2012 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback Review

We take our first drive in Ford's snazzy hatchback.

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July 13, 2012

2012 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback Review

The 2012 Fiesta is evidence that Ford is now taking subcompacts seriously, but have they gotten it right?

The Basics
We must begin by admitting that, unlike much of the car-buying public, we're quite fond of the sub-compact segment. We tend to prefer small, nimble, fuel-efficient cars to steroidal, heavy, gas-hogging trucks, SUVs, or crossovers. The Fiesta has been part of Ford's fleet since 1976, but subcompacts were never given their due in the U.S. until recently. The Fiesta has been gone from the American market since 1980, but has thrived overseas, where small cars never went out of style. But now that fuel prices are slowly driving up demand for subcompacts, the Big Three are bringing some of their European models stateside, as Ford did with the 2011 Fiesta. The 2012 Fiesta is evidence that Ford is now taking subcompacts seriously, but have they gotten it right? Does the Fiesta have what it takes to be a worthy challenger to the Honda Fit or the Mazda 2 (which shares the platform)? The answer to those questions are, 'Yes, they have' and 'Well, more or less.' The Fiesta is available as a sedan or a hatchback. We tested the hatchback, and that's the model we'd recommend. After all, who wants a subcompact sedan with a near-useless trunk when you can have the extra cargo space that a hatch offers? The Fiesta has 26 cubic feet of storage, which is plenty for everyday errands. The Fiesta faces stiff competition from the Honda Fit and the Mazda 2, but it's a tight three-way race, with the Fiesta offering just about everything you would expect from a car in this segment.

2012 Ford Fiesta Features & Prices Ford offers six different Fiesta models: The S sedan, the S hatch, the SE sedan, the SE hatch, the SEL sedan, and the SES hatch. The SE hatch sits near the top of the chain, and with a base price of $15,670 it's still a good buy, but load it up with options and you creep near $20,000 territory, at which point you might as well not be in the subcompact segment anymore. Our tester came with the optional sport package, Ford's horribly outdated and near-useless Sync voice-activation system, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and the Winter Package which includes heated seats up front and power side view mirrors with inset blind spot mirrors that often prove more distracting than helpful. The options total $2,955 and with the $795 destination charge, the full price comes to $19,420. But an equipment group discount of $550 brings it back down to $18,870.
2012 Ford Fiesta Performance With its 1.6-liter inline-four making 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque, the Fiesta is more than capable for around-town driving, but it feels a bit underpowered on the freeway, taking several seconds longer than we'd like to get up to speed. Our tester was a six-speed automatic although, as with any subcompact, we'd recommend the five-speed manual. The Fiesta's dual-clutch automated-manual transmission is better for fuel economy, but it has to sacrifice some speed as a result. Otherwise, the Fiesta handles like a champ: the steering is tight and the ride is sporty but not uncomfortable.
2012 Ford Fiesta Exterior The Fiesta is one of the sharper looking cars in its segment. We like the sporty lines and lack of boxiness that many hatchbacks are prone to. The sedan looks fine too, but a bit more generic to us, but that might just be our pro-hatch prejudice showing.
2012 Ford Fiesta Interior The interior of the Fiesta tries to impart fun and sportiness with the design, but feels cheap, which is another typical feature of the subcompact class. The center console has a bit of flare to it, with an array of buttons that flare out like wings, but otherwise it's standard subcompact plastic. We do like the Fiesta's reliance on buttons and knobs. It may be downscale, but in most instances, button and knobs are still the easiest and most efficient way to control the temperature or adjust the stereo volume.
2012 Ford Fiesta Safety & Fuel Economy Let's face it, no one buys a Fiesta, or any subcompact, for the bragging rights, so safety and good fuel mileage are of primary interest to people shopping in this segment. And the Fiesta certainly delivers the goods. With 30 mpg on the highway and 29 in the city, the Fiesta will definitely help you go easy on your bank account. And with driver, passenger, and side curtain air bags, plus tire pressure monitoring, it's no wonder the Fiesta gets a full five stars for driver safety.
2012 Ford Fiesta Conclusion While we wish the Fiesta had a bit more get-up-and-go (a turbo would be nice), we couldn't find much to complain about. It's a fun little get-around-towner, and it does what it's supposed to do nearly as well as its closest competitors. The difficulties associated with the Ford Sync system make doing simple tasks like playing songs from your iPhone a frustrating ordeal. But while we may prefer our subcompacts stripped down, we appreciate Ford's attempt to pack their small car with features normally only seen in midsize sedans. While the Fiesta may not be the sexiest or most thrilling car in Ford's fleet, it's got all the bases covered and getting nearly 40 mpg might be enough to makeup for the car's few shortcomings.
Specs & Prices Engine: 1.6-liter inline-four
Horsepower: 120
Torque: 112
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Seats: 5

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