This review is part of a seven-car comparison of subcompact hatchbacks. The Fiesta is ranked in sixth place of seven.
When the Ford Fiesta arrived in the U.S. market as a 2011 model, the idea of a premium subcompact car with sophisticated driving dynamics and lots of premium features was still a fairly novel one. But Ford embraced that niche role, giving the car a healthy dose of style, a long list of then-unusual options like leather seats and voice-activated controls, and sporty handling.
But it’s no longer novel for subcompact cars to be stylish and feature-laden. And over the years, the Fiesta’s flaws of a relatively tight interior with sloppy fit and finish have increasingly stood out against a growing number of strong competitors. Furthermore, Ford quashed the car’s claim on the sporty niche in a mid-cycle update that sought to smooth out its ride quality, leaving it humdrum in both areas.
Where the Fiesta stands out now is mainly for its price tag. Healthy discounts bring the estimated transaction price down to just $15,543, the second-lowest of these seven. And it’s still generally pleasant to drive, if no longer particularly impressive in spirited driving.
But gas mileage was once a strength, and it’s now a weakness at 31 miles per gallon in mixed driving. Interior quality was once a strength for the use of nice materials, and it’s now a weakness because competitors have superior panel fit. Acceleration was never outstanding, it’s now even less so, and the transmission remains a little clunky. Safety ratings are middling, and rear-seat and cargo space always trailed the competition.
The Fiesta is worth a look from the budget-minded shopper, but for the most part the competition has left it behind.
To look at
The Fiesta was restyled in 2014 to incorporate Ford’s big silver corporate grille, but the overall curved shape of the body hasn’t changed. It’s a direct stylistic attack on boxy competitors, with the roof sloping down and the windowline sloping up to meet it along the side of the car.
Inside, though, the most noticeable design characteristic is just how much is going on. The dashboard is gray and tan and silver, with various protruding shapes and a sea of buttons. Models with the MyFord Touch touchscreen radio – new as an option since 2014 – lose some dashboard clutter and pick up different cabin surfaces in places, but it’s clear from the screen’s distance from the driver that it was a retrofit. It’s better coordinated with physical buttons than a similar system in some Fords, though, making it easier to make simple adjustments.
Most cabin materials are nice for a subcompact car, though plastics around the shifter are glaringly cheap. The bigger flaw in the Fiesta’s interior quality is that various panels on the dashboard and doors conspicuously don’t line up properly. Automakers that don’t intend to prioritize meticulous assembly simply must do more to hide where their panels meet rather than letting gaps go on display front and center. It can be done.
To be in
The Fiesta’s front seats are flatter and more thinly padded than some competitors’, but they’re still adequately spacious and comfortable over all. Front passengers are treated to both a center armrest and padded armrests on the doors.
Visibility suffers due to the car’s styling, though. The large rear head restraints conveniently pivot downward when not in use, but there’s less glass back there than you’d find in the best competitors.
The bigger loss is farther back in the car, though. The rear seat is the least usable in this class, with passengers needing to wiggle their way in and out and finding literally no foot space for the claimed third passenger, as that area is given over to a cupholder. In the outboard positions, knees just fit into areas carved out from the front seats, and taller adults will need to duck and possibly ride bowed. You don’t have to settle for this just because the Fiesta is a small car; every competitor found more space.
Cargo space, too, is lacking. There’s an adequate 14.9 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, but a small back hatch opening means you have to lift luggage over a high lip and that bulky items may not fit at all. The rear seat rests at a fairly steep angle when folded and doesn’t lie flush with the cargo floor. Ford quotes total cargo space at just 26 cubic feet.
The Fiesta is also available as a four-door sedan. A three-door hatchback is sold in other parts of the world as well but not in the U.S.
Once notable for sharp steering when it was pushed, the Fiesta now has the dulled responses of an ordinary economy car. The ride is a little busy but is less firm over bumps than past Fiestas, a tradeoff designed to boost the car’s mainstream appeal. But ride quality is still nothing special.
Nor is noise suppression, especially from the boomy 120-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. The Fiesta uses a dual-clutch automated manual transmission, in which a computer automatically operates clutch pedals to change gears, to reduce mechanical inefficiency compared to a regular automatic. But Ford has struggled to make this transmission shift as smoothly as a conventional alternative would; this Fiesta stumbled a couple of times during a test drive.
Its fuel economy promise is also no longer achieved, with the aging Fiesta tying three competitors for last place among these seven cars, rated at 31 miles per gallon in mixed driving. All three of those competitors are quicker than the Fiesta, too, with nearly 10 percent more power. This Ford it feels adequately peppy off the line but makes more noise than power otherwise.
The Fiesta is also available in a high-performance ST version with outstanding power and handling, at a higher price and only with a manual transmission. And for better mileage, a 1.0-liter three-cylinder is also available, though also only with a manual.
As noted, the Fiesta’s main appeal today will be in its discounts. Truecar.com suggests buyers can expect to haggle nearly $2,500 off the $18,005 sticker price of a mid-level Fiesta SE with the optional automatic transmission – a model that includes such features as power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; and Bluetooth connectivity. At $15,543 out the door, the Fiesta undercuts several competitors by over $1,000.
But given the Fiesta’s weak points, those savings don’t look all that great. Buying one of its roomier, smoother, safer, and more fuel-efficient competitors might well prove to be a wise investment.
Overall grade: C
More from this comparison:
– Next review: 2015 Chevrolet Sonic LT (5th place)
– Previous review: 2015 Toyota Yaris LE (7th place)
– Rating the seven subcompact hatchbacks
– Ranking the seven subcompact hatchbacks
– Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2015 Ford Fiesta SE:
– Photo gallery
– Report card — how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
– Report card — how does it stack up for different types of buyers?
2015 Ford Fiesta SE
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $13,865
Version tested: SE 5-door (2014)
Version base price (MSRP): $15,595
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $18,995
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $18,005
Estimated transaction price as comparable:** $15,543
Test vehicle provided by: Koons Ford; Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 159.7 inches
Width: 67.8 inches
Height: 58.1 inches
Wheelbase: 98.0 inches
Weight: 2,575 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 14.9 cubic feet
Cargo volume with seat folded: 26.0 cubic feet
Turning circle: 34.4 feet
Engine (as tested): 1.6-liter I4 with 120 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automated manual
EPA city mileage: 27 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 37 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 31 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 12.0 gallons
Assembly location: Mexico
For more information: Ford website
Review: 2014 Ford Focus SE
Review: 2013 Ford Escape SEL
Review: 2013 Ford Fusion SE
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with the same features: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; and Bluetooth connectivity.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.