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The successful second debut of the Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta.

Ted Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

Introduced in 1976 and built in Germany, the Ford Fiesta was one of the company's most successful models and, over the years, Ford sold 12 million of the subcompacts worldwide.

It was discontinued in North America in the early 1980s, despite continuing to be offered elsewhere. In Europe, the Fiesta has consistently been one of the company's best-selling vehicles, available with both gasoline and diesel powerplants.

Why did Ford take it off the market here? A big part of the reason seemed to be the intransigence of American buyers, who, even now, apparently have a hard time getting their heads around the concept of driving small cars. Many U.S. consumers have a mulish unwillingness to get behind the wheel of subcompact cars (and small-displacement diesels) and, like it or not, our neighbours to the south are still the big dogs in North America. If it's big cars and SUVs they want, it's big cars and SUVs they get. Ford, like all car makers, simply responded to the market.

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But U.S. buyers seem to be coming around. Ford introduced a new, sixth-generation Fiesta at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December, 2009, and it hit the Canadian market in early 2010, as a 2011 model. It also was named the 2011 Best New Small Car Under $21,000 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. The runner-up was the Mazda2, which, in many ways, is essentially the same vehicle.

Built on the same platform as the Mazda2 and manufactured in Mexico, the reborn Fiesta was available as a four-door hatchback or sedan (although they looked remarkably similar) and was powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder developing 120 horsepower. Transmission choices were either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Performance was lively, and the new Fiesta boasted more grunt and revving power than one of its fiercest rivals, the Toyota Yaris. With European-designed suspension, it also had better handling and braking than many of its Japanese competitors. Interior volume, key to this market, was 980 litres with the back seat folded down, and the Fiesta accommodated four passengers in relative comfort.

One safety recall from Transport Canada to report. On some models, the passenger side airbag will not deploy due to a glitchy "restraint control module." This recall applies to all years of the new Fiesta, from 2011 right up to 2013, but fixing it is merely a matter of reprogramming the module and is easily done at dealers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has 16 technical service bulletins out there for the 2011 Fiesta. These include hinky power door locks, problematic software for the airbags, wonky brakes, starting problems and my favourite: "the manual windows may drop while driving." Hello.

Not a lot of love from Consumer Reports for this one. According to this organization, new-model reliability for the first year of the Fiesta was 38 per cent below average and overall it received a "worse than average" grade. While the Fiesta's fuel economy is praised, C.R. has issues with the lack of interior room and various electronics.

A major problem area is the transmission, and the paint and trim and audio system can be troublesome. One suspects that Ford's irksome Sync system may be responsible for this last complaint. Some comments from owners: "Transmission is a little jerky with no load," "Preferred the driving experience of this vehicle over the new Honda Civic" and "Got hit by a big SUV on my drivers' side going about 40 mph and I'm still here."

Market research firm J.D. Power, on the other hand, likes this one – sort of. It gives the new Fiesta its highest marks for overall performance and design, comfort, style and interior features. It's also a recipient of this organization's "Performance Award." That said, it fell a bit short in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey, with mediocre grades for overall quality. This measures buyer satisfaction in the first few months of ownership. Overall, it gets an "about average" rating for predicted reliability.

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From a base price of less than $13,000 for the entry-level S model, the Fiesta has held up well. Prices range from $10,000 for the S sedan up to the low teens for a well-equipped SES hatchback.

Tech specs

2011 Ford Fiesta

Original Base Price: $12,999; Black Book: $12,125-$14,675; Red Book: $9,250-$13,625

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder

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Horsepower/Torque: 120 hp/112 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual/six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/5.1 highway (automatic); regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Aveo, Suzuki SX4

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