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Although this subcompact car has enjoyed great success overseas, the question lingers for the braintrust at Ford: Why wasn’t the Ford Fiesta being sold on American soil?

Ford says the Fiesta is the second-best selling car in Europe and boasts 15 million sold since 1976. But until a year ago, a vehicle with the Fiesta name hadn’t been offered in the U.S. since 1980! Reintroduced to American car buyers in 2011, Ford is naturally hoping that the Fiesta emulates its success overseas.

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Although traditionally known for its trucks and larger vehicles, Ford proved it can make a good small car as well with the Focus, a highly efficient model that has earned considerable respect. If Ford can do the same with the Fiesta that will help erase the image of the company’s entry-level cars in the past like the Escort, Neon and Cavalier, which were all branded as failures.

Available as both a sedan and hatchback, the Fiesta is being marketed as a smart choice for young car shoppers who are searching for an economy car that can be fun to drive, has a well designed cabin, gets good gas mileage, has an engaging style, and sells for a reasonable price – starting at $13,200 for the base model sedan.

2012 Ford Fiesta

  • Performance: 1.6-liter, inline-4, 120 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 29-38 mpg
  • Price: $13,200 to $17,500
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles; corrosion 5 years/unlimited; roadside assistance 5 years/60,000

Going with one of the two hatchback trims (there are three sedan trims to choose from) is more expensive, yet the added versatility is a plus that should be appealing to many potential Fiesta buyers. And for some extra cash, niceties that some subcompacts don’t offer – heated leather seats, Ford’s Sync system, automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, keyless entry, push-button start – can be added.

Even with all its upside, the 2012 Ford Fiesta has a tough uphill climb because there is a lot of competition in the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Sonic, the Hyundai Accent and the Kia Rio.

Although some car experts have deemed the Fiesta “spirited,” that wasn’t the opinion here during a week test-driving the top-of-the-line SES Hatchback. I found the front-wheel drive Fiesta very pokey climbing hills and lacking adequate acceleration in freeway passing situations.

All Fiestas are powered by a 1.6-liter, inline-4 with 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. The automatic transmission Fiesta was clocked at 11.3 seconds going 0-60 mph, while the manual covers the same distance in 9.5 seconds. Both times nearly match the Honda Fit.

The lack of performance tradeoff with the Fiesta and most subcompacts is gas mileage. All Fiesta models get an estimated 29-38 mpg.

Like many entry-level cars, the interior is a mix of good and bad. In the front seat, the leg room for taller folks is limited and there is no center armrest, which is never good. The back seat is about average, meaning it’s a bit cramped for adults in the leg-room department and three people is one too many.

The cargo space is disappointing, especially in the hatchback version where one would anticipate more storage capability. Another knock on the Fiesta is the air conditioning took way too long to cool down the car.

The addition of the Fiesta is a plus for Ford, which continues making a comeback in the small-car category. The Fiesta is a solid choice for people seeking an inexpensive car that’s good on gas, has a nice array of standard features, and has an appealing style.

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