40 mpg Ford Fiesta, Other Small Cars Flounder

Automakers quickly turned to small cars when gas hit $4 a gallon in 2008. Folks everywhere downsized, trading in giant SUVs for traditional compacts and the latest subcompacts, like the Toyota Yaris. The trend prompted Ford to bring its best global small car to the U.S., the Ford Fiesta, while it looked to beef up its compact, the Focus, to be a more premium offering. This trend of subcompact and larger compact is being seen across the industry.

The Fiesta has been on sale for a few months with a full inventory on most lots. (There are more than 9,000 in Cars.com’s national inventory.) However, the Fiesta isn’t setting the sales world on fire, and the rest of the segment isn’t, either.

The Fiesta was the fourth best-seller in the subcompact segment at 3,473 units, behind value leaders like the Nissan Versa (6,724) and Hyundai Accent (4,052) and the well-established Honda Fit (4,052). Even Chevy’s much-forgotten Aveo sold only a few hundred fewer units (3,262) than the Fiesta with less available inventory.

What are buyers gravitating toward? Compact cars, or what were compacts. The compact class is seeing new models getting bigger as the subcompacts take up their former position on show floors as the entry-level models.

In what could be considered its first full month of sales, Chevy’s new Cruze sold 8,066 units, which is a good number. The much-maligned Cobalt it replaces sold 5,112 units during November last year, likely at much lower transaction prices.

Volkswagen’s new Jetta helped overall Jetta sedan sales climb to 8,955, a 49% increase over last year.

Hyundai’s new Elantra just went on sale in the final days of November, totaling 192 units, while the 2010 still managed an impressive 8,439 units.

Sales of the Mazda3 rose 9.3% to 6,474 while Mazda’s all-new Mazda2 sold 462 units in its first full month on sale.

Don’t cry for Ford, though, because its soon-to-be replaced Focus saw sales jump 27.8% to 13,030.

The outlook for new compact cars like the Cruze, Jetta and upcoming Focus seems positive, while compact SUVs and midsize sales remain steady. The only cars that seem to be floundering are the smallest ones out there.
Subcompact Sales in November 2010
  • Nissan Versa 6,724
  • Honda Fit 4,180
  • Hyundai Accent: 4,052
  • Ford Fiesta: 3,473
  • Chevy Aveo: 3,262
  • Toyota Yaris: 2,154
  • Suzuki SX4: 1,140
  • Kia Rio: 966
  • Scion xD: 810
  • Mazda2: 462


Legislative Geek

Looking at that list - I project the little revised Elantra quickly shooting to the top!

Amuro Ray

The current gen of car buyers (X) and older still prefer bigger and powerful vehicle, in general. Plus the advancement of engine choices in the so-called compact class (really a medium size class) that actually achieves better overall fuel saving (on paper) than the subcompact class (really a compact class). Worst of all, Americans pay too much attention on what they drive (as a symbol of their social statuses), not why they drive (and put the savings of thousands of $ as an investment for their offsprings' future)...

All the hype around Fiesta and Mazda2 meant NOTHING. Now that's a surprise...(sarcasm)


The REAL automotive specialists warned all along that all these Fiestas, Fits and others who think they will bring their product here and make a buck were WRONG.

One of the reasons not to buy car like that is comfort. There is little comfort in any of these. I drove Fit. I sat in Mazda2. These may be good for 16yo girls.

Also, fuel efficiency only marginally better and generally about the same. So, the test showed that Fit could go 34mpg in average. And I average 33mpg in Mazda3 manual. And the price is not much lower either.

Basically, it doesn't really make sense to compromise your comfort and safety, ability to carry the whole family for 1-2mpg and $1000 less.

Next question...


Congratulations America, you've clearly learned your lesson (sarcasm).

This is the free market at work which is good but this suggests that Americans aren't going to modify their behavior because it's good for us/the environment or because they don't "need" huge vehicles or because perhaps it's "the right thing to do." Today's Americans don't sacrifice for the greater good unless they see how it benefits them personally & directly.

Maybe this is a little idealistic but think back to the America that fought World War II. THOSE Americans sacrificed a tremendous amount for a bunch of people "over there."

We're fat, were lazy and when comes to the average American we're selfishly looking out for #1 and don't see where s/he fits into the [rapidly changing] big picture.


Seems to me like fuel economy and price are the problem - probably more than comfort, in my opinion.

The Fiesta is way overpriced, and even though they managed to hit the magical "40" - it's only in a hypermiler version. The Fit's mileage is worse than the Civic, I think (didn't take time to check for sure, but I know at the very best, it's really close).

I like small cars and would gladly snap up either of them, but I'm not going to pay more for less and I'm not going to buy a smaller car that gets worse mileage than a larger one. Duh. It's not rocket science.


I agree with Tony. If you have young kids, these cars are not realistic since they likely won't fit a rear facing car seat. They are also all foriegn made which to me makes the compact class seem all that more attractive.


Agree with westphillyforever. We Americans are a lazy bunch, and we'll do the right thing when it benefits us. i.e., when gas prices once again approach $4.00 a gallon.

Amuro Ray

VT, u r incorrect 'bou car seats. I used to own a Versa, and it can fit 2 car seats (rear facing) perfectly, or 1 car seat (booster type) and 1 rear facing one, with space for a petite/small size person (my wife, for example - short trips) in between.

Max Reid

Small cars not selling is 1 thing, overall vehicles are not selling well is the main fact. US market sold 16-17 million vehicles / year, but this year, sales will see only 12 million units even with economic recovery.

Reason : Prices of vehicles have gone up and also the price of gas. People will simply use their vehicles longer. Also with $3/gallon gas around, expect people to go back to smaller cars or simply not buy for a while.

Not sure who the "real" specialists are, but we did not hype the Fiesta or the segment and have posted similar stories before.

Sales are compared to 2009 which were WORSE than 2010 which looks to get close to 12 million units.

The interesting thing is that people aren't buying huge cars. Large sedans are pretty flat and large SUVs and Crossovers are. The mid-size and compact segments are really strong too. So folks seem to be sticking to what they know and aren't worrying about gas prices. Those cars are also getting more efficient.

Amuro Ray

Dave T.

We both pointed to the fact that the compact (really mid-size) are getting more efficient engines here in the US. 1 point I decided not to state earlier ('coz I didn't have much time to fact check...well, still too busy to do so) is that most of the subcompact cars (really compact-size) are using engines of older, larger displacement that have been developed not specifically for fuel savings to coupe with our "American" taste (for more power). In Asia, these vehicles can come equip with smaller displacement (higher mileage) engines with lower hp rating and other fuel saving technologies. An example is the Versa. The smallest displacement here is 1600cc. BAREBONES too (all low-tech). In Asia, the engine is 1500cc (even smaller), with CVT (not in US for the 1600cc), and ECO (start-stop) technology. As a result, most US-spec subcompact aren't THAT fuel-efficient, esp when comparing to today's compact class (esp to Focus and Elantra).



we all know this. Everywhere in the world engines are smaller in many cars that here have bigger engines.
Mazda3 for example runs on 1.6L
Mazda2 - 1.3L
Mazda5 - 2L
Miata - 1.8L

Here, first thing you hear - "this car has no power"

I recently went to purchase a new vehicle and looked at both Fiesta and Focus. I could lease a Fiesta for $290/mo, but a Focus for $240/mo. Pricing does still drive demand, last I looked.


I think the point is that there is a limit to how efficient an engine can be. My 05 Matrix can go 400 miles on the highway per tank. Is that so much different than the fiestas? I have more power and more room to boot.


I would like to know if there is a "car psychologist" out there who has done a study on why Americans seem to think tiny cars with 100+ hp engines are "underpowered?" WTH!!

Does it get up to speed on the highway...YES. Does it get you from point a to point b without a fuss...YES.

This psychologically induced nonsense about a small car being "underpowered" is ridiculous. Get a sports car if you want to race. If you want to get from point a to point b, get a car that will "go" safely and who cares if it takes 15 seconds to get to 60 instead of 8 or 9?

I supposed automakers are responding to consumer demand, and in this case, I think the consumer demand is completely warped. I'd buy a Geo Metro in a heartbeat if it got 60+ mpg like some of their 3-bangers did FOR MY DAILY COMMUTE. If I felt a need for speed, I'd get a sports car for my NON-DAILY COMMUTE. Why do Americans think or commuter cars also need to be sports cars?


Sorry, didn't check for typos...drop the "d" off supposed and the last "or" should be "our".

Tim W

Curious, where does Mini fit in this list???



I hear ya. My daily car is a '90 Miata and my weekend fun car is my Mazdaspeed3.


The only catch to the two car strategy is extra insurance and parking. Insurance for another vehicle will eat up any fuel savings, unless barebones. Parking can cost depending on location.


surprising with most of the country at or above $3.00 a gallon!!


The weak-minded runts do not understand physics because it is too difficult for them. These little cars make no sence at all...Unless you are a 16yo girl.


"The weak-minded runts do not understand physics because it is too difficult for them. These little cars make no sence at all...Unless you are a 16yo girl."

Okay... what exactly does an understanding of physics have to do with a preference for smaller cars? The idea that it requires less energy to move a smaller mass? That smaller objects can more easily fit into tight spaces?

Mindlessly saying "bigger is better" doesn't exactly demonstrate an understanding of physics...


Amuro Ray a versa will only fit certain models of rear facing car seats. My evenflo is not one of them (per Nissan web site). There is also a difference between making something fit and actually fitting. I can squeeze into my jeans from high school but it isn't something that I would willingly want to do on a daily basis. I'm guessing that is why you no longer have the Versa.


I think Ford's Fiesta is a market leader whose time hasn't come yet. Gas prices will begin rising and this segment will become more popular. Now Ford has to quickly refine the Fiesta to give it more power (the one I drove was woefully piggy) and a slightly better external look. It's interior is pretty good and they did get noise levels and equipment refinements at a better than average level. I really believe we will see the Fiesta take off middle of 2011.


Political violence will be the only way to get Amerikans into small cars. If we tax them into starvation then they will select Fiestas to drive.

Amuro Ray

" I'm guessing that is why you no longer have the Versa."

I "guess" that u know me better than I know myself.

Take a look at what u've written:
"these cars are not realistic since they likely won't fit a rear facing car seat."

Not fitting an Evenflo is NOT the same as won't fit a rear facing car seat. Mine are both Cosco and they both fit.

In addition, I did state that my wife can sit in between for short trips. Of 'coz it's not gonnabe comfy, but again, that's doable. To the doctors, grocery, toy stores, etc. That little sacrifice on our parts (parents) mean not using more gasoline, saving more money, and a better, healthier planet - all for my kids...why NOT? (Compare to driving a minivan, SUV, etc.)

Now back to ur "assumption." The Versa I had was a lemon. There was a problem with the fuel pump/regulator that was unfixable in my < 2yr (and <15000 mi) ownership.


"The weak-minded runts do not understand physics because it is too difficult for them. These little cars make no sence at all...Unless you are a 16yo girl."

I guess most of Europe must be really overpopulated with 16 yr old girls, then. Remind me to move there in a couple of years when they all come of age. Your comment is lame.

The argument about size/safety would be completely mute for the most part if everyone woke up and began driving what they really "need" instead of what they "want" for the majority of their commutes. I'd take a Mustang, Challenger, Camaro anyday, but it would stay parked, except for the occasional joyride.

Anonymous Coward

I'm sure VW is touting their Jetta numbers as an astounding success, but the new will wear off the disappointing new Jetta very quickly.

Ned M.

Not even Europeans want these small cars...They are taxed into starvation so these little runt-mobiles are all they can afford to drive. The wealthier Europeans (and Asians) want SUVs...Funny that, Eh?


I swear, that Fiesta is one of the more hideous vehicles I've ever laid eyes on.



Europe is s^|thole which is only good for drugs, soccer and sightseeing.

A normal American with the house, a boat, beach condo and cars would be upset living there and driving these cars, which are only good for 16yo girls.


What a stupid thread of comments.

Chi Chi

I went to a dealership to look at buying a Fiesta, only to find that it was no smaller than a Focus. Look at the specs and you'll see that there is no appreciable difference. I am now waiting to check out a Fiat 500. It had better be smaller than a Mini, or they are going to suffer as well.

I'm shock to see the Ford Fiesta selling so many units, I remember the older models and people did not want to be caught dead in them, but now they have become more stylish and up to date and also MPG's are great. I think that is the big key in the 3,473 units that were sold

Carolina Guy

Hey, I had one of those "vintage" Fiestas... it took me through high school and college in the early eighties.. the 75 hp 1.6 liter engine was a blast to drive and tons more fun and chick acceptable than the Escort it held place for...... I sat in a new Fiesta at a car show and realized how much I've aged.....all those fancy electronics........

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