A lengthy post, I know - but when shopping for a car recently I searched everywhere to find informed opinions from real-world owners, so I tried to create one myself. Hopefully someone out there finds it useful. This past spring I woke up one morning to discover that my 2000 Subaru Forester had decided to convert itself into a 3-cylinder. $4500 for an engine replacement sounded unappetizing, especially since the "newest" replacement engine we could locate had 160k on the clock, over 5k more than the engine that had just disassembled itself…long story short, after much ado bought a 2013 Ford Fiesta as a replacement. RIP Forester. I've freely criticized American cars in the past but I've plunked down money for a Ford this time (albeit a UK-designed, Mexican-built Ford). My must-haves when shopping for a new car were as follows: 1. 30mpg+ (US) combined real-world mileage 2. Manual transmission 3. Hatchback form factor (not quite a deal-breaker but I strongly prefer them) 4. A cold weather package with heated mirrors and seats (I spend a lot of time in cold climates) 5. No more than about $20k out the door On to the Fiesta. It's a Ruby Red Metallic SE 5-door hatchback model with black cloth interior. Manual transmission, of course. Optional extras included are the cold weather package (heated seats and mirrors), Microsoft SYNC with Bluetooth interface, Sirius Satellite radio receiver (6 months of free service) mood lighting, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Ford doesn't sell a huge volume of Fiestas compared with the Focus, Fusion and Taurus. Most large dealers only stock a handful, and smaller dealers might only have one or two at a time - usually low-specced sedan models. There is a continuing theme in the US that small cars are for poor people, and there is no need to make them nice. I had a hell of a time finding the one I wanted - initially I was looking for a top-spec "Titanium" model (for the larger 16" wheel/tire package mostly), but none could be found with a manual. In the end I settled on the SE. Less luxury extras but a couple thousand cheaper. Interior/Body I was pretty pleased with the interior layout of the car. It's noticeably narrower than larger cars, but head and legroom are no problem at all in the front. The seats are pretty comfortable; I've done several 1000+ mile drives in them and while you won't mistake them for a luxury car, I was perfectly happy. The seat warmers help with stiffness on long drives. Back seat legroom is not as good as the Honda Fit's (which has, frankly, an amazing amount of rear passenger legroom due to it's boxier body), but I have ridden in the back and it's more than adequate for short to medium-length trips. Headroom is a little restricted in the back for over 6-footers. Having four doors makes getting in and out easy. The rear seats don't fold flat (again the Fit is amazing here, the seats fold flat and give you a huge volume of space), but I've carried furniture and various other boxes and gear without any trouble. The sedan version has a pretty good-sized trunk but the hatchback will fit more oddly-shaped objects. The doors feel pretty solid, especially for a small car. In terms of materials, a mixed bag but mostly good (and light years ahead of my old Forester). There are a couple hard plastic surfaces here and there, but also plenty of soft-touch materials on the doors and dash. Some have complained in reviews about the audio controls, but I haven't had any problems. Fiddling with the Sirius satellite radio can be a little bit of a pain at times but once you get your presets in you're generally trouble-free from then on. USB and audio ports are standard on all cars these days (again, a HUGE leap form my 13 year-old Subaru), so while I can't cite that as a special feature they are damned useful. The Microsoft SYNC Bluetooth interface works pretty well; the 2013 Fiesta got a slightly dumbed-down version compared with pricier Fords, with a red monochrome display. Frankly, I don't miss the color touchscreen; I've played with them on other Fords and cars like the Chevy Sonic and frankly they are still in a gimmicky phase of development - they are the future, but at the moment a lot of the features are unnecessary or poorly implemented. In the Fiesta, I use the Bluetooth voice-controls mostly to make phone calls and pipe audio from my phone if I have a podcast to listen to. It works great and I've rarely ever had a problem with it. You don't get a full-sized spare, which is a bummer. I hate space-saver spares. But, to be fair, the Fiesta is far from alone in the car world on this, so I'll let it pass. I have had just one complaint about the interior; The little cargo concealer that hangs between the rear seats and the hatch sits and rotates on two plastic protuberances that are integral to the interior trim panels on each side of the cargo compartment. After owning the car just a couple months, one of these protuberances simply sheared off when I opened the hatch. The concealer still hangs by its strings and rests on the remaining protuberance. I took it to the dealer to get the trim panel replaced a month ago and I'm still waiting for the part to arrive. Apparently Fiesta repairs are low on the priority list… One final feature that is very nifty yet absurdly simple - the capless fuel filler system. When filling up you simply open the filler door on the side of the car and stick the nozzle in. Brilliant, and something someone should have come up with 100 years ago to be honest. But it's here now and I love it. Driving I'm very pleased. The Fiesta is a nimble car with a great chassis. Despite the short wheelbase, which can get a little jouncy on bad pavement, the ride is very nice and nowhere near as crashy as I feared it might be. Sure, you'll notice a difference when you step out of your huge Buick or SUV and into this, but really on average pavement the Fiesta is very comfortable and far, far more of a precision driving instrument than your average American or Japanese sedan (to say nothing of the trucks & SUVs most 'Mericans prefer). The turning radius is small, and zipping around in tight or crowded spaces is liberating. The car is at its best in urban environments. I'd like a tad less body roll in hard corners but otherwise it's simply a great handling car. A lot of hoopla in the press has been centered over the Fiesta's electric steering. I've owned cars without power steering at all and yes, the Fiesta's unit provides little to no feedback by comparison, which is a bit of a downer. The weighting is a bit on the light side. From a sporty motoring perspective it's a bit of a disappointment. Still, it doesn't have any slop or a dead spot, and you still get feedback from the transmission and through your backside when driving. It's not going to fool you into thinking its a BMW or Lotus, but I am used to it now and it's OK. The little 1.6L four is a nice engine - pretty smooth and free-revving. Power (120hp) is good, though I really wish they could have found a way to wring another 10 lb-ft of torque out of it without sacrificing economy (it produces 112 lb-ft). The car will cruise comfortably at 75mph+ all day, and there is enough power to pass without much ado. At higher speeds the engine can drone a bit, but wind noise is not an issue, the cabin is pretty quiet. The gearbox is nice - smoother and more precise than similar cars I've driven over the past few years. The clutch is nicely weighted - much better than the Honda Civic and Honda Fit in my opinion. The car comes with a hill-hold assist, holding the brakes on slopes when you pull away from a light. It was not a prominently-advertised feature and it surprised me the first time it kicked in. It probably makes driving the manual easier, though I've never had it in a car before. You get disc brakes in the front only. Though the brakes are more than adequate for such a lightweight car, it would be nice to have had discs on all four wheels. Economy This is one of the primary reasons I bought the car. The official EPA mileage is 29/39/33 for both the manual and automatic - you'll d better. On summer gas I saw 34mpg city and 40-43mpg highway. Now that we are on winter gas, the car does slightly worse - about 1mpg less perhaps. Over the six months I've driven it, real-world combined mileage with an even mix of city and highway driving is about 35-37mpg. I've never gotten it to drop below 30mpg. I found myself stuck in a 2-hour stop-n-go traffic jam once, and even after that the car managed just over 30mpg on the tank. If you're doing a highway trip you can exceed 400 miles on one fill-up of the little 12.5 gallon tank. Conclusion In sum - great car, I'm very satisfied with it. I cross-shopped it against the Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Chevy Sonic, Mazda 2 (same platform as the Fiesta), VW Golf and Ford Focus. The Fit was a tour de force in clever interior design. But I found it a bit boring to drive (contrary, I must admit, to what a number of auto journalists have said) and the styling just didn't work for me. The Civic is an excellent car in just about every respect but I don't want a sedan and they were very close to exceeding my budget. The Chevy's turbo 1.4 was exciting but the build quality and materials were inferior and nobody could find me a manual transmission car. The auto box has a manual-shift function but it is laughable. The Mazda 2 has been reviewed as a superior driver's car to the Fiesta, but skimps on equipment and again the dealers had trouble finding me a manual. It's worth a serious look if you can find one though. The Golf is a great car, but the base engine wasn't economical enough, and the diesel was out of my price range. I'd be willing to sacrifice economy for the sake of a GTI but, again, it was too expensive for me. The Focus was less sharp in the handling department, had a much more generous cargo area but was less economical and a few thousand more for a comparably-equipped car. Good car though overall, with more torque. And then there's the Fiesta ST. I wanted one - badly - but they weren't in dealers yet and about $3k out of my price range. As soon as our local dealer gets one in I'm going to test drive it - and probably come out weeping at what I've missed. A turbo, 77 more hp and various go-fast bits sounds simply delicious. My only long-term concern is how the car will hold up. My previous cars have all made it past 130-150k in reasonably solid shape. I'm not planning on keeping this car as long, but the long-term reliability is an unknown. In particular, the wheel wells look like they have too much exposed metal, especially in the front side of the rear wells. Time will tell. Anyway, I'd encourage anyone who is shopping for something economical but fun to drive and nicely equipped to give the Fiesta a shot. It's a long, LONG way from the Geo Metro school of economic motoring, nor does it carry the snobbery (and crap driving dynamics) of a Prius.