COAL 18: 2011 Ford Fiesta – The Anti Expedition

When we found out that my wife was going to be attending summer school in the hot Okanagan Valley and commuting every day neither the ventilation-challenged Civic nor the fuel economy-challenged Expedition would have been a good pick.  Seemed like maybe it was time for a new little car.  The plan was to test drive a few and then decide what colour Honda Fit to buy.  But not every decision in life turns out to be rational so we ended up with an early production American Brand, Euro car built in a Mexican factory.  With a 5 speed though, the DCT automatic was just a bit too irrational for me.

Looking back at 2011 from today, there was a bit of a wealth of choice in small cars.  My wife was going to be the primary driver so we did the Sunday circuit around the dealers to look and see what she should test drive the next weekend.  At the end of the drive around she liked the look of the Honda Fit, the Mazda 2 and the Fiesta.  The Hyundai Accent was “OK if we get desperate” and the Toyota Yaris was “Don’t turn the truck off, I’m not getting out.”  I kind of liked the idea of the Fiesta, partly for nostalgic reasons and partly as it had been getting positive press. Anyways, the next week she brought the little cars home for us to try.  I liked the Mazda 2, it felt zoomy.  I liked the Fit except for the seat which reminded me of the rock hard old Civic seat.  I was also informed it was nervous on the highway when it was buffeted by semis and “we don’t want this one, it may have gotten air off of that railway bump.”  The Fiesta was pronounced as being lovely so the next week I found myself walking down to the dealer on my lunch time and making a purchase happen.

On the second day a door speaker was sounding a bit crackly, so with less than 100km on the odometer it had its first warranty repair. I thought uh oh, here it starts.  But then all was well for the summer. There are a few annoying details on these early production ones.  The door locks are in the center of the dash.  The SYNC entertainment system has a mind of its own.  To use the block heater you have to open the hood. The back seat is not spacious. And the big one for those of us in snow country, there is no way to disable the traction control. If the snow gets deep and you live halfway up a hill like we do, the engine cuts power which is the exact last thing you need. I think the issue was rectified for 2012.  The first winter it didn’t venture out of the carport on heavy snow days, which we had a lot of that year if I remember.  I did read about fixes for the problem but I figured if I had ever gotten stuck I could just pull the ABS fuse which disables Traction Control.  All of that would be so much less annoying if this otherwise wasn’t one of my favourite winter vehicles, particularly once I put studded Hankook iPikes on it. The super aggressive traction control has some amusing ideas about tightening up a cornering line by seemingly grabbing one front brake.  The harder you push on the gas and the brakes the happier it is. Plus there is still a real handbrake between the seats to bring the back end around and or perform an impromptu Rockford in those situations where you have to turn in a hurry.  The two worst snow storms I have been traveling through in recent memory I happened to be in this car and it came through fine.

On ice, this and my old FIAT 128 were my two all-time favourites with the old Civics also pretty darn good. If my winter world wasn’t populated by a truly staggering number of giant vehicles, not to mention suicidal deer and nonchalant elk I would have used it more for winter trips. Somedays driving a tiny car makes one nervous.  Of course as “tiny” as these are they are still a fair-sized car as can be seen when using this old Falcon for reference.

Particularly in the wheel department. Fifteen-inch rims on this little car.

I believe the North American 5 speed transmission has a lower first gear than the Euro one so us North Americans don’t stall out at the lights.  The first gear experience is a bit tractor like. We took a family trip in it to Vancouver and Seattle and told the kids that this is how people travel in Europe so “better pack light”. The trip was fine, and the car was not uncomfortable, particularly in the city where it seemed at home.  It had been steady on the highway as well as being oddly impervious to semi trucks going by.  And it somehow took me back to those times in England, so many years ago with my Grandad, touring the North East of England in the little first-generation Fiesta Van.

This is the part of the story where, as usual, I realize that I know less about cars than everyone who will be reading it.  So, on the subject of my Grandad, I like to think we had more than Fiestas in common.  We also shared a love of the water. And to go on water you need a boat.  My favourite childhood book was Kenneth Grahame’s Wind In The Willows, which of course has the famous quote,  “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”  And like the Rat, I believe that simply messing about in boats is a very worthwhile pastime.

My Dad remembers my Grandad always having some type of boat when he was growing up, usually kept at Whitby harbour. I grew up hearing tales of the wild and dangerous North Sea.

My dad went to sea with the merchant marine and sailed the world.  He always had a yard full of boats.  He didn’t like a motor boat for fishing.  So when the weather blew up on the lake and everyone else was safely leaving the lake on their motorboats he was rowing in.  We all wore life jackets growing up.

Even my mom at least took up the oars a few times.

I spent a lot of time in little boats growing up.  Here is a rare day when the old 18 hp Evinrude wasn’t acting up,  which is good as it was a slow trip off the Lake with the little Eska electric.  These aluminum car toppers really suck to row.  They actually suck at being boats really. My Grandad was appalled by the boats we used when he came over, and figured they were so poorly shaped that any swell would swamp them.  I think he was right in retrospect when I think of all the fishermen that drown in 12 foot aluminums.  The big attraction I guess, is you can treat them poorly and they don’t need much maintenance. Sort of the way Toyota Yari are in the car world.

Speaking of swells I remember some freaking big ones heading out into the North Sea off Hartlepool to go fishing.

Not that my Grandad or his friend seem perturbed.  The rest of us had Gravol for breakfast while they seemed to not even notice the waves.

He kept on acquiring boats he couldn’t use for the rest of his life. Not sure he ever used any one of them but he sure loved them.

I spent a fair number of years in my 20s not on the water much other than the odd canoe or raft trip.  By the look of Chuck Taylor maybe I thought I was some influencer type back in the day.

As I got to middle age my job moved from technical to supervisory in nature. That was a bit mentally grueling so I found myself needing another head-clearing outlet that wasn’t as hard on my knees as cycling was. I started canoeing and then began acquiring kayaks. Kayaking was proving to be that outlet I needed.  And the whole family would come along.  Never did figure out how to get a kayak on the Fiesta.

I loved a peaceful trip on my own.  And if the waves came up, well that OK as well. Sea kayaks can stand a wave or two.

Extending the nautical theme,  since my daughters were rowing I took it up as well.  The Fiesta put in many early morning miles to the lake and back.

And just to reinforce the utility of the Stanfields undershirt so beloved by Canadians, it even makes good rowing gear for a regatta.

I’ve never owned a powerboat and likely will not.  It’s hard to picture a world where I don’t kayak though. Too much a part of me I think.

Returning to the Fiesta.

The little Fiesta has a lot of engine hours and cold starts on it, but not that many miles.  Most of its life has been in town though I’m not hesitant to get in it and go for a 600 mile drive where it uses 5 litres per 100 km on the highway.  No one ever comes up and says “nice car.”  Some people call it a Festiva, confusing it with the sad little Kia-built Ford that was sold here.  I might be wrong about Festiva origins, but I’m not motivated to figure out where Canadian Festivas originated.

A lot of errands have been run in the little red car and some outdoor trips if everything else is busy.

Even a Fat Bike will fit in the back if you pack carefully.

I like getting back from an outdoor adventure and thinking that I didn’t use much gas, and that I still had a good time using my very modest little car.

Even when moving broken concrete to the dump to avoid the construction waste charge, the Fiesta did it in a pinch.

Both of my teenagers learned to drive in the Fiesta as we wanted them to be able to operate a manual.  Both also love the car as it is easy to park, sips gas and zips through traffic. They have each used it for going to work and going skiing and whatever else they do. It accompanied my oldest on her co-op assignment to another city for 4 months with no issues.  I think its next assignment may be to go with my younger daughter to university. And being that it’s still around, I took it to the grocery store today and enjoyed driving it as I always do.

I really don’t see ever getting rid of it.  Other than some corrosion on the hatch it’s pretty clean, even underneath.  I know where there is a spare hatch in the right color if I want to make it perfect again. I don’t mind working on it, not that it ever seems to need much.  Other than the rattling speaker on the second day, it never went back to the dealer for warranty work.  Living in Canada’s pothole capitol was hard on the shocks so I changed them and the brakes which should last another 12 years.

Last year Ford said that they are stopping Fiesta production after 22 million built in 47 years.  Small ordinary cars are disappearing from the roads.  Sometimes at night when I turn the inside accent lights to red and put on some New Wave music while arcing through some twisties I pretend that I’m not in the middle of Nowheresville BC and am actually somewhere in Europe on my way to a sophisticated outing.  On nights like that, I don’t find this to be an “ordinary” car.

Next week.   All that nonsense I just talked about with fuel economy and restraint kind of goes out the window.  I have boats to move!