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In small Ford Fiesta, there’s a grand illusion

The 2014 Ford Fiesta has a reworked exterior design and an interior that easily trumps the 2011 model. Illustrates WHEELS-FIESTA (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Ford)

The 2014 Ford Fiesta has a reworked exterior design and an interior that easily trumps the 2011 model. Illustrates WHEELS-FIESTA (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Ford)

Congratulations to Ford Motor Co. on embracing the notion of continuous improvement.

It is the theory, translated into an actual product, of making something discernibly better than its predecessor, of fixing what was broken or not quite right.

Ford’s adoption of continuous improvement is evident in the 2014 edition of its Fiesta subcompact hatchback. The 2011 model, marking the reintroduction of the Fiesta in the U.S. market, was a bit of a disappointment, an economy car that felt like an economy car, which is to say it felt cheap.

That would’ve been okay had the little car’s reintroduction not been attended by an extensive “social media” marketing campaign dubbed the “Fiesta movement” – which, at least, moved my expectations of the car far beyond what was delivered.

An embarrassing truth: I am a perennial optimist, which makes me vulnerable to marketing that extols the better angels of human nature, in this case, the thinking and effort supposedly invested in a reliable, fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient small car affordable for most of us.

The 2011 Fiesta, the first sold in the states since 1980, hit three of those marks – reliability, fuel-efficiency, affordability. But the marketing left me expecting pleasant excess of the type so frequently delivered by South Korean automobile manufacturers Hyundai and Kia, whose cars and crossover utility vehicles more often than not offer surprisingly more than what is suggested by their price tags.

The 2011 Fiesta was good – commendable in respects of purchase and operational economy. But it was no Hyundai or Kia. The South Korean brands tend to over-deliver on what their marketing and manufacturer suggested retail prices promise. Marketing for the 2011 Ford Fiesta promised more than the car actually offered.

That is not the case for the 2014 Ford Fiesta Titanium hatchback driven for this column. The reworked exterior design is stunning – a sleek, sporty front end; a face oddly but attractively resembling the visage of one of “The Greys” of space alien lore.

My car was brilliantly covered in what Ford’s designers call “ruby red metallic” paint “with tinted clearcoat.” Rarely have I received so many favorable spectator comments on a paint job as I did on this one.

The new Fiesta’s interior easily trumps that of the 2011 model. It does not feel or look cheap. Piano black inserts on the instrument panel blend well with the soft-touch black vinyl surround. Front and rear seats are graced by a supple leather covering. The car feels substantially more expensive than its $18,800 base price. It is the illusion I was looking for, but not getting, in the 2011 car. It is the trick of mind that makes me believe I am getting a “deal.”

And there is a real deal here, especially for consumers who regard cars as four-wheeled computers and communications centers . . . and concert halls.

Standard features (on the base Fiesta S and SE, for example) include Bluetooth phone and iPod connectivity. The upscale Titanium edition used for this column includes onboard navigation, high-definition rearview camera, rear parking sensors, keyless ignition and entry, a My Ford Touch communications system and an HD radio. In modern terms, it is the complete car on a budget.

But if your idea of driving is an endless Walter Mitty racetrack debut, you’ll find the new Fiesta lacking. In that regard it has much in common with the 2011 model. To wit: It is a front-wheel-drive economy car equipped with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine (120 horsepower, 112 pound-feet of torque). My model came with an optional six-speed automatic transmission that also could be operated manually. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and is recommended by this column.

The upshot: The new Fiesta is great for local commuting – easy to drive and park, agile in tight traffic, runs on regular gasoline and drinks the stuff at a relatively modest rate of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 miles per gallon on the highway.

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