Big guy, little car
After a 30-year absence Ford brought back its Fiesta subcompact to North America, but not before it became one Europe's best-selling cars ever. The four-door sedan is appealing, but it's the five-door hatchback that really grabbed eyeballs (the fluorescent paint colours helped) when the Fiesta touched down here last year. The fluid exterior design is hard to render in such a stubby body, but Ford's designers worked miracles. The story changes inside, however.
The front seats are laudably spacious and comfortable, but it's the rear bench that really punishes the Fiesta buyer's family and friends. It's not easy for an adult to find a comfortable position for more than 10 minutes in the tiny back seat. There's only 33 cubic feet of space, not much more than you'd find in the microscopic back seat of the Fiat 500 (which doesn't come with four doors). What was Ford thinking?
Antonella, is that you ...?
"We have a specific person in mind when we plan a product and we design the vehicle around that person," says Mike "Dr. Derriere" Kolich, Global Body Interior, Seat and Restraints Engineering at Ford's Product Development Centre. In the case of the Fiesta, that person is Antonella, an attractive but fictional 28-year old woman who lives in Rome, Italy. Her fun-filled life (like that of MSN Autos writers) is focused on friends, clubbing and parties.
Antonella is a character invented by designers to help them better tailor automobiles to their intended customers; it's the personification of a demographic profile that describes Fiesta's target customer. Ford is using avatars like Antonella to bring a human element to the drudgery of poring through demographic information - especially helpful when an increasingly international design team needs a common, memorable focus.
"We identify the wants and needs and attributes of the customers, and the outcome has to be the embodiment of a broad range of requirements," says Kolich. What is surprising, he says, is that the latest version of Ford's first world car really does appeal to buyers all over the globe. "We've learned the differences in people in two markets - Europe and North America - are not enough to design two different products." It's an indication that in addition to harmonizing global emissions and safety standards, global consumer tastes appear to be merging, too.
Unfortunately, Antonella is a single woman who doesn't ferry a lot of her friends around Rome in her Fiesta, given the pitiful space in the back seat. Although equipped with five seatbelts, the Fiesta would have a tough time doing suburban chores like dropping off the kids at high school. They don't fit because the scenario doesn't mesh with Antonella's imagined lifestyle.
Not much by the way of legroom here ...
What she does like is cheeky style, something the Fiesta has in spades. Kolich says that was one of the design targets stylists had to deliver on, but there are tradeoffs. "We have to strike a balance between visual appeal and practicality, putting pressure on guys like me to create space," he says of the challenge of carving useful cubic feet out of a swoopy body. "We could make it more boxy, but will it draw customers?" Kolich asks. "All of the manufacturers are struggling with the same issues in this segment."
GM's Mott seems to agree with his counterpart. "Consumers tell us style is less important in the economy class, but they tend to be biased," he says. "We kill ourselves to have the best-looking car," adding that the Sonic exudes a certain swagger and youthful attitude. He says the Sonic was the recipient of the best expertise from GM's divisions around the world.
The Sonic does boast a useful back seat where two adults (three in a pinch) can find reasonable comfort for at least a few hours. Is the boxy Sonic the right solution? Ford's Kolich suggests the sales numbers will tell the story.
A Ford-versus-Chevrolet smack down might have been the main event a few decades ago, but there are more than 30 manufacturers today vying for Canadians' attention and lines of credit, especially in the growing B-segment. There's no shortage of subcompact models to choose from, ranked here by SAE cubic feet of space in the front and rear seats:
Honda Fit: 51 40
Chevrolet Sonic: 49 41
Nissan Versa: 50 40
Hyundai Accent: 52 38
Kia Rio5: 54 35
Mazda 2: 51 36
Toyota Yaris: 48 38
Ford Fiesta: 50 33
Fiat 500: 45 30
Mini: 47 27
How did the diminutive Honda Fit top the list? Its clever packaging is based on a front-drive platform that incorporates a long wheelbase and wide track in a small footprint, resulting in remarkable interior space. The efficient layout helped create a comfortable cabin with space equivalent to a compact sedan.
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years