Week Two with the Ford Fiesta

by Dinzo Tabamo | Mar 26, 2011
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There's a lot of things you can learn when you spend a lot of time with a car. It gets to be a part of your routine, and not just a car you're trying out for a few days. After spending plenty of seat time in the Ford Fiesta, there is no doubt in my mind that much of this car was designed in Europe, and possibly with Europeans in mind. There are touches and features that only remind me of Euro cars. It's not just about the Fiesta's many features, although we'll get into that later on. It's how the features come together to create the motoring experience of the whole car. Ever look at the sticker prices of BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes and wonder why, badges aside, they command a big premium over Japanese and Korean brands of the same size and category? Yes, there are the expected reasons: more expensive materials, extra safety features, performance advantages and additional gadgets. But in the end, what the reasons all point to is a different driving experience from most cars that simply get you from point A to point B. A different driving experience is what the Ford Fiesta gives. A combination of features and design touches sets it apart from the usual subcompact fare like, ironically, its Mazda 2 twin. The HVAC controls are typical and the air conditioner does a good job of lowering the Fiesta's temperature in the increasing summer heat. Above the HVAC controls, things get a lot more interesting. The upper part of the dashboard is like another tier, and it houses the controls for the CD player, the radio, auxiliary jack/iPod connection and the mobile phone interface. Between the HVAC knobs and the entertainment buttons are the hazard lights button and the power door unlock button. The latter is interesting because the Fiesta doors have no individual unlock button at all. You only lock and unlock the doors from the inside using the solitary center-mounted button. However, the doors will still open if you pull the handle from inside, regardless if the doors are locked or not. This kind of power door lock feature isn't new to Euro car owners. The most striking aspect of the Fiesta's entertainment and connectivity features is that it's menu-based. There are legible buttons on the left side that go straight to the functions labeled on them. Once you've chosen a function, you can delve into its options and settings using the four-way controller and select your choice using the OK button at the center. Sure it's a bit rudimentary and it doesn't have the polish of BMW's iDrive system, but you're not shelling out the monetary equivalent of a studio apartment for a Fiesta either. Audio can be on the loud side. Despite years of listening to my iPod at near-maximum volume, I can only tolerate the Fiesta's audio system at half of its loudest setting. You notice I mentioned mobile phone connectivity earlier. The Fiesta can indeed synchronize with your phone via Bluetooth, and you can make and receive calls on a speakerphone. Here's where the Fiesta's party trick comes in: Ford's subcompact hatchback has a voice command function that enables you, the driver, to access the entertainment and connectivity features through speech. I specifically said driver because while the system will respond to anyone's voice in the cabin, the button to activate it rests on the left stalk on the steering wheel, where only the driver can reach it. Press it once and a stern female voice will ask you what command you want to give. You can say either "CD player," "radio," "external device" or "phone." Because the CD player will eventually go the way of the dinosaur, I skipped that and tried out the radio and mobile phone voice commands. Radio worked easily and you could even say what station you want. The mobile phone was a bit tricky. Pairing the car with your mobile phone was as simple as looking for the car on your phone, then inputting the code that will be displayed on the Fiesta's screen. Then you press the voice command button, say "phone," and say either "dial name" or "dial number." Using the former proved impossible. I tried calling my brother, Daniel, and despite my best attempts to enunciate the name, the Fiesta couldn's recognize my command. Next I tried dialing the number verbally. It was a lot easier. The Fiesta can take in three numbers at a time (assuming you remember peoples' numbers--a rare thing nowadays), then you say "dial." The mobile number of my brother ends in 2 and it took several attempts before the Fiesta understood me saying 2 and dialed the number. After that the implementation was perfect; the call sounded loud and clear and my voice could be heard on the other side clearly. Connecting your iPod or iPhone using an auxiliary cable is the most simple way to hear your music on the speakers. I bought an auxiliary cable from Handyman worth P70, and as soon as I plug it in I realize I paid too much. There was instant static and the cable seemed "grounded," this meant the connections inside were deteriorating and you have to move the wire around to get full stereo sound, otherwise only one side of the speakers will sound. Mental note: never trust a cheap auxiliary cable. Better to use the iPod's USB cable and use the Fiesta menu to control your iPod. The Fiesta will even display the song title and artist (assuming you label your music properly) and charge your iPod at the same time. The downside to this is it won't be as quick and responsive as handling your iPod directly. The Fiesta is turning out to be full of pleasant surprises and surprising amenities given its price range. It even has a backup sensor, an uncommon device in a car so small. It's hard to think of other subcompact cars that have this many features. If it were simply a comparison based on toys, the Fiesta would win hands down. Now let's see how it drives.  Next: Driving impressions
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