So, took a spring break trip to Bishop, CA, for a bit of Desert Time (TM). The wife and I flew in through Reno to save about 15 hours of driving and received a Fiesta rental.
Impressions: I'm kinda a Ford guy, so I really wanted to like this car. Also, we are looking to divest one of our vehicles for a higher mpg option, and the Fiesta has been one of the vehicles of interest.
The rental was the standard base model, albeit in sexy black. It had about 52k miles on the clock, so broken in for a rental (I think a lot of rentals get auctioned off about that age, since my first college car was a used rental that we picked up with 50k??).
Interior: Compact - the seats are firm and supportive, although the wife thought they felt like airplane seats - e.g. no lower back support. ("They make me sit like an old man!") Visibility was ok, except rear view is a bit restricted. The wife is 4'11" on a good day, and could see out and reach everything (see below). Took a while punching random buttons to make the radio work, and I shied away from several unfamiliar icons in the event that I accidentally hit the ejection seat. Climate - AC is adequately frigid for the desert. No obvious squeaks or rattles, although the crappy cardboard cargo shelf in the hatchback was thrashed.
Performance: The base I4 is, well, base. Goes uphill, sorta. Goes downhill like nobody's business. We cruised at about 65-70. Hwy 395 between Reno and Bishop crosses several passes up to 8,000 feet, so the little mill has to pull a bit. I expect the Ecobooostholyfuckturbo model would handle the climbs and elevation much better.
Handling: Pretty good - of course I don't have much to compare to - I drive an old pickup. Or as my wife said succinctly, "I know you're having fun, but you're scaring me to death." (as I rolled down a pass towards Mono Lake)
Space: I don't care for the trend of hatchbacks to curve down so that the hatch is smaller than the interior space. I want a hatchback or station wagon, even if its small, to open up with a huge maw. How else can one haul boxes, unwieldy furniture, plywood, whatever? The back seats don't fold flat - which is a lot to ask I suppose, but again, kills the max interior space. That said, it fit my minimum criteria - two crash pads (with enough space left for beer cooler):
Washboard road capability: The Fiesta handled the washboarded gravel Buttermilk Road with aplomb. No fishtails with the FWD, of course, and using my theoretical Best Washboard Speed of 35 mph (just fast enough to hit every other washboard...) it felt pretty planted. I wouldn't do it every day, as I'd probably be replacing struts with the frequency of oil changes. Ground clearance was a bit better than my friend's Mazda3 hatch.
Mileage: At highway speeds, including several passes - the overall trip mpg was about 37+. Not too shabby.
Overall: As I said- I wanted to like this car, but it left me a bit blah- It's certainly a serviceable ecohatch, and would be purchased as such. Not terribly exciting, but not what we'd purchase it for anyway. (BTW, we rented a Chevy Sonic a couple years back, and that little thing was entirely too much fun for being a base-level economy. Very go-kart.) A Fiesta's still in the running, although for useful interior space, the Honda Fit has the square back/flat seat combo that is very attractive.
So yes, the Base Rental Fiesta is good at what it's designed for - quite efficient, reasonably utilitarian, and likely a good value to comparable rigs. I expect the Fun Factor will be exponentially increased with the ST model.