Posts Tagged ‘MINI Cooper/Cooper S’

World meet the United States. United States meet the World. For the first time in a generation, an American car company is selling a first-rate, European-engineered world car in the US. Hallelujah! Cue the balloons.

The Fiesta nameplate hasn’t been used by Ford North America for almost three decades. Ford brought the first-generation Fiesta to the US in an ill-timed attempt to find its place in the brave new world post-Arab oil embargo and under new EPA rules.

While the first-generation supermini Fiesta was a hit in the rest of the world, American consumers weren’t ready for the tiny, fuel-efficient, but crude sardine can. Five generations of the Fiesta have graced all continents save North America for the past thirty years. The all-new sixth generation Fiesta went on sale in Europe in 2008 and has finally made its way to the US this summer as a 2011 model.

Ford can save buckets of cash if a car can be sold in all markets worldwide. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to develop or re-engineer a car for each market. Opening the US market to world cars amortizes development costs over a larger number of units sold and brings the cost structure down to a point where selling a small, inexpensive car, built in Mexico, is profitable for Ford.

The 2011 Ford Fiesta Hatch

I confess that I love hatchback cars. They are so versatile and cute; however, market research informs car companies that Americans won’t buy hatchbacks. This is why Honda no longer sells a Civic hatchback. Same for the Toyota Corolla. The Honda Fit gets great reviews but doesn’t sell in high volumes. In Europe, hatchbacks easily outsell sedan variants. Go figure.

Maybe tastes are changing. I hope so because the Fiesta Hatch is by far more desirable than the sedan. Given the diminutive size of the Fiesta (160.1 inches), the hatch just makes sense. Flip the back seats down and you have much more cargo for groceries or a dorm room junk.

2011 Ford Fiesta Sedan

I test drove the base Fiesta SE Hatch ($16,190) with the PowerShift automatic ($1,125). Most of you will choose the automatic in a city like LA. That’s why dealers only order automatics. My Fiesta had Rapid Spec Package 203A ($775) which included SYNC voice-activated hands-free phone and music system, 80-watt premium sound, Sports Appearance package, cruise control and 15 inch painted aluminum wheels. Sirius Satellite Radio added $370 for a total sticker of $17,990.

The new PowerShift transmission is an automated manual six-speed dual clutch gearbox that Ford jointly developed with Getrag of Germany. It’s much lighter than a standard automatic transmission and increases fuel economy by as much as 10%, according to Ford. In most driving conditions, the target owner will think it’s a regular automatic.

Ford's new DirectShift dual-clutch automated manual transmission

The only thing that surprised me was that the car didn’t creep at a dead stop. I took my foot off the brake, expecting some forward movement, but nothing happened until I tapped the gas pedal. Odd at first, but you get used to this the first day of driving.

I’m six feet one inch tall, but I managed to find a comfortable position with the four-way front seat manual adjustments and manual tilt/telescope steering wheel. Unfortunately, unless you are a double-leg amputee, you aren’t sitting behind me. It’s a great two person small car. If you want to seat four people, I’d suggest four young anorexic females under five-four.

2011 Ford Fiesta - Hatch open for cargo

The little 1.6 liter Duratec Ti-VCT I-4 seemed to have plenty of pep for the usual LA stop-and-go traffic and dodging through freeway messes. I found the steering direct and responsive as someone tried to back into my tester from a blind driveway. The base 15” wheels were plenty for most drivers, although I’d prefer the 16” wheels with better gum.

Ford's new "Kinetic" styling looks great on the Fiesta's small sides

The ride was a bit choppy, but that comes with the supermini with the territory. When you’re dealing with such a short wheel bases (98” – Fiesta, 97.1” MINI, 98.4” Honda Fit), it’s hard to smooth out LA’s horrible streets. The independent front MacPherson struts and twist beam rear suspension perform their job diligently. An independent rear suspension would be preferable; but it would have been a packaging problem that sucked up more interior volume than could be justified by the extra cost.

Fiesta's Center Stack

The interior is fresh and easy to decipher. The little infotainment screen presents its data in bright red LED readout. There is no navigation system available – most kids driving this car will have a hand-held device or use their smart phone with its own navigation software. The USB port in the center is well located and can be used to charge your iPhone. Cup holders are on the small size; but a larger hole (in the center area where an armrest should be) can be used for Big Gulps as long as you don’t rock the boat too much.

Overall quality of plastics and fabrics was as good as Honda or Mazda. I found a couple panels that had unacceptable gaps; however, that may be fixed as the factory hits its stride.

Upgraded leather interior looks great

I checked out an upgraded SES Hatch with the leather seating surfaces and VIP entry package with keyless ignition. The contrasting piping on the seats looked terrific. These touches add maturity to an otherwise very youthful design.

Ford’s new “kinetic” design language works well on the Fiesta, including the “exotic dragon’s-eye” headlamps. The sides have a high character crease sweeping through the door handles to the rear C pillar and the front style line slinks around the headlamps, below the Blue Oval in the front grille and up through the A-pillars/roof. There is almost no overhang on the rear wheels which give the car the illusion of extra length.

These details distinguish the Fiesta from its boring Japanese and Korean competition and moves it closer to the MINI in character. The lack of cheap bling lends a more expensive look to the Fiesta as do the body-colored mirrors with signal repeaters.

Sweeping styling lines look best on the hatchback

The Fiesta is the best entry-level supermini since the 2001 introduction of the MINI Cooper. It’s also the best domestic entry-level car in decades. The Fiesta starts at $13,320 with EPA estimates of 29/40 mpg. Think of it as a budget non-hybrid that’s a good first car for the kids. The Mazda2 shares the same basic chassis yet the Fiesta outshines the Mazda2 in all metrics. I see great things in Ford’s future.

Front Face hasa nice lines

Keyless Ignition is a nice upscale touch


Thieves may not want your Prius or your Volvo; but if you have a big, blinged-out SUV, watch out – they want your ride.

The annual Highway Loss Data Institute’s report on the most and least stolen cars is out again. The HLDI is an insurance-funded group that aggregates loss data from the participating insurance companies. The latest results are for the 2007-2009 model years.

The 2009 Cadillac Escalade is a thief's favorite

As in the past, the most stolen vehicle is the Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade has an average loss of a whopping $11,934. I’m sure the insurance rates are adjusted accordingly. It’s interesting to note that General Motors’ vehicles account for six of the Top Ten.

  • Chevrolet Corvette Z06
  • Hummer H2 (the gigantic one)
  • Chevrolet Avalanche
  • Chevrolet Silverado -1500 crew cab
  • GMC Yukon

I can see the interest in the Corvette; but you have to have a taste for gigantic trucks for the others. The work trucks listed probably have valuable tools on board in addition to the parts.

2009 Corvette Z06. Love the exterior look, don't love the interior

Oddly, Nissan has two entries in the top ten too: The Infiniti G37 coupe (based on the Nissan 370Z) and the Nissan Pathfinder/Armada large SUVs. Who knew anyone was buying the Armada let alone stealing it?

The Infiniti G37 coupe is a low volume luxury coupe – something you don’t normally see on a list like this. I have no idea why car thieves want it. Maybe it is modified for drifting or street racing.

The 2009 Infiniti G37 Coupe is sleek - but not a drifter

The Ford F-250 crew cab pickup Dodge Charger (with the Hemi V8) round off the Top Ten.

There are a couple common links here. First most of the cars and trucks have large engines that can be ripped out and resold. Ditto for the seats, and other parts. The second link is that many of these cars and trucks are often blinged out with lots of chrome aftermarket parts and gigantic, expensive wheel and tire upgrades. Those things are easy to strip out of a stolen car and sell the on the car parts black market.

Your friendly auto body repair place is supposed to use new parts on your car; however, many cut costs and buy the black market parts while still charging you or your insurance company for the new parts. This practice is commonly referred to as “insurance fraud.”

The thieves and chop shops are getting pretty sophisticated. Even though modern vehicles have complex, multifaceted anti-theft devices, smart keys, and engine immobilizers, the thieves and their accomplices just pull the whole vehicle up on the back of a flatbed truck. They even know how to thwart the electronic lockout devices and reprogram the code when necessary.

All of the listed GM vehicles have OnStar, the two-way communication and emergency service GM owns and has promoted in its vehicles for more than a decade. OnStar is GPS-equipped and can be used to locate a stolen car. So the first thing the law-breakers need to do is disable the OnStar system or do the snatch, strip and dump so fast that the owner doesn’t have time to call OnStar to locate the vehicle.

In the past, some of the most common family sedans were at the top of the list. Cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevy Impala. Those were stolen because there were a gazillion of them on the road that the demand for repair parts, particularly cheap black market parts, was quite high.

The shift to more profitable horsepower and bling has been developing over the past decade, and this latest list confirms that.

So how about the cars that the thieves don’t want? The Volvo S80 tops the list. The average loss on an S80 is only $619. Volvo must have very cautious, conservative drivers. The sad part is that Volvo had to defend it’s flagship by attributing the low loss rate to its excellent security system. Right.

The 2009 Volvo S80 - not very exciting for a "flagship"

Volvo sold only 4,190 S80 units for the first six months of 2010 and sales are falling as customers wait and see that happens once the Chinese car company, Geely, takes control of Volvo from Ford.  Volvo S80 owners don’t adorn their cars with large wheels and lots of bling. In short, they are anonymous.

There is also good news for the thousands of smug Prius owners in LA. Sure you bought the car to express your love of the environment and to prove your “green” bona fides. Sure it sounds like and is as dull as a refrigerator to drive. But it seems that thieves don’t like it. The complex parallel hybrid drive system and monolithic dashboard make it a nightmare to steal and chop up. And as the battery packs get older, they become worthless.

A 2009 Toyoa Prius. I'm sick of seeing them everywhere in LA

The Japanese dominate the lower echelon, picking up seven of the bottom ten. I guess no one wants the Toyota Sienna minivan, the Toyota Tacoma small pickup, the Subaru Impreza wagon, the Nissan Murano midsize SUV or the Honda Pilot midsize SUV.

I’d forgotten about the Saturn Vue small SUV. It seems that the thieves have too. The Vue accounts for two models (front drive and four-wheel drive) of the Bottom Ten.

The Bottom Ten is rounded out by the MINI Cooper. As an owner of a MINI, I’m glad to hear it. It may be that there are so few on the road (you wouldn’t know it by driving in LA) that the parts aren’t in demand on the black market. It also could be that a thief would have as much trouble getting it to unlock as I do.

A 2009 Subaru Impreza - It doesn't inspire theft, does it?

My philosophy on stolen cars is simple: Fully-insure your vehicle, don’t leave any valuables inside or visible, park in a safe location and lock your car. If it is stolen, or trashed, you’re covered. If it’s a classic that really can’t easily be replaced then store it in your garage or secure carpark. Don’t worry, be happy, right?