Car reviews - Ford - Fiesta - hatch range
Class-leading driving dynamics, cabin presentation, safety, refinement, features, style, completeness
Room for improvement
Tight rear vision, steering not as sharp as previous Fiesta, no curtain airbag availability for rear-seat passengers
12 Dec 2008
IN THE 1980s sci-fi teen-flick classic Weird Science, two kids create their idea of the perfect woman with the help of a supercomputer.
Now it seems Ford of Europe has done the same with the all-new, fourth-generation Fiesta light car.
Make no mistake – this car might just be the best light car made in the world today, with blinding competence in just about every category.
On a muggy day, yes, we found the air-conditioning on one of the cars to be a little feeble another had an annoying dashboard ‘zizz’ off-throttle at about 3200rpm rear vision isn’t great and the back side windows don’t fully retract on the five-door hatch.
But that – astonishingly – is your lot if it’s bad news you’re after.
Fiesta is Ford in a fighting mood, striving to rise above its station as a mass-market discounter with a vehicle that – if it wore Volkswagen or Peugeot badges – would have the critics and the public falling over themselves to get one. It is that good.
Let’s begin with the styling by saying that – on the road and amongst traffic – both the three and five-door hatchback models possess a strong, confident stance.
There’s a plethora of design details little and large to lure your eye, but none are more striking than the rear-end treatment, with its chunky tail-lights and wide stance.
Yet it's the Fiesta's inside that is most likely to snare the elusive youngsters that Ford has been trying so desperately to snag unsuccessfully over the last few years, as well as older folk who appreciate a quality piece of kit when they come across it.
It’s worth noting here that the B299 Fiesta project is very closely aligned with the DE-series Mazda2. Yet the two biggest differences between the compact cousins is the way the cabin feels and sounds.
Ford has chosen to create a mini-Mondeo atmosphere with the instruments part of the dashboard, while going for an audio and multimedia-focussed centre console arrangement to appease the iPhone and iPod generation.
Interactivity and connectivity are the buzzwords that old Henry’s crew are crowing on about these days, and the Fiesta delivers a simple yet contemporary interface for the radio/CD/MP3 player.
Tick the Bluetooth option and you might as well be sitting in a large Apple appliance.
Ford has also managed to create a light car that feels substantially ‘classier’ than your average bog-standard baby.
You feel uplifted seated inside, soaking up the smart and sassy design elements while having no complaints about the more mundane stuff – like seat comfort, legroom, driving position, storage capability and control functionality.
This is a German car, after all, and there’s no way that they’re going to compromise on vital elements like ergonomics and occupant safety. Better rear vision would be nice though – even if the large exterior mirrors do help.
Yet the driving experience is also better than average. The fact that we mention this so far down the story means that either Ford has at last concentrated on building a much more rounded vehicle than before or something’s gone slightly awry with the new Fiesta’s dynamics.
Well, the fact is that a bit of both apply, actually, as honing the Fiesta to be everything to more people around the world was clearly Ford’s aim.
The unbelievable truth is, in order to reduce emissions by saving fuel, the WS Fiesta is not quite the driver’s car that its highly acclaimed predecessor was, by dint of Ford’s seemingly inevitable decision to go for a full-electric power steering system.
The old car’s tiller was hydraulically-assisted and telegraphed steering feel like its tyres were extensions of your fingertips. Now that level of tactility is lost, replaced by a sharp yet slightly detached steering response.
Yes, the Fiesta is still class-leading in the way the helm responds to your desires, but – like the latest-generation BMW Mini – dumbing down steering feel in the quest for reduced consumption as well as increased mass-market consumption appeal means the Ford has lost something very special if gokart-style feel is your thing.
Annoyingly, Ford Australia has forgone the European-market Zetec S’ more firmly tied-down suspension tune for the regular set-up, for reasons of simplicity and (presumably) cost.
We think this is a big mistake, because driving pleasure was one of the few real unique selling features of the outgoing Fiesta. Please, Ford Australia, why can’t we have the best Zetec on offer?
And, while we’re at it, why can’t we also have curtain airbag availability for the protection of rear passengers? European-market models do. Ford has argued that – in most situations – Fiesta owners hardly have people in the back seat. We think this is a cop-out.
So it’s now more frugal, cleaner running and easier to manoeuvre and park.
Happily, and despite the lower-fi steering, the Fiesta is still a hoot to corner hard, with a poised attitude and heaps of grip, to keep you flowing seamlessly through a tight turn.
Flow is the name of the game here, actually, because the 1.6-litre’s power delivery continues to come on strong and sweetly (after you’ve applied plenty of squirt to set things off), thanks to its new-fangled variable valve timing technology.
Better still, once on the move, the steering does weigh up noticeably to help restore confidence in the driver, and it never ceases to respond with just the right amount of input.
The plaudits keep on rolling, too, for the Fiesta’s supple ride quality – even on the Zetec’s 16-inch alloy wheel set-up.
That this is a significantly quieter vehicle than the Mazda2 – let alone the noisy old Fiesta – is testimony to the engineers’ hard work to quell undesirable sounds entering inside.
Indeed, impressive refinement levels and a very grown-up feel are probably enough for most people to look no further than Ford’s latest baby. High safety ratings (despite the lack of curtain airbags) and features like cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity will probably seal it.
So the latest-generation Fiesta might cost a couple of grand more than a Hyundai Getz or Holden Barina, but when you consider that $2000 is the only difference between a cheap car and the world’s best in its class, the Fiesta then turns the tables onto the consumer, forcing him/her to rethink their priorities.
Anyway, as a Holden Epica or Kia Magentis buyer must spend at least the price of their vehicle again in order to get into the best medium sized car in the world, you could argue that the premium the Fiesta attracts is actually tiny as a result.
The fact the Fiesta is brilliant and affordable means that – like that perfect partner produced in Weird Science – Ford has created a vehicle that can be all things to all light-car buyers.
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