First Drive: 2011 Ford Fiesta (U.S. Spec)

Entertainment is provided by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with variable timing on both cams that helps pump out 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. On paper, it doesn’t sound like all that much until you see the feathery 2600-pound curb weight. Careful gearing selections on the five-speed manual and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions keeps the engine in its sweet spot and makes for reasonably peppy straight-line acceleration, especially if you wring it out to redline where the engine really shines. It’s the only engine available at launch and the only one Ford will talk about, but we’ve already seen spy shots of what appears to be an EcoBoost model testing outside of Dearborn, so we’re hopeful a more powerful model is on the way.

The five-speed manual is a good box with precise throws, though they’re rather long; but we hear Ford Racing is already working on an aftermarket remedy. The big news is in the automatic, which Ford claims is the world’s first fully electro-mechanical gearbox, eliminating the need for hydraulic pumps and oil coolers. On the road, it’s an impressive piece of technology, offering smooth shifts regardless of engine speed and recognizes sporty driving, during which it holds gears longer automatically.

If you want to have some real fun, though, slot it into L. Traditionally standing for Low, on Ford’s latest automatic transmissions it actually represents “Lowest possible gear at the current speed.” On the road, it means the transmission will hold a gear all the way to redline and even leave it if you let off the gas. Conversely, it will also drop to a lower gear as soon as is safe for the engine in order to give you as much power as possible. Out on the autocross, this feature proved absolutely brilliant, always dialing up the gear needed right on cue.


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April 2010
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