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Car reviews - Ford - Fiesta - range

Our Opinion

We like
Still best baby to drive, TDCi’s surprising refinement and driveability, quieter than before, high spec level, firmer Zetec’s body control, value pricing, Euro feel inside and out
Room for improvement
No more reach adjustment for the steering column, Powershift auto lacks ‘Tiptronic’ shift function/paddles, nice rubbery dash top replaced by harder plastic one, can of goo instead of a spare wheel

7 Dec 2010

CRISIS averted.

The last time Ford Australia offered an Asian-made light-car, it was the flimsy Festiva – a Mazda 121 Bubble-based hatch with tippy-toed styling and handling finesse to match. Aagh.

This horrid little car disenfranchised a generation of Blue Oval fans, so when we learnt that the fourth-gen Fiesta out of Saarlouis in Germany was relocating eastwards to Thailand for 2011, memories of terrible comfort and toxic interiors filled our fearful hearts.

After all, the WS has been one of our favourite light-size cars – comparable to, and often surpassing, anything costing twice the price.

Actually, we’re being a tad melodramatic, for in August Ford kindly flew us to Phuket to sample the Light Car from Siam (Rayong, to be exact) and we came away satisfied that the few downers – no more reach adjustment for the steering no more soft and rubbery dashboard surface no more sequential-shift gate for the auto and a can of goo instead of a spare wheel – were offset by a myriad of uppers, which we'll come to later.

Our only (and usual) caveat was that we needed to sample the WT Fiesta on Aussie roads. And, boy, did we ever monsoonal rains, lashing winds, drivers weaving all over the road, animals straying in our path – we could be forgiven for thinking we were actually barrelling down one of the A-roads leading to Bangkok instead of negotiating the Adelaide Hills during a ‘weather event’.

But we need not have feared. The WT Fiesta immediately made us feel at home since – hard dash-top aside – the cabin architecture and ambience is exactly like the German version... but with no rattles, less road noise intrusion and a general feeling of improved solidity. Go figure.

Indeed, our only gripe is that the rear squab still does not tip forward like in virtually every other light car (including the previous-gen WQ Fiesta), but apparently a fix is on the way when the major facelift arrives sometime in 2013-ish.

Petrol or diesel, hatch or (impressively roomy in the rear seat) new sedan, the littlest Ford (for now) is measurably better than before. Rayong, one Saarlouis, null.

And then there’s the driveability of the auto. Gone is the breathless 1.4-litre four-speed auto combo, replaced by a six-speed DSG-style dual-clutch gearbox Ford optimistically calls ‘Powershift’.

But why isn’t this available with the TDCi diesel? And where’s the ‘Tiptronic' tyle manual shift gate? At least the company could have fitted steering wheel paddles, for the keener driver might feel that there isn’t enough control with the trannie left in ‘D’.

Yet it is much, much better than any other auto this side of a Polo DSG, shifting smoothly with effortless response, and comes with handy tech like Hill Start Assist and idle disengage. It’s just that Powershift doesn’t feel sporty like a dual-clutch gearbox. As a whole though, the auto gains another win. Rayong, two Saarlouis, still zero.

Moving on to the Zetec, Ford has sharpened the suspension and played with the springs and dampers, so the sportiest Fiesta until the ST/XR4 Turbo arrives finally lives up to the striking styling.

Fulsome steering, responsive handling, great roadholding, impressive body control, supple ride... Audi and VW really ought to sample one of these gems before they foist the next A1 and Polo GTI upon us! There’s an old-school French pliancy to the Ford’s undercarriage. Rayong, three Saarlouis, nil.

Finally, there’s the diesel. What an engine! In the Econetic with its skinny tyres, funny gear ratios and lack of proper refinement the engines sounds noisy and a tad strained. But in the TDCi this powerplant shines for its quiet operation, deep well of easily accessible torque, sensible gearing and overall integration.

In the LX this engine shines, but in the Zetec the TDCi it is best in class, since the chassis can – and does – easily cope with all that extra torque.

We’re already big fans of the regular 1.6 petrol engine, but this 1.6 diesel would give the impressive new BMW-engined Mini D a real run for its money. Rayong, four Saarlouis... sorry, you lose again.

So there you have it, a Fiesta that is quieter, better driving, more generously equipped and more accommodating of different needs and desires.

Yes, we miss the now-discontinued three-door hatch version and hope Ford wakes up to itself and reinstates that missing telescopic steering column, but other than these and the other aforementioned grumblings, we think that the new Thai Fiesta is a lightweight knockout dynamo.

German engineering, Asian precision, Free Trade Agreement pricing – this car really does live up to its name.

Festiva fears are gone. Don’t just blindly buy a Polo or any other supermini without checking the Fiesta out first!

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