Tiny Ford Aims to be King of the Hill

Njuguna Kabugi | 10/12/2012, 10:46 p.m.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when buying an inexpensive cars meant you were doomed to live with a boring car. I am certain that many of this fine newspaper's readers who have attained a certain age still carry tales of tribulations inflicted by small cars they were only paired with because of economics. If you could not cough up the cash for a decent car, you were forced into an arrangement that demanded you ignore unattractive design, poor workmanship, terrible handling or decent safety.

Increasingly busy city streets and high fuel costs have forced manufacturers to give the small car its due. Many of the best small cars coming out nowadays combine practicality with fun.

That's the case with this week's feature - the Ford Fiesta. When a Ford representative dropped the Fiesta at my house, I was immediately wowed by its swanky European looks and techie edge attitude. With bright red paint accented with aluminum wheels, the Fiesta conveys a confident "you will not forget me soon" attitude.

With an aggressive grille, big lamps, sharp lines and pronounced fenders, the Fiesta is a styling standout that you won't be embarrassed to be seen in. How I wish I could say the same about the Chevy Chevetteecono-box I drove after college.

European-like driving dynamics and highway fuel economy of 38 miles per gallon [40 mpg for the SFE version] solidify its cool cred. Powering the little party on wheels is a 1.6-liter inline four that produces 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque.

I loved driving the Fiesta in D.C. and its environs. It drives just as dashing as it looks, with impressive steering and handling and a nimble, maneuverable feel. On a long, straight highway, the Fiesta is a champ: It has a solid, on-center feel and can't be shoved around by crosswinds.

Parking in tight city spaces is less of a challenge with this Ford. On a Saturday afternoon, when no one else could find parking on the street in Crystal City, I easily wedged the Fiesta between an SUV and a Minivan.

For safety, Fiesta features seven airbags including a class-exclusive driver's knee airbag, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and Ford's AdvanceTrac with electronic stability control to help drivers keep the vehicle in control under a wide variety of dynamic driving conditions.

Like larger Ford vehicles, Fiesta employs the Trinity front crash structure to help prevent occupant injuries in a frontal crash incident.

Ford Fiesta was Europe's top-selling small car and No. 2 best-selling car overall in April and through the first four months 2012. This year, it was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS]. Kelly Blue Book lists the Fiesta as one of the "coolest cars" on the road today.

Despite all the accolades for this tiny car - I have a few nits to pick with Ford on its pricing. While the base Fiesta S starts at just $13,995 and includes a decent sound system with auxiliary input, a split-folding back seat, rear heater ducts, A/C, power locks, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, the competition is offering more and matching Ford's prices. I drove a Kia and a Hyundai, both equipped with XM radio, a Navigation system and a backup camera for several thousand less than a comparable Ford. Fully load a top-of-the-line SES hatchback and you could hit about $23k, which kicks it way out of this class in pricing.