Five-door sports car

The five-door hatchback market in Canada has exploded post fuel crisis. More and more consumers are trading in their thirsty SUVs for wallet-conscious transportation. Perhaps the best looking of these new entries to the North American market — in my opinion — is the 2011 Ford Fiesta.

Low and curvy, the Fiesta immediately dispels any reservations you might have about being seen in a small car — this is no Kia Rio. A big contributor to its aggressive appearance is the headlights, which stretch well into the quarter panels, a nod to style over utilitarianism.

On the SES trimmed version I drove there is a vertical row of LED lights mounted in chrome surrounding each corner of the front bumper, which add to the car’s presence.

Fans of lights for light sake will also enjoy the car’s interior almost as much as the exterior, as the Fiesta is fitted with mood lights in the foot wells and around the dash, which can be set to almost any shade. Personally, I felt that a lounge-like purple suited the car rather well, although I also found myself in the mood for green and red on occasion.

Even if mood lighting in a car is not for you, the front of the Fiesta is a nice and modern place to be. The steering wheel, while a bit unconventionally shaped, feels good in your hands, and the dials are easy to read. The centre console in the SES model is dominated by the controls for Ford’s “Sync” system, which manages everything from the radio to placing calls. The layout, which Ford says was inspired by a cell phone, has buttons for selecting the input on the left and a number pad on the right — although Sync can be entirely controlled by voice commands. The controls for the heat and AC are located below.

While I certainly appreciate Sync’s potential, the system didn’t play well with my iPhone, informing me that it found my playlists and folders incomprehensible. I suspect the system would be much happier being connected to a traditional MP3 player or USB stick, with files arranged in folders. As it stood, I had to select the music I wanted to play on my iPhone and then connect it via a USB cable to the car. If I wanted to change songs, or found myself at the end of an album, I would have to disconnect my phone, select some new music and reconnect it. Ford is not unaware of this problem, thankfully, and word on the Internet is that there is an update that will help Sync make sense of Apple products.

My only other complaint about the Fiesta is the backseat room, which felt too small for average-sized adults and even rear-facing children’s seats. In exchange, you are given a truly cavernous trunk, but the Fiesta’s use as a family car could be compromised by the small rear leg- and head-room.

All of your concerns about what fits behind you melt away, though, once you press the starter button — an option fitted to the car I drove — and pull away. The Fiesta feels like a proper sport’s car, with responsive throttle and steering, and feels like you’re sitting in the car rather than on top of it, as I have found with other hatchbacks. Its dual clutch, six-speed automatic even blips the throttle when it downshifts, rewarding you with a throaty burble as the car slows for a corner or stoplight — I just wish the transmission was equipped with a manual override, such as with Volkswagen’s DCT system.

The fuel economy is also worth mentioning, because at the claimed 6.9 and 5.1 L/100 km (city and highway) the Fiesta has its Japanese rivals licked. Even driving with little to no regard for fuel usage I was able to keep the consumption in the mid sevens, which is pretty impressive.

Would I recommend the Fiesta? Yes, but I’ll qualify that. At $23,679, after destination charges, the SES version I drove was very expensive when compared to its rivals, but, according to Ford.ca, for about $19,600 you could have an SE model with fewer options and a manual transmission, but the same relatively powerful 120bhp engine . . . and I can’t think of a hatchback I would rather drive.

★★★★ out of five

Positives:
looks great
fun to drive
funky features

Negatives:
SES version is expensive at $23,000
rear seats are small
Sync doesn’t seem to like Apple products