Editor's note: Estimated mileage ratings have been lowered to reflect a June 2014 Ford audit of this car's stated mileage.
Fiesta means party, so based on its name there's got to be something exciting about Ford's smallest car, right? After an update for 2014, the answer is finally yes.
The 2014 Ford Fiesta is an improvement, delivering wallet-friendly prices, excellent fuel economy and nimble road manners, though its cramped interior threatens to ruin the party.
Big changes this year include an exterior face-lift, a new sport-tuned ST model and a fuel-thrifty engine — a 123-horsepower, turbocharged 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder, which will join the lineup later in the year. The MyFord Touch multimedia system is also now available.
The tiny Fiesta still comes as a hatchback or sedan; we tested a hatchback model in a midlevel SE trim. Compare the 2014 and 2013 models here.
The Fiesta goes up against several hatchbacks that offer more cargo room for a similar price, namely the Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Note. See all four compared here.
Exterior & Styling
Both body styles get a dose of styling sophistication for 2014, courtesy of the Fiesta's big brother, the Fusion. The new Fiesta wears a version of the larger sedan's wide trapezoidal grille, and angular hood lines replace the previous model's frumpy, rounded nose.
Hot-hatchback fans should get excited about the Fiesta ST: The sport-oriented trim offers more horsepower and the looks to match. A gaping mesh grille dominates its face, complemented by smoky headlights and an aggressive front lip spoiler. Out back there's matching mesh trim above the twin exhaust outlets and a large liftgate-mounted spoiler.
How It Drives
Nothing in the subcompact class is truly quick, but the Fiesta can add "fun-to-drive" to its list of skills thanks to an engaging manual transmission and nimble handling. The standard 120-hp, 1.6-liter engine doesn't have much gusto; you've got to hold the gears for a while to wring anything out of it. The five-speed manual gearbox, however, is a delight compared with the unpredictable, unruly six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Click here for my impressions of that atrocity.
The five-speed's shifter action is smooth and precise, though shorter throws would be nice, as would a 6th gear. Topping out at five gears means the little engine revs pretty high at highway cruising speeds, increasing engine noise.
The S, SE and Titanium trim levels use the 1.6-liter four-cylinder, flanked by two optional newbies. In the fuel economy corner is a 123-hp, turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine good for a rating of 31/43/36 mpg city/highway/combined. Far to the other side is the Fiesta ST's turbocharged 1.6-liter mill, good for 197 hp and a combined rating of 29 mpg.
My test SE model is EPA rated at 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined, and those numbers proved easily attainable: During a 400-plus-mile, mostly highway drive I averaged 40.2 mpg. The Fiesta's fuel-sipping skills put it above base versions of the Fit (27/33/29), Versa Note (27/36/30) and Sonic (26/35/30).
It's also ahead of the pack in terms of ride comfort. Though the ride is firm-ish, it feels compliant compared with the super-stiff Fit. Its bump absorption is also better than the Fit's or Versa's.
Maneuverability is also a high point. The hatchback is agile, fun to sling through corners and has reactive, natural-feeling steering. A true city car, it negotiates narrow streets well and squeezes into parking spots with ease.
Both performance and handling are amped up in the small-but-mighty Fiesta ST; the sport-tuned model takes power from adequate to entertaining. The turbocharged 1.6-liter is eager from a stop with no turbo lag. The ST is far more engaging to drive than regular versions, but again missing is a short-throw shifter for the six-speed manual.
On the road, corners are flat and controlled, and the ST's steering direct and responsive. Its handling scores are high, but ride quality suffers from the taut suspension. Even on seemingly unbroken pavement the car hops around and feels jittery.
Overall, the Fiesta ST delivers a lot of fun at a relatively low price; it starts at $22,195, including a $795 destination fee. Hot-hatch enthusiasts should find the ST fun and affordable compared to the more expensive Fiat 500 Abarth and Mini Cooper S, and more potent than the Chevrolet Sonic RS. Click here for more impressions of the ST model.
Although this is an entry-level car, the interior conveys more of an upscale vibe. The cabin is pleasant overall and is dressed in some of the nicer materials in the class. An interesting winged vent design and glossy black trim are the highs. The painted, cardboard-like dash and door panels don't impress, however. Large sun visors are another nice touch, but they don't expand or extend.
There's a comfortable amount of headroom and legroom for front-seat occupants, but achieving comfort is the hard part. My biggest beef is with the seats: They're flat and hard, and after a couple of hours on the road unshakable butt-fatigue sets in. The side bolsters don't help — they're set too narrow and hit at an awkward place. Available heated cloth seats are nice, however, and leather is standard on the top-of-the-line Titanium trim.
The cabin's design and finishes may be competitive, but the backseat is far from it. Adults will find accommodations tight with just 31.2 inches of rear legroom — the Fit offers 34.5, the Sonic hatch has 34.6 and the Versa Note boasts a generous 38.3 inches. The Fiesta's a slouch in rear headroom dimensions, too, offering just 37.2 inches of space — again an inch or two shy of competitors.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Model-year 2014 marks the first time the much-maligned and frustrating MyFord Touch multimedia system is optional in the Fiesta — but hold that groan. Ford says it's updated the system and, in the Fiesta, I think MyFord Touch has finally turned a corner.
It's been a while since I've used the system, and I approached it with wariness. This time, however, my frustration level was much lower; I found the voice command functionality not as fussy, and most of the touch-screen inputs were a bit quicker to respond. Connecting my Android phone was easy and I was able to stream Pandora internet radio without a problem. The navigation system (a $795 option) delivered a few wrong turns to one editor, but it got me to my destination without a hiccup.
My biggest problem is the size of the readout. Everything seems small in the Fiesta, but the 6.5-inch touch-screen is truly subcompact. A lot of other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen (measured diagonally), and those extra 1.5 inches would solve a lot of problems here. The Fiesta's home screen is divided into four quadrants for navigation, vehicle info, audio display/control and phone/device connectivity, and within each are super-tiny buttons. My success rate of hitting the correct one was less than perfect unless I used my pinky, which felt weird (and I'm sure looked even weirder).
Luckily, MyFord Touch's physical controls also got a face-lift this year and are refreshingly intuitive (never thought those words would share a sentence with "MyFord Touch"). Below the screen are duplicate audio buttons, replacing the old (annoying) central knob and fussy touch-sensitive panel buttons. Same goes for the climate controls; the traditional buttons (though tiny) were truly a sight for sore eyes.
Cargo & Storage
Roominess is again a big issue in the cargo area. Several automakers in this class have developed creative solutions to subcompact storage challenges, but not Ford. The Fiesta's cargo area is again the very picture of subcompact, its numbers the definition of tiny. With the rear seats raised, there's just 14.9 cubic feet of space; other subcompacts can handle way more cargo. The Fit has 20.6, the Sonic 19 and the clown-car-like Versa Note impresses yet again with a segment-busting 21.4 cubic feet.
The backseat folds in a 60/40 spilt with ease, but it's not at all flat, and lowering it increases capacity only to 26 cubic feet. The winner here is the Honda Fit, whose backseat's creative tumble-fold maneuver — though it's more cumbersome to do — increases space to a voluminous 57.3 cubic feet. The Versa Note and Sonic hatch follow with 38.3 and 47.7 cubic feet, respectively.
I loaded the car with two adults, a toddler and a long-weekend's worth of gear and we were busting at the seams. Much of the cargo ended up wedged next to my daughter's car seat. The second row also gets short shrift in terms of small-items storage. There's only one cupholder and it's in the middle of the floor, jutting out from the back of the front center console and making the middle seat unusable (unless you like kicking drinks). There's also only one seatback pocket for storing small goodies, which is a cheap move.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the 2014 Fiesta hatch and sedan earned Top Safety Pick status, receiving the highest score, Good, in all tests to which it was subjected. (The Minicar class, as the Institute calls it, hasn't been tested for crashworthiness in a small-overlap frontal collision, a test that's proved challenging in other vehicle classes.)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the hatchback and sedan four out of five stars in a frontal test but has not yet performed side crash tests. It also earned a four-star rollover rating.
A reverse sensing system with backup camera is standard on Titanium models but unavailable on other versions. One new safety option this year is the MyKey feature, which allows parents to set maximum speed and stereo volume limits for the key used by their teens.
Click here for a full list of safety features.
Visibility is fine straight back, but large backseat headrests get in the way — though they conveniently flip down out of view when not in use. All Fiestas have standard blind spot mirrors incorporated into both side mirrors. I find them distracting; some people love them.
Value in Its Class
Base Fiesta sedans start at $14,795 and hatchbacks at $15,395, including a $795 destination charge. The Fit and Sonic hatches start a bit higher, the Versa Note a touch lower. Ford's automatic transmission is pricey, however; costing an additional $1,095.
Want to get fancy? Ford offers a couple of upscale options. Niceties include heated side mirrors, leather-trimmed seats, LED parking lights and a seven-color ambient lighting system for the cabin.
Want to get weird? Ford has you covered here, too: You can choose to wrap your Fiesta in bacon. Really. It doesn't get much weirder than that.
Despite its ability to appeal to a wide audience, the Fiesta is not one of the automaker's most popular vehicles. Globally sales are strong, but on Ford's home turf the Fiesta still trails many competitors. Through this August, Ford had sold 52,575 Fiesta sedans and hatchbacks, considerably less than sedan and hatchback versions of the Versa (82,759) and Sonic (62,313) but more than the hatchback-only Honda Fit (37,040).
The Fiesta's strengths are big ones: It looks good, it's fun to drive and it's easy on the wallet — both at the dealership and at the gas station. With the Fiesta's recent update, it looks like the subcompact class has a new life of the party.