FORD has introduced a sportier version of the WQ Fiesta that went on sale in January.
But while driving enthusiasts may rue the lack of more power over the regular range, the new Zetec does gain small but significant suspension and gearing modifications, as well as a wheel and tyre upgrade, over its WP Zetec predecessor.
The former involves revisions to front and rear springs, resulting in a slightly lower ride height and a wider stance.
The suspension’s dampers have also been modified which, along with stiffer spring rates than before, bring better body control during a wide range of manoeuvres.
To that end Ford has also installed a thicker-diameter front anti-roll bar, different suspension bushes front and rear, and a stiffer twist beam in the rear suspension housing.
The previously optional 16-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels, shod with 195/45 R16V low-profile tyres, are now standard on the Zetec.
The company says the upshot is improved steering feel and sharper handling properties.
Ford has also fitted closer-ratio forward gearing to the Zetec’s five-speed manual gearbox. First gear is now 8.6 per cent lower, while fourth gear has seen an 11.4 per cent drop.
So while the Zetec employs the same 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine as all Fiestas (delivering 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 146Nm of torque at 4000rpm), both acceleration and mid-range response should be slightly sprightlier.
Meanwhile, the driver-adaptive four-speed automatic gearbox – complete with mandatory anti-lock brakes and electronic brake-force distribution – continues as an option.
To refresh, the WQ Fiesta is a comprehensively facelifted version of the WP Fiesta range that went on sale in April 2004.
Revealed in base LX and luxury Ghia guises at the Sydney motor show last October, Ford implemented revised headlights and tail-lights sporting fashionable chromed ringed detailing, a feature also found in the reprofiled front and rear bumpers.
Other visual differences include new side rub-srips, more colour options (a bronze, blue and grey) and new cabin trim, while a completely redesigned dashboard boasting soft-feel plastic, redrawn instrumentation and altered switches and controls have also been added.
Ford Australia contributed to the new fascia as it was originally part of the Indian B376 Fiesta sedan program that the local engineers have worked on.
As reported in GoAuto last June, the four-door Fiesta sedan may still be under consideration for Australian consumption. Ford will be watching the sales of the newly introduced Holden Barina and Toyota Yaris sedans very closely.
All 2006 Fiestas also offer more for money, including an MP3 audio input facility on manual models (the automatic gearbox’s bulk apparently precludes this), an extra seat pocket and a three-flash lane-change indicator function.
Plus the Zetec auto now costs $800 less than before at $1500 above the manual, while ABS and EBD are now available as an $800 option on the base LX manual – previously it was an auto-only LX thing.
With the recent demise of the Holden XC Barina SRi, Toyota Echo Sportivo and Proton Satria GTi, the Zetec is the only sports-orientated light-car entrant this side of the considerably more powerful $26,990 VW Polo GTI.
Ford is banking on this fact, as well as the Fiesta’s good press reception, German heritage (exploited in all its advertising campaigns since launch) and high specification levels to assist in muscling more market share from the hot Yaris and Suzuki Swift, as well as the Honda Jazz, Mazda2, Peugeot 206, Renault Clio and Polo competitors.
The segment is booming this year, so Ford is hopeful of moving between 500 to 600 Fiestas each month, an approximately 30 per cent jump on the 433 monthly average achieved last year.
In other words, the Blue Oval is leaving the bargain-basement babies – including the South Korean Barina, Kia Rio and Hyundai Getz – alone for now, with its president Tom Gorman saying that he is keen "to protect the brand" against severe discounting.
Nevertheless, he also added that, in the future, once some of the Fiesta’s hidden costs are taken out of the system, there may be room for Ford to market Fiesta more aggressively on price.