Driver's Seat: New Fiesta a bit sticky shifting

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2014 Ford Fiesta Sedan SE: small wonder?

Price: $17,340 (includes a $1,095 six-speed automatic transmission. More on that later.)

Marketer's pitch: "MPG savvy and tech smart."

Conventional wisdom: likes the "sporty driving dynamics ... refined yet lively base engine; strong fuel economy; welcoming cabin; available luxury features" but not the "limited cargo and rear-seat space; automatic transmission's quirky behavior."

Reality: Great fuel economy, it's true.

Back in the saddle: This is my second go-around in the Ford Fiesta. A 2012 hatchback SES kicked off my first column endeavor back in early 2011.

And either I've gotten pickier or small cars have gotten better. I'm going to presume the Fiesta has not gotten worse.

Shifty: Please, people, for the sake of all that is good and right -- if you're going to look into a small car, learn to drive a stick. It's sooooo much more fun and you'll save yourself a grand right off the bat.

Because, while this little six-speed is not bad, it's not nearly as fun as working a clutch in a small car and it doesn't offer the shiftability of some other small cars (particularly the Hyundai Accent and Mazda2).

A tough start: The transmission did leave me lurching, literally from the get-go. I picked up this model at a nearby dealership, and it hesitated when pulling onto the highway from the dealership lot.

The horrible headline flashed before my eyes: "Car Reviewer Mowed Down in Test Vehicle." Other hesitation issues provided much less drama, just a bit of wavering -- and one time, bucking -- when the car was not fully warmed up.

Rolling: The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine does move the car quite well. But the Fiesta is light. It's little. It bounces around. It's fun enough on the curves, although there's a bit more lean than I recall last time.

Go with the flow: The Fiesta confuses in one unusual area; the HVAC blower control has no "off" setting. The blower settings are 1 through 4, and 1 is actually unusually strong.

To turn it off, all I could figure out was to manually close all the vents (and listen to them whistle). A note from Ford clued me in that there is an "off" button, way over on the lower right arc of a circle of buttons.

The three-dial design, on the other hand, wins a simplicity award. A fan dial on the left, a temperature dial on the right, and a bigger blower mode dial in the middle make life very easy.

Controls: The steering wheel controls are tiny. I fat-fingered the cruise control setting more than once, and my fingers are fairly slender.

Play some tunes: A Sync-less downscale radio was not pretty, but it functioned well. The sound was more than adequate. A bevy of buttons lets drivers change functions simply; I even adjusted the tone settings on the fly. The swoopy design is fairly outdated (Plus a keypad? Really?) and the materials come from the cheap, plasticky side of car design.

I have had no end of trouble with Sync systems, although they do get better every time.

Night shift: The interior lighting is nice for the price bracket. The accent lighting in the SES I tested for 2012 was even nicer.

Friends and stuff: Three passengers can reside in the back seat, but they'll either end the trip very friendly or very bruised.

The armrest cubby was surprisingly roomy, really tall and thin.

A phone slot in front of the gearshift is the perfect size, but a lack of staticky material meant Mr. Phone landed underneath Mr. Driver's Seat during one hard stop.

Fuel economy: I observed 35 mpg in a highway-heavy three days (I couldn't get my usual weeklong loan.)

Where it's built: Cuautitlan, Mexico.

How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability as much worse than average. The Fiesta's lowest component rating came in the category "transmission minor," and Fords have historically had transmission issues.

In the end: With the Consumer Reports and warnings and the transmission hesitation I experienced firsthand, I can't offer support for the Fiesta, although I do like the car quite a bit.

Next week: How does it stack up against the 2014 Nissan Versa Note?

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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