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By Mark Kleis

Ford’s new-fangled Fiesta hatchback has finally begun to properly populate dealer lots across the U.S., and given that Leftlane recently had the opportunity to enjoy some more seat time behind a U.S.-spec Fiesta, we thought we would share our experiences with you.

For years, enthusiasts have cried – screamed, even – for Detroit to import its spirited driving-oriented European hatchbacks to North America. GM laid down a bunt with the Euro-born Saturn Astra a few years ago, but Ford has finally obliged by offering its acclaimed Fiesta here. What’s the difference? The Astra was at the end of its lifecycle, while the Fiesta is just hitting its stride across the pond.

Leftlane’s unrivaled experience with the Fiesta

Simply put, no other U.S.-based automotive news outfit has spent more time behind the wheel of a Fiesta than Leftlane, thanks to the fact that this writer served as a Fiesta Agent for six months, and then a brand ambassador Fiesta Expert for another six months. All told, I spent a full year in a European-specification Fiesta – plenty of time to evaluate every last detail of the car.

Combined, Leftlane staffers have logged over 18,000 miles in European and U.S.-spec Fiestas, both on public roads and closed test tracks. Leftlane has also had direct access to engineers and product specialists who have answered our questions concerning the controversial translation of the Euro-spec Fiesta to U.S. standards.

Soon, we’ll offer a traditional review of the Fiesta. But for now, let’s capitalize on this unique opportunity to immerse you in a deep-dive examination of Fiestas here and there.

Lost (and gained) in translation

When Ford first said that it would be bringing the Fiesta to American soil the news was largely met with an initial cheer of approval, followed quickly by a wave of doubt and disbelief that the European Fiesta would survive “the American translation.”

Historically, Ford and other global automakers have imported hits from other markets to the U.S., but somewhere along the way the very things that made these vehicles successes in other markets were, well, lost in translation. More simply put, the differing market demands that call for higher quality materials and more features in small cars are nixed when met with the “typical American” demand for “cheap, cheap, cheap” when it comes to small cars – traditionally speaking, of course.

It’s true that our European counterparts typically enjoy better-equipped versions of the vehicles sold in the U.S., but they also have larger price tags associated with that added content. The “American mindset,” at least when it comes to autos, is that bigger is better – with many consumers failing to understand why they would want a well-equipped subcompact vehicle priced at $22,000, when they could get a not-so-well-equipped mid-size car for the same or slightly less money. I mean, bigger is better, right? Right?

Despite that established difference that has driven European and American small-car offerings further and further apart over the years, Ford has decided to defy market trends and bring the Fiesta over largely unchanged, even adding several premium features over the European car’s list of features. Of course, not everything that changed was added, as some features were also removed – let’s take a closer look at what was changed, for better or for worse.

What was lost:

– Automatic climate control system was replaced with manual dials

– Projector headlamps were replaced with quad-halogen projectors (housing style retained)

– Summer-only performance tires replaced with all-season tires

– Three-door hatchback variant lost

– Four-speed automatic transmission replaced

– Traditional fog-lamps replaced

– Round dials for adjusting seat position

– Simple Bluetooth interface

– Some wheel designs lost

What was gained:

– Improved, stiffened suspension to offset switch to all-season tires

– Six-speed dual-clutch dry transmission to replace basic four-speed automatic

– Laminated windshield for reduced wind noise

– Additional interior sound dampening materials added for reduced road noise

– Sedan variant added

– LED light-bar stylized lighting in the lower front fascia to replace fog lamps

– Actual levers to adjust seat positioning (instead of painfully slow round knobs)

– Several new interior colors and styles

– Contrasting piping for leather seating

– Built-in blind spot mirrors

– Sync Bluetooth system

Other changes

The European Fiesta featured particularly short front and rear fascias that failed U.S. federal crash tests, and as a result, Ford was forced to extend the Fiesta’s bumpers. To the untrained eye, the changes to the bumpers are fairly negligible (millimeters front and rear), although the front fascia was also reworked to incorporate a new grille. The change to the grille itself is more noticeable than those to the bumpers.

The dash layout was also slightly modified, in some ways to allow for additional ambient lighting locations, in some ways for crash test reasons and also partially to accommodate the change to the HVAC controls. Overall, the vast majority of the interior design and layout remained intact – although the quality of the leather was improved, and the soft-touch pads on the door panels were made larger. The graining found on the plastic was also changed to a different style.

Gear ratios were also modified in order to help maximize fuel economy and lower rpms at freeway speeds – a concern raised by Fiesta agents experiencing engine drone from the 3,600 to 4,000 rpm range needed to travel on American highways. While the fuel economy we observed was definitely improved over the European Fiesta, we did feel that some spunk was lost – particularly in the lower RPM range of the early gears.

Air conditioning was vastly improved to be much colder. During several Fiesta Movement missions involving road trips in the desert, the air conditioning was found to be a bit inadequate at times. Once we sampled the U.S. car, we realized how much room for improvement there really was in the European car’s system.

Driving comparison – detailed

Aside from those “in the know” enough to even realize the U.S. Fiesta was derived from a European car, it is very unlikely anyone would know the different between reading the review of a European Fiesta or a U.S. Fiesta in terms of how they drive.

The Fiesta Movement car that I spent over 17,000 miles driving was a five-door hatchback, and the Fiesta reviewed obviously was not – it was the U.S.-only sedan. We felt that both vehicles had very similar driving characteristics, although we could see why some journalists – including our own Jack Baruth – commented that it felt as if there was a little more weight hanging out behind the rear tires on the sedan when compared to the hatchback.

We could also feel that was a difference in the way the cars achieved their strong handling, that is to say although the net handling of the two cars is virtually identical, they are both unique in how they achieve the end result. On the U.S. car the suspension had to be tightened in order to compensate for the switch to all-season tires from the excellent Pirelli P-Zeros found on the Euro car. Although Ford says the net result is the same road hugging abilities, the discerning driver may be able to feel the difference.

To verify that the Fiesta’s strongest attribute – its fun handling – hadn’t been lost in translation, we found an incredibly twisty mountain road with plenty of on- and off-camber turns and proceeded to make a few spirited runs at it – up and down. In the end we came away with smiling; there’s plenty of fun left in this econobox.

The only other real change to the driving feel came from the gearing changes. Our test car featured the same five-speed manual as the European car, but the ratios were modified for EPA results. The changes essentially force the driver to maintain a rpms at or above 3,000 rpm after first gear in order to retain the power that was available slightly sooner in the European car.

After adjusting shifting habits, we found the change moderately negligible, and even with the extra revolutions we still managed to record higher mileage than in the European car.

So, was it lost in translation?

Overall, the unique and fun qualities of the European-spec Fiesta appear to have been largely maintained in the U.S. car, making the Fiesta a competitive choice in a segment that will see more and more competition with each model year. For those seeking a quiet, comfortable and competent daily driver that is easy on gas and loaded with features, the Fiesta should be on a short list with competitors such as the cousin Mazda Mazda2.

Words and photos by Mark Kleis.



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By far the most egregious failure in bringing this car to the US is the lack of a 3-door hatch.

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