, quicken the steering ratio, and bolt on bigger brakes, and you’ve got yourself a car. Electronic torque vectoring successfully minimizes torque steer, and rotates the already light and tossable front-wheel-drive car around corners. It’s thrilling on a curvy road. It’s a little gem.
Road noise and twitchiness on the highway make it tiring for long distances, however.
If a small spirited hatchback is what you want, now is the time to jump on the Fiesta. The tiny 3-cylinder turbocharged engine offers excellent fuel mileage in a quick and nimble 5-door. The ST offers fabulous value in a pocket rocket.