Supermini cars have long dominated the European market, but they're less of a force in the US market. The Ford Fiesta has been one of the automaker's best-selling cars abroad and gets love for its driveability, maneuvering, and power (even if the interior cabin is mighty tight, but hey, we did say supermini). The newest generation Fiesta and its sporty hot hatch the Fiesta ST make some decent upgrades to the cabin, technology, and seats, but it's most important change is the streamlined three cylinders turbocharged engine, which delivers 197-hp in a car that clocks in at just over 2 tons. If you're looking for kicky speed, this is your lucky year!
Is it the best small car?
It's a pretty great small car! Although Ford is known the world over for their colossal cars and trucks that are so symbolic of the American driving mystique that they could ratify a constitutional amendment, don't let that fool you. This car, weighing in at just over 2 tons, zips around town with legendary handling, control, and power. The newest iteration packs more power in while cutting the engine down to three cylinders. There is a 2- and 4-door hatchback model on offer (though the smaller will likely not hit US markets) with slightly larger dimensions, which give it a more athletic look and feel. By employing a naturally aspirated engine, Ford saves on costs while delivering more hp than previous generations, and they make use of a 1.3 liter EcoBoost engine to generate a bit more kick. The Fiesta comes in four models: the standard with Titanium trim, the upgraded Vignale 4-door, a more crossover looking Active with a slightly higher body, and the ST Line. The ST hot hatch is also expected to have some of the important upgrades to the interior cabin and safety features such as park and lane assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot and collision warning, and pedestrian detection, which are now offered across the board.
Why isn't it available in the US?
So, the thing about large carmakers is that they do often attempt to produce car models that they can sell around the world, without many changes being made. The purpose of doing so is twofold: first, it helps to solidify their brand recognition on an international level, which is always good for sales and marketing. Second, it's much more cost efficient to have one model that can be reproduced the world over rather than having to tailor designs and specs to specific markets constantly. However, the US market has always been a fickle beast, and as it moves ever more towards a bigger, and more decidedly automatic transmission market it becomes much more difficult to convince the driving public that they want a subcompact car whose offerings are mainly outfitted with manual transmissions. Car enthusiasts will, of course, be interested in the specs of a little whippersnapper like the Fiesta, and the four-door automatic option will likely come to the US at some point in 2018. However, the Fiesta has been a bestseller in Europe for more than 40 years, so it seems hard to believe that Ford would risk the considerable investment it would need to convince American drivers of something that an entire continent is already quite happy to purchase with no prodding. Plus, the Fiesta is assembled in Mexico, which means that should any of the import tariffs that the current US president is considering would hike up the price of what is supposed to be a cheap and cheerful ride into another universe. But hey, now you know what to rent on your next European holiday!
Have they improved the interior cabin?
That depends on your definition of 'improved.' If you're asking whether they've upgraded the front seats to feel less like stadium bleachers at a minor league baseball game, the answer is a resounding yes. The seats have a little more cushioning in them on standard models, but due to the space restrictions of such a tiny car, they're short on the bottom and not very forgiving for long drives. The ST hot hatch has more of a racing flair, and the seats follow suit, as they give more support and side cushioning for all those hairpin turns you'll want to take down country lanes. However, you'll never be fooled into thinking you're in an SUV or a minivan, so if you're asking whether the space has been improved or is in any way greater than before, the answer is a very definite no. Front seat driver and passenger will likely still have elbows touching, and if you're planning on having anyone in the backseat, you'd best advise them not to have a big lunch. The Fiesta is tiny even by supermini or subcompact standards, and this hasn't changed in the newest generation. The rear seats fold to give you about 26 cubic feet of space, which is nearly half what the Honda Fit offers in the same class. There is an optional infotainment system that floats above the main console with just enough tech to suggest that Ford knows what decade it is, but nothing that will blow you away. But hey, you'll be too busy peeling down the road to notice the seats, the space, or the sound system: in the most important aspects of the Fiesta driving experience, Ford has kept it simple, and it largely pays off.
Is the fuel economy still stellar?
The Fiesta has long been a favorite in Europe because it stretches fuel consumption a long way while still giving drivers a lot of bang for their buck. The new three-cylinder engine sticks to that formula and delivers. The standard 1.6 liter inline 4, coupled to a five-speed manual, delivers a respectable EPA 27/35/30, and the dual-clutch automatic clocks in at 27/37/31. However, the streamlined 1.0-liter turbo 3 gets more impressive results, with a 31/41/35 rating, which shows the reasoning behind the three-cylinder shift by Ford engineers and the payoff of the move. You might note that these numbers are not so far beyond a mid-sized sedan like the Honda Accord, and you would be right in doing so. However, in European and Asian markets, bigger is not necessarily better: if you've ever tried to find parking in London, Paris, Rome or Bangkok, you know that the benefits of a smaller car with maneuverability far outweigh the sacrifices car owners make in space and scale. For a turbocharged engine with this much torque, the fuel economy reminds you of why the Fiesta remains a bestseller around the world.
Do I have to drive a manual?
Philosophically speaking, you don't have to do anything that you don't want to do, but if you're looking at the Fiesta in the first place, then you're probably looking at a manual transmission. There is an option of an automatic transmission in the 1.0, 98-hp variant, and it's no slouch: intelligent design helps to mask the petite size of the engine as it downshifts and avoids turbo lag that the manual might otherwise take a moment to catch. However, the torque converter doesn't quite deliver on the automatic transmission, so while you may avoid some of that lag, you may also find that the car jerks a bit at lower speeds. If you're thinking of the Fiesta ST hot hatch, then you'll have only a manual transmission option, which certainly makes sense in the context of its larger marketing scheme and category, as well as its deft employment of the three-cylinder turbocharged engine. Besides, in all of your coolest fantasies of peeling through the Tuscan countryside, weren't you always mastering the gearbox in true Dolce Vita style? In the end, it's all about context.