TALKING ROCK, Ga. -- Curvy Route 5 coursing over Blue Ridge foothills of Georgia challenges both driver and car in tests we devise to sample the surprisingly nimble and taut (meaning sporty) road manners of an eensy-weensy Fiesta, Ford's 5-door hatchback for the subcompact class.
Fiesta for 2016 splits into two formats -- a family-friendly 4-door notchback sedan or a cargo-hauling 5-door hatchback. The sedan offers three trim grades -- a price-leading S, volume-seller SE and top-tier Titanium. The hatch extends the same three grades plus the ST wearing a racy aero kit and packing a souped-up Ecoboost engine.
Ford enhances 2016 Fiesta models with the optional new Sync 3 enhanced voice recognition communications and entertainment system which replaces MyFord Touch and features a 6.5-inch center LCD touch screen similar to a smartphone with easy-to-use graphic interface.
New standard equipment for 2016 includes a remote keyless entry system and perimeter alarm on Fiesta S. And a new SE Black Package installs a black grille, black dual power/heated exterior mirrors and foglamps with carbon black painted bezels, plus 16-inch machined aluminum wheels.
With a roof rising less than five feet high and the pint-size body only 14 feet long, Fiesta has a bullet-sleek shell in monochromatic treatment with the smoothly rounded prow projecting a flat 5-bar grille above a gaping inverted-trapezoid air duct. Front corners house elongated headlamp clusters that sweep back to muscular bulges of the forward fenders, as the sculpted hood and ultra-fast windshield rake lead to the arched canopy over the passenger compartment.
There's a surprising amount of space in the concise cabin for riders and luggage, with twin bucket seats set in front of a fold-down back bench split 60/40 plus the sedan's rear trunk (or hatchback's aft cargo bay) for gear.
Fiesta rides on Ford's global front-wheel-drive small-car platform and comes together at Ford's Cuaultitlan Stamping and Assembly Plant in Cuaultitlan Izcalli, Mexico.
The suspension system is compact to carve out more space for the passenger compartment and forge a low floor for easy entry. Components include independent MacPherson struts in front and a twist-beam rear axle. Ford engineers tuned the Fiesta suspension to deliver sporty handling characteristics, then added electric power assistance to the rack-mounted steering system to boost fuel efficiency.
Brakes utilize power-assisted front discs and rear drums on all editions save Fiesta ST, which earns a disc at every wheel. For predictable straight-line stopping, Ford installs standard ABS (anti-lock brake system) plus the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device.
Fiesta offers three front-wheel-drive powertrains.
Prime plant for S, SE and Titanium models is Ford's 1.6-liter aluminum in-line-4 rigged with DOHC (dual overhead cams) and Ti-VCT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) valvetrain technology. It produces 120 hp at 6350 rpm plus torque of 112 lb-ft at 5000 rpm and links to a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-speed electronic automatic with SelectShift manual control.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 1.6-liter 4-pack amount to 28/36 mpg city/highway with the manual or 27/31 mpg city/highway with the automatic.
Fiesta SE offers a DOHC 1.0-liter turbo-charged EcoBoost 3-cylinder plant mustering 123 hp at 6350 rpm and torque to 148 lb-ft at 5000 rpm through a 6-speed manual transmission with fuel economy numbers of 31/43 mpg.
Fiesta ST 5-door hatch scores an aluminum 1.6-liter in-line-4 with DOHC, direct injection and turbo-charging. It makes 197 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque of 202 lb-ft at 4200 rpm. Shifter for ST is a close-ratio 6-speed manual stick and EPA-estimated fuel economy figures come to 26/35 mpg.
Fiesta S sedan/hatch carries cloth seat upholstery, a front seat console, manual cranking windows, a 4-speaker audio kit and 15-inch steel wheels. Fiesta SE sedan and hatch stock a 4-inch LCD dashboard screen and an upgraded audio system with CD player. Fiesta Titanium gets luxury gear like power windows and mirrors and door locks, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror and 16-inch alloy wheels. And Fiesta ST goes further with automatic climate controls, keyless ignition and entry, aluminum-trimmed pedals and more.
Ford sets MSRP figures for 2016 Fiesta models in a range from $14,580 for Fiesta S sedan to $21,460 for Fiesta ST hatch.