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Insideline Compares Ford Fiesta (EDM) and Honda Fit

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[source: Inside Line]

Subcompact Is No Longer a Four-Letter Word

Ford Fiesta (Euro Version) vs. Honda Fit

By Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

Date posted: 09-20-2009

2009_fiesta_group_ford_ct_500_6.jpg

Proponents of the subcompact car will tell you that its low purchase price and handy dimensions deliver a combination that can't be matched for efficiency and practicality. Its detractors turn up their noses because they don't want to drive a slow, cramped tin box.

Taking up the ground between these camps are two modern examples of the subcompact car that demonstrate that driving enjoyment and frugality don't have to be mutually exclusive: the 2009 Honda Fit and 2009 Ford Fiesta. The former is one of the best small cars you can buy. So is the latter, with one crucial caveat for those of us here in the land of baseball and apple pie — you can't yet buy one here.

A New Challenger Faces the Best of the Establishment

The 2009 Ford Fiesta serves as Ford's entry in the so-called B-segment, positioned just below the Focus in terms of size and price. Though a sales darling in Europe, the Fiesta has been absent in the subcompact-averse U.S. market. Then the world went to hell, and Ford reconsidered.

Only the Blue Oval knows the gory details of how the Fiesta will be equipped when it's finally sold Stateside as a 2011 model. And it's not talking.

As such, we've take some liberties in this comparison test. The Squeeze Lime green Fiesta you see here is a Euro-spec four-door hatchback in range-topping Titanium trim, equipped with leather upholstery, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and automatic climate control. There's no guarantee that you'll be able to buy a Fiesta outfitted exactly like this one when the model finally appears on the floor at dealerships in the U.S. Also, its $19,358 as-tested price tag is an estimate we conjured up based on the Fiesta's positioning overseas.

The 2009 Ford Fiesta has been developed as a true world car, so differences in specification across global markets are minimized in an effort to reduce development costs and time-to-market. Although details are thin on the ground, we do know that the 2011 Ford Fiesta for the U.S. will be a tweaked version of today's Fiesta and will be powered by a 1.6-liter engine similar to the one in our Kermit green car.

From the size of its shadow to its low-impact $18,820 blow to the wallet, the 2009 Honda Fit matches up very well to the Fiesta. Although our Fit is equipped with no options per se, Honda crafts its model lineup such that options are bundled together and offered as trim levels. Hence the navigation system and upsized 16-inch wheels found on our top-of-the-line Fit Sport.

If you're a regular visitor to Inside Line, you'll recognize the blazing metallic orange 2009 Honda Fit Sport as a resident of our long-term test fleet. Don't cry foul over the 11,000 miles on our Fit's clock, as neither of these cars is exactly brand-spanking new. The Fiesta in this test is a refugee from Ford's Fiesta Movement program and its odometer reads more than 17,000 miles.

Delivering on the Small-Car Promise

Although the handling numbers we extracted from these cars don't reveal a huge chasm in performance between them, there's an asterisk — the Fiesta's stability control can't be disengaged, and this puts an artificial cap on its ultimate capabilities. As such, the Fiesta's modest 0.81g grip on our skid pad and 65.5-mph slalom speed could otherwise have been grippier and quicker yet. (Dear Ford: Include a button to switch off ESP for the U.S.-spec Fiesta.)

Still, the 2,443-pound Fiesta is the more rewarding drive here. Its steering is a benchmark in this class, from the weighting of its effort to the immediate and linear response of the chassis. Paired with firm-yet-compliant suspenders, the Fiesta feels at once substantial and lithe. You're reminded of a more expensive car in the way this car takes to the road.

Keep in mind our 2009 Ford Fiesta tester is on summer tires, which do more than simply increase outright grip at the expense of tire life; they also contribute to the Fiesta's superior steering feel and short braking distances (118 feet from 60 mph). (Dear Ford: The Fiesta's steering and handling are key factors underpinning its appeal. Don't neuter the U.S.-spec car's spunkiness by specifying crappy tires or stuffing marshmallows in its suspension.)

The 2,511-pound 2009 Honda Fit is a similarly nimble little thing. Its steering is quick around center and the little bugger can even be coaxed into a neutral cornering stance if you get rowdy and abrupt with it when the stability control has been switched off. Threading our slalom cones at 64.4 mph and generating 0.82g on our skid pad, the Fit makes the most of its 185/55R16 all-season tires. Its braking performance is mediocre, consuming 138 feet to reach a standstill from 60 mph.

Performance numbers don't tell you much about the way these cars drive in day-to-day use, though. The Fit's comically low-effort shift linkage could have come straight out of an arcade, and its steering needs constant subtle corrections to keep the car traveling in a straight line. It's nervous where the Fiesta is confident. The bottom line is that the Fiesta has moved the needle of small-car dynamics and in doing so has made the Fit feel more toylike by comparison.

Not Terribly Quick by the Clock

Similarly, the Fiesta's acceleration also suffers from its non-defeatable traction control. It reached 60 mph in 9.4 seconds (9.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and the quarter-mile in 16.9 at 82.1 mph in our testing, results which aren't far off the Honda's sprints of 9.5 seconds (9.4 seconds with rollout) and 16.9 seconds at 81.1 mph. This performance by the 2009 Honda Fit is a few tenths off the pace we measured when it was new, suggesting that perhaps the launch surface at our testing facility had more bite back then.

Nobody's going to be launching these things drag-strip-style, so the dead-heat acceleration numbers are a bit misleading. In the real world of stop-and-go traffic and squirting around trucks on the freeway, the 2009 Ford Fiesta is much more eager than the Honda Fit. Low-end torque is surprisingly ample in the Fiesta's 1.6-liter mill, an engine of uncanny smoothness with a deliciously fruity intake note. Keeping up in the Fit isn't as rewarding, whether it's in terms of these abstractions or actual velocity.

Our Fiesta tester's 1.6-liter four produces 118 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque on the U.S. equivalent of about 90-octane fuel. (Dear Ford: Honda found 117 hp and 106 lb-ft from its 1.5-liter engine on 87 octane. Find a way to retain the sauce's spice on 87-octane fuel.)

The Fiesta's five-speed manual shifts somewhat more like a real gearbox than the Fit's, though the linkage is a bit more vague and there's a shorter-ratio 5th gear that results in more revs at freeway speeds than U.S. consumers will be accustomed to. A slightly taller gear would also deliver better fuel economy during those long trips for which the sophisticated Fiesta is well-suited.

In Practice

If the 2009 Ford Fiesta has the Fit beat in terms of dynamics, the tables turn when it comes to utility. The Honda Fit is simply a small miracle of packaging. This is a small car that doesn't fall victim to the usual small-car compromises. Its unusually large door apertures and low floor ease ingress, practically presenting the driver seat to your bum.

Once you're inside, the Fit's breezier cabin has noticeably more elbow room and slightly better sight lines than in the high-waisted Fiesta. Both headroom and legroom are noticeably more crowded in the Fiesta's backseat than in the Fit.

The cargo area of the 2009 Honda Fit also edges the Fiesta. When the backseat is up, there's little difference in volume between the two cars, but the Fit flat-out embarrasses the Fiesta when the seat is stowed. Honda's articulating backseat transforms the space behind the front seats into a flat, low loading floor, while the Fiesta's thick rear seatbacks simply flop forward, forming a cargo volume shaped more like a pinched wedge.

Cabin material quality is generally better in the Ford and the layout presents more gracefully than the Fit's polarizing design aesthetic. Save for the Fiesta center stack's chintzy silver plastic, you're surrounded mostly by textured black surfaces that appear richer than those in the Honda.

However, the Honda's secondary controls — window switches, wiper interface, center stack controls — are more consistently located right where you expect them and operate more intuitively. (Dear Ford: Rethink the Fiesta's secondary controls for the U.S market.)

A New Phenomenon

In a way, this comparison is a matter of horses for courses, as each car has distinct strengths that will appeal to different buyers — the Fit for its practicality and the Fiesta for its superior driving experience.

The 2009 Ford Fiesta emerges victorious because it sweats the small stuff. Steering feel isn't something its buyer would expect, yet the Fiesta delivers. Same goes for its soothing engine note. Or the way the steering wheel feels custom-made for your hands, or the mechanical sound of the door latch. In the Fiesta, Ford has elevated the subcompact concept to something that's a bit more special than even the very accomplished 2009 Honda Fit.

True, factoring in the pivotal issues of equipment and cost here has involved some hocus-pocus. Yet the Fiesta's lead in our scoring is such that Ford will have to comprehensively botch things up on the value front for the 2011 Ford Fiesta to fail in the U.S. If Ford could rejigger the Fiesta's backseat to perform the shenanigans of the one in the Fit, it would really be onto something. (Dear Ford...)

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I was on the fence about this review after seeing all the liberties that were taken with the Fiesta, especially the fact that it had summer tires while the Fit had all-seasons.

The constant "Dear Ford" messages and areas where Edmunds speculates about how Ford could make the Fiesta better for our market also make the review feel contrived. Is Edmunds really comparing what they think the Fiesta could be to what the Fit currently is? I sort of get that impression.

The Fit's comically low-effort shift linkage could have come straight out of an arcade.

The Fiesta's five-speed manual shifts somewhat more like a real gearbox than the Fit's.

After jumping back in my Integra after several months of driving my Audi, my Integra felt literally like a gokart. The shifter and clutch were so short it was almost made me laugh when I first took it out. It was AWESOME. It really made me appreciate a good manual transmission and linkage, compared to my Audi and the other MT cars I've driven. I drove the new Fit with manual transmission, and it feels very good, just like my Integra. Not sure if the Edmunds reviewer here is a "car guy" or not, but apparently not.

The Fiesta's five-speed manual shifts somewhat more like a real gearbox than the Fit's, though the linkage is a bit more vague

Reminds me of my parent's Escort 5-speed. The shifter feels vague and engagement isn't solid or precise.

Edited by siegen
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The Fit is a fantastic small car. We thought long and hard about buying one before we bought out current Miata as a used car purchase.

If Ford does bring in a car that is in any way as good as the Fit...Kudo's to Ford. And shame on Toyota with the Yaris and Nissan with the Versa. They are truely terrible small cars...no raving internet rant could do justice to how bad they really are IMHO.

As I've said before, it will be interesting to see what Chryco can come up with given Fiats wind in its sails.

Chris

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...and Sigen, glad at least one other person here knows what a small car is supposed to feel like. Your Integra is a GSR and not a Type R, correct?

Chris

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Don't laugh, but my only extended small car experience is with an '84 Ford Escort diesel that my folks owned for over 15 years and I drove off and on for a few years in HS and college. Had 52 hp, but got 55 MPG. But the steering feel was incredible....For a low power FWD car (and I was young at the time), I thought it drove great on the windy, twisty Ohio backroads, and the 5spd manual was reasonably smooth...

The best small cars I've driven in the US were a buddy's Focus SVT and another's '05 VW GTI, and in Europe, it was a Merc A-class diesel in Italy...was a fun little car, wacky interior design and materials.

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Focus SVT and GTI are two of my fav. cars.

Small driver oriented cars are a lot of fun to drive IMHO.

Chris

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Focus SVT and GTI are two of my fav. cars.

Small driver oriented cars are a lot of fun to drive IMHO.

Chris

Steering feel in both of those cars was great... and that generation of Golf ('99-05?) has one of the best small car interiors ever, IMHO...love the gauges and the layout.

Rob

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When the Fiesta hits US shores and they get a production US-spec'd one, we'll have a good comparison.

I've praised the Fiesta in old posts because it does look like a solid entry into the sub-compact market, and I'm not dogging on it. But this comparison is extremely skewed. I doubt the Fiesta will have the option of leather seats or some other features such as rain-sensing wipers and automatic climate control. The tires of course being the biggest issue, since that will affect handling, steering, braking, and overall the entire feel of the car while moving.

...and Sigen, glad at least one other person here knows what a small car is supposed to feel like. Your Integra is a GSR and not a Type R, correct?

Chris

It's an LS actually. ;-] I wanted a Type R really bad a long time ago but am glad I didn't go with it; I'm sure it would have gotten stolen eventually. I do have oem jdm type R suspension on my car; it handles on rails.

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I wanted a Type R really bad a long time ago but am glad I didn't go with it; I'm sure it would have gotten stolen eventually. I do have oem jdm type R suspension on my car; it handles on rails.

Like I said, glad someone else here understands the small car thing.

Neat ride...

Chris

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I doubt the Fiesta will have the option of leather seats

Why wouldn't they offer leather seats? Do you mean real leather vs pleather, or are you thinking they'll only offer cloth?

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The Fiesta is awesome. Every magazine review says is is the best subcompact, and Top Gear proved its excellence. I could see the Fiesta outselling the Focus easily here, and crushing every other subcompact in sales. The Fiesta is going to be a big winner for Ford, I bet they offer the luxury goodies on the American version. It would be great if they did an SVT version with 160-170 hp, it is only about a 2500 lb car.

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it would need a 200hp version.

the angry fish look may not sell well here, and its a bit of a crackerbox too, the price better not be very high.

the Fit is a sh*tbox, so it shouldnt be too hard for the Fiesta to compete.

Edited by regfootball
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Focus SVT and GTI are two of my fav. cars.

Small driver oriented cars are a lot of fun to drive IMHO.

Chris

i've driven the FIt, its fun, nice shifter. Its a bit noisy and for a small vehicle like that it may feel refined (especially to others in the segment) but i think Honda has some work to do to make the Fit feel like its quality piece. Fun and utility are the Fit's strengths. The Fit needs more torque.

I've driven the SVT Focus a few times. I never liked it at all, me the Ford guy. The engine sucked and it just didn't appeal to me, even though I did like the ZX3 and ZX5. It was noisy in an unrefined way and just raw, not composed. Only 140hp. Maybe it handled well, but i just never enjoyed it.

To take this comparo one step further, the Versa is terrible. One of the worst cars I have driven in recent memory. I don't understand why someone would spend 18k on a 117hp Honda Fit, when they could still find a new or lightly used Astra (more hp, more refined, more fun, better looking, more solid, feels way better) over a Fit. Also, the SX4 feels as fun mostly as a Fit and for 2010 comes with a 6 speed and 150hp and is as commodious for passengers. Anyone concerned with shift feel will still probably like the shifter on the Golf / Rabbit / GTI more. A base Mazda3 will compare costwise to the Fit and is a more sensible car. Both the Fit and Maz3 are equally immature looking.

In the end, to me, the only standout reason to get a Fit is the commodious / flexible cargo area and cartoon looks.

Edmunds should have put some all season tires on the Fiesta to be fair.

Edited by regfootball
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To take this comparo one step further, the Versa is terrible. One of the worst cars I have driven in recent memory. I don't understand why someone would spend 18k on a 117hp Honda Fit, when they could still find a new or lightly used Astra (more hp, more refined, more fun, better looking, more solid, feels way better) over a Fit. Also, the SX4 feels as fun mostly as a Fit and for 2010 comes with a 6 speed and 150hp and is as commodious for passengers. Anyone concerned with shift feel will still probably like the shifter on the Golf / Rabbit / GTI more. A base Mazda3 will compare costwise to the Fit and is a more sensible car. Both the Fit and Maz3 are equally immature looking.

In the end, to me, the only standout reason to get a Fit is the commodious / flexible cargo area and cartoon looks.

You're comparing the Fit to more expensive vehicles that get worse mileage.

Why wouldn't they offer leather seats? Do you mean real leather vs pleather, or are you thinking they'll only offer cloth?

I'm going to guess they will only offer cloth, but I wouldn't be too surprised if they did offer leather. I do doubt they will often all of or most of the premium features found on the European model (and found on Edmunds tester). I'm not suggesting that Ford will follow the same path Honda did, but European small cars tend to be much better equipped than ours. The European Fit (Jazz) is equipped considerably better than the US one, for example. You have the option of heated auto-retractable side mirrors, refrigerated glove compartment, panoramic roof, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats. Ford may (and I hope they do) break this trend and offer premium features on their smallest car. I don't think many of these features are on the Focus though, so it may create a problem with their marketing if the Fiesta is equipped better than the Focus.

Edited by siegen
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fits fetch sticker. the other cars mentioned do not, and spec for spec can be optioned to an equal or better price vs. the fit. rebates and such apply.

in total cost of ownership, once you check out insurance and everything else, you find that the Fit is not as cheap as it initially seems. then the question becomes why you would settle for a loud cheap interior, less than 120 hp, all such.

for example, a mazda3 2.0 like equipped is not going to be more if much more than a Fit, but its going to be a more solid vehicle.

the fit is a very good car, but the glorification it has gotten has given it this mytique that it is 3 levels better than God when in truth its just a small light crackerbox with tight handling and good shifter and a video game dashboard and it can carry a lot of stuff in its cargo bay.

Edited by regfootball
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fits fetch sticker. the other cars mentioned do not, and spec for spec can be optioned to an equal or better price vs. the fit. rebates and such apply.

in total cost of ownership, once you check out insurance and everything else, you find that the Fit is not as cheap as it initially seems. then the question becomes why you would settle for a loud cheap interior, less than 120 hp, all such.

for example, a mazda3 2.0 like equipped is not going to be more if much more than a Fit, but its going to be a more solid vehicle.

the fit is a very good car, but the glorification it has gotten has given it this mytique that it is 3 levels better than God when in truth its just a small light crackerbox with tight handling and good shifter and a video game dashboard and it can carry a lot of stuff in its cargo bay.

You always try to use the "these cars can be had for well under sticker" argument against the Fit. It depends on your area, and sometimes you can also get the Fit for under MSRP. Have you compared the Mazda3 against the Fit, looked at the deals that can be had, and compared the features and specs?

The Fit still wins in FE against these "better" cars, one of the other big deciders for people purchasing these vehicles. It also beats them in utility. I think your lamenting of the Fit's "cheapness" is overblown as well.

This is all pointless of course since we're looking at different segments. You can pick up a 2.4L Accord for the price of a Mazda3 5-door.

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it would need a 200hp version.

the angry fish look may not sell well here, and its a bit of a crackerbox too, the price better not be very high.

the Fit is a sh*tbox, so it shouldnt be too hard for the Fiesta to compete.

The Fiesta is being marketed as a premium subcompact. Thankfully we'll finally get something besides the Mini to choose from. Not everyone wants a small car to be a penalty box. I will happily pay more than a current Focus for s top trim model.

And not every car needs a V a million to be fun to drive. Not all of us fit into the stereotypical 900 pound American who must have BIGGER IS BETTER everything (even though I'm not a small guy).

The Fit is the best subcompact besides the Mini you can buy right now in the states, and its better than most compacts.

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Agree on the quality of the Fit.

Reg, the Focus SVT is a little edgy, something I like in a car you you don't, perhaps. To each his own.

I am really proud of both Honda and Ford for bringing us these vehicles. Now if we could just get MINI to get rid of the cold start issues in the S, We'd be in bidness.

And DF, don't forget the GTI and the upcoming TDI as premium small cars from vee-dub.

The TDI supposedly will come well equiped.

Chris

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The Fiesta is being marketed as a premium subcompact. Thankfully we'll finally get something besides the Mini to choose from. Not everyone wants a small car to be a penalty box. I will happily pay more than a current Focus for s top trim model.

And not every car needs a V a million to be fun to drive. Not all of us fit into the stereotypical 900 pound American who must have BIGGER IS BETTER everything (even though I'm not a small guy).

The Fit is the best subcompact besides the Mini you can buy right now in the states, and its better than most compacts.

define best- when you are making 60 payments on a car, you don't want it to be a loud cheap $h!box like the fit seems to be.

its fun to drive, but there are plenty of other cars that are just as fun. i would in no way say its the best, because it just depends what you are looking for. if a plasticky video game dashboard, thin doors, mouse fur seats, and cabin noise means quality to you, than go for it.

the notion of premium subcompacts too, is overblown. time will prove again that Americans will gravitate towards larger cars. they will buy as large of cars as they can swing (and that the government will allow under regulation) more often than not. good compacts available is a nice option, but the price of them still has to have a lid kept on them, the mini is the only 'premium subcompact' that sells enough to justify its being sold here.

there are more ford dealers who will tell you to your face they would sell many more fiesta for 15k and under than loaded at 22k. you can't advertise a 22k subcompact as a loss leader in your newspaper ads. fuel economy is not a justification to pay 23k for a car. because you can always buy the hyundai accent for half the price and get great mpg too.

Premium compacts will be a worthwhile niche but most of the market buying compacts will still be focused on TCO and user convenience. Proof? check corolla sales and elantra sales.......

Fiesta will do well out of the gate year one because of the hype, but check back after that. FOrd will need to keep most of them in the 13-17k price range to sell consistently beyond that.

Edited by regfootball
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Agree on the quality of the Fit.

Reg, the Focus SVT is a little edgy, something I like in a car you you don't, perhaps. To each his own.

I am really proud of both Honda and Ford for bringing us these vehicles. Now if we could just get MINI to get rid of the cold start issues in the S, We'd be in bidness.

And DF, don't forget the GTI and the upcoming TDI as premium small cars from vee-dub.

The TDI supposedly will come well equiped.

Chris

The SX4 has equal or better quality than the Fit. The gearbox in the SX4 is not quite as slick as the Fit, but by its own right is very good. COnversely, even a base Rabbit has as good a gearbox as the Fit or better, but everything else about it feels more worth your money.

Edited by regfootball
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define best- when you are making 60 payments on a car, you don't want it to be a loud cheap $h!box like the fit seems to be.

its fun to drive, but there are plenty of other cars that are just as fun. i would in no way say its the best, because it just depends what you are looking for. if a plasticky video game dashboard, thin doors, mouse fur seats, and cabin noise means quality to you, than go for it.

the notion of premium subcompacts too, is overblown. time will prove again that Americans will gravitate towards larger cars. they will buy as large of cars as they can swing (and that the government will allow under regulation) more often than not. good compacts available is a nice option, but the price of them still has to have a lid kept on them, the mini is the only 'premium subcompact' that sells enough to justify its being sold here.

there are more ford dealers who will tell you to your face they would sell many more fiesta for 15k and under than loaded at 22k. you can't advertise a 22k subcompact as a loss leader in your newspaper ads. fuel economy is not a justification to pay 23k for a car. because you can always buy the hyundai accent for half the price and get great mpg too.

Premium compacts will be a worthwhile niche but most of the market buying compacts will still be focused on TCO and user convenience. Proof? check corolla sales and elantra sales.......

Fiesta will do well out of the gate year one because of the hype, but check back after that. FOrd will need to keep most of them in the 13-17k price range to sell consistently beyond that.

Funny, I seem to recall the Mini continuing to sell well, despite beings mall and despite being more expensive than a base model midsize car. Why could that be? Style, substance, quality, and fun to drive. The Fiesta has all of those qualities and its cheaper than a Mini.

There is a plenty big and untapped market for small cars that don't suck, particularly the coveted younger demographic. I would much rather spend money on a loaded, small car that isn't a penalty box than spend the same on a bigger car that''s a stripper or a fleet special, or a few grand less on a small car that's a pile of crap.

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Mini is cute and femme like a Beetle and has heritage, but the main reason people buy them is because its a BMW.

Ultimately a lot of folks determine that some size in a vehicle is required. A mini is a nice toy but at some point its merely a one person / no cargo affair. Certainly something even a Fit buyer understands.

You can point to the success of the mini and say that everyone wants one. Small and cute worked for the beetle when it first came out too. It's still around but nowhere near as desirable in the market as it was when it was fashion, too.

Keep in mind that many mini buyers were people who owned huge luxo barges and then got downsized in their style of living. The only way to save face from being downsized in a fashion conscious world is to still 'get the badge' at any cost. Mini is the cheapest way to still be Gucci when it comes to cars.

At least the FIesta has four doors and a usuable back seat. That's all most folks really want and SOME cargo space.

There's a reason why crossovers and trucks and such are what people gravitate towards and why small cars get shunned. Like i said, when it becomes a TCO need is when smaller cars start to get buyers back. You are overestimating the long term desirability of the subcompacts in the US, unless the continued overlegislation and intrusive mpg at all cost push continues unabated.

Like I said, lets look at how well the Fiesta does on the market after the first twelve months. Persumably as awesome as hot selling rigs like the Volvo C30 and Audi A3.

Edited by regfootball
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