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First drive: New Fiesta is Ford’s comeback kid

Light might: New Fiesta offers class-leading dynamics and sharp pricing.

All guns blazing, Ford Australia hits back with its all-new global B-segment hatch

15 Dec 2008

UNDERLINED by its international ‘This Is Now’ ad campaign, Ford Australia believes the new WS-series Fiesta is the right light-car in the right place at the right time. Presented to the Australian media in Adelaide last week, but not slated for sale until late January, the German-built hatchback range arrives just three months after its global debut in Europe.

Prices kick off from $15,750 for the base Fiesta CL, culminating (for now) in the $20,990 Zetec. Choosing an automatic adds $1500, while adding two more doors to the CL and Zetec costs another $740.

Developed under the ‘One Ford’ regime that aims to slash inefficiencies and streamline global model line-ups, this fourth-generation “Mark Six” Fiesta’s mission is to turn Ford around – and fast.

That is why the baby Ford is in Australia in record time, aggressively priced, brashly styled and lavishly equipped with multimedia connectivity and excellent crash-test results to impress younger buyers and the older demographic alike.

No light-car available in Australia right now can be had with the combination of stability control, MP3, Bluetooth and voice-control connectivity, cruise control and a five-star Euro NCAP adult occupant safety rating (safety pack models only).

Currently, the Fiesta also leads in ENCAP child safety (four stars) and is pedestrian-impact competitive (three stars), thanks to an energy-absorbent front bumper, a specially designed bonnet and the careful rearrangement of likely engine-bay hard-points.

However, unlike its DE-series Mazda2 cousin with which it shares around 50 per cent of parts, the Fiesta forgoes curtain airbags head and thorax-protecting side airbags are for the front occupants only, as are whiplash-reducing and anti-submarining seats and a special carpet underlay designed to lessen lower-leg injuries.

Mirroring the Mazda, though, the Ford is lighter than its predecessor, by approximately 40kg.

This has been achieved through the adoption of a lighter body structure employing high-strength and ultra high-strength steels – with a welcome 10 per cent torsion stiffness increase to boot.

Particular attention has been paid to beefing up the A and B-pillars, rocker panels, rocker baffles, side roof arch, lower A-pillar area and floor pan.

The mass exodus has allowed Ford to fit around 5kg of extra sound deadening, along with double door seals, fully encapsulated glass, and a secondary bulkhead barrier, in order to quell road and mechanical noise intrusion into the cabin.

Cutting wind noise was a further priority, with detailed work in this area carried out at component level in order to create a quieter car “…even before the first prototype was built,” according to Ford.

The company says the Fiesta achieves class-best front-seat articulation indexation, with rear-sited passengers able to experience easily audible conversation with the people in front.

Reducing weight also means that while power and torque outputs rise in the manual-only 1.6-litre models, fuel consumption and carbon dioxide figures fall.

And although the automatic-only 1.4-litre WS Fiesta is not as powerful as the old 1.6-litre WQ auto, it too is significantly more economical and less polluting, as Ford strives to slash European consumer-penalising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Furthermore, our Fiesta will come out of Ford’s 100 per cent renewable-energy Cologne factory initially, before switching to the joint Ford/Mazda plant in Thailand from about 2010.

It will also be built on three other continents and available on five, with the floundering United States market getting its first taste of a B-segment Ford in three decades.

Ford Australia president and former global small-car line director Marin Burela said this Fiesta is the most significant vehicle for Ford since the Model T commenced mobilising the world 100 years ago.

To aid the new Fiesta’s global reach, more body styles are on their way, including the recently unveiled four-door sedan and a tall wagon-esque mini-MPV that is expected to be called the B-Max, but for now the WS line-up in Australia is a hatch-only proposition. Compared to its WQ predecessor, the base CL in three and five-door guises is the new LX, the five-door-only LX is the new Ghia and the Zetec continues to be the saucy Fiesta, whether it comes as a manual-only three-door or manual-or-auto five-door.

No XR4 or ST version has been announced as yet, but you can bet that small-capacity forced-induction Fiestas will be on their way in the not-too-distant future.

Key length/width/height/wheelbase dimensions of 3950/1722/1481/2489mm mean the WS is around the same size as the WQ model (3924/1685/1468/2486mm).

Styled under the watchful eye of ex-Audi designer Martin Smith (whose credits also include the acclaimed 1991 Audi Avus Quattro concept and current-generation Opel/Vauxhall/Holden Astra), the Fiesta is charged with visually enticing its way onto light-car buyers’ consideration lists.

To that end, it features Ford’s Kinetic design language as introduced in production vehicles by the current Mondeo mid-sizer, espousing a gaping air-intake, setback headlights, large wheel-arches, a coupe-esque wedge profile, chamfered rear window and raised tail-lights – all of which is in stark contrast to the preceding Fiesta’s boxy, Teutonic, visage.

The same is true inside, where an organic symmetry, soft surfaces and an eclectic use of trim and colour replace the hard if functional edges of the old car.

Ford says it was inspired by mobile telephones and personal music players, and introduces a new level of interactivity and functionality to this class of car coined the Human Machine Interface (HMI).

This includes a high-mounted screen that is sited above the audio and communication controls, which are laid out like “good portable electronic designs” for younger/technophile people to identify with.

The instruments are bright and ‘binocular-shaped’ and are easily seen through a steering wheel that – on most models – contains all the essential remote switches as well as cruise control functions.

27 center imageDiffering from the old model inside is the 30mm-lower seating position, a driver’s seat that adjusts up and down by 55mm as well as 286mm fore and aft for improved accommodation, the implementation of a driver’s left footrest, a tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel (that is now set at a less acute angle), a higher instrument panel and a 20mm higher gear lever.

All aim to ensconce individuals ranging from the 2.5 percentile female to the 97.5 percentile male, while creating a cosier ‘cockpit’ feel.

Front legroom is up by 11mm to a class-leading 1069mm front shoulder space is rated at 1350mm and front headroom is 991mm, while there is 953mm of clearance for rear-seat heads despite the swoopy styling, plus 1297mm for shoulders and 823mm for legs.

Cargo area capacity climbs from 281 litres to 965 litres when the split/folding rear seats are down.

Ford has also introduced a number of colour and trim combinations depending on which Fiesta variant is chosen, while the use of ambient lighting further strives to emulate premium electronic devices.

Electronics have also found their way into the steering set-up, resulting in Ford of Europe’s first wholly electronic-powered steering system dubbed E-PAS.

A rack-and-pinion design, E-PAS reduces low-speed effort while maintaining the weightier feel of the hydraulic set-up of the old Fiesta, Ford claims. It also cuts out when not needed to save fuel and cut CO2 emissions.

A speed sensor controls this, while a reduced steering ratio from 15:1 to 14.25:1 aids responsiveness and allows for a competitive 10.2-metre turning circle.

The E-PAS move marks a seachange for Ford, which previously resisted similar set-ups in the name of the kind of dynamic agility and feel offered by an electro-hydraulic system as found in the current-generation Focus.

“(Yet) people kept telling us they love the finger-light steering feel of the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz,” stated Ford’s import product marketing manager, Jogi Shetti.

Ford says it covered over 50,000km of E-PAS-related testing and fine-tuning, on roads as disparate as “…narrow city streets to twisty country roads”.

While the “B299 project” architecture is fresh, the segment-norm MacPherson strut front and twist-beam rear suspension design is an evolution of the old car’s system, but has been completely reworked – as well as pared down in weight – for the latest Fiesta.

The twist-beam, for instance, is 28 per cent thicker in diameter and a 3mm front anti-roll bar thickness increase has also been administered for more agile handling, while a larger twist-beam pivot bush helps to better-absorb bumps for improved refinement.

Cost and packaging-related space constraints precluded a multi-link independent design that underpins many larger models such as the Focus, Mondeo, Falcon and Territory – yet Ford claims the Fiesta twist-beam’s level of controllability and ride comfort is comparable.

Unfortunately for fast-Ford aficionados, the harder European Zetec suspension tune – with its firmer dampers and thicker anti-roll bars – has been rejected for Australian Zetec models on the grounds of simplicity this means all local Fiestas will run the same (albeit European-spec) standard suspension tune.

‘Our’ Zetec, by the way, is an amalgam of the European Titanium model, since its mechanical package more closely aligned with Ford Australia’s needs.

The ventilated front brake discs are 258mm in diameter by 23mm thick, while 200x40mm wide drums reside at the back, and are backed up by an anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) as standard.

Among the driver aids is electronic stability control (ESC), known as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) in Ford-speak. Along with traction control, emergency brake assist (EBA), side airbags and a driver’s knee airbag, it is standard on Zetec models but part of a $1000 safety pack option on all other Fiestas.

Ford tuned its DSC to be “…non-intrusive during spirited driving but to provide crucial protection should the situation require it, something which required careful, detailed development work.”

Frustratingly, the Australian drive launch of the Fiesta precluded the 1.4-litre automatic-only engine derivatives that are expected to account for at least 45 per cent of all sales.

The alternative, a 1596cc (1.6-litre) DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder Duratec petrol engine, is new to Australia, and is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox at present.

It possesses twin independent variable cam timing known as Ti-VCT, which operates on both the intake and exhaust camshaft, to help deliver 88kW of power at 6000rpm (with 85 per cent available between 2000 and 6000rpm) and 152Nm of torque on tap from 4050rpm.

These are up from the WQ Fiesta 1.6’s 74kW at 6000rpm and 146Nm at 4000rpm respectively.

Euro 4 emissions-rated, the new unit returns 6.1 litres per 100km and 143 grams of CO2 emissions, compared to its predecessor’s 6.6L/100km and 156g/km outputs.

Meanwhile, the four-speed automatic gearbox is paired to another fresh powerplant to Australia – Ford’s 1388cc 1.4-litre DOHC 16-valve four producing 71kW at 5750rpm (down 3kW) and 128Nm at 4200rpm (18Nm below before).

At least it’s greener, recording 6.9 instead of 7.5L/100km and 164 instead of 177g/km, as the company recognises that key European markets are now taxing owners according to their CO2 outputs.

A 1.4-litre TDCi turbo-diesel engine may be released sometime in the future (“I’d love to have it on sale in Australia,” opined Mr Shetti), but the $3000-plus premium this would incur eliminates it from Australia for the time being.

Ford may be stalling the diesel, but the Fiesta’s new anti-stall engine software is already here, and is aimed at luring novice drivers who prefer to change gears themselves.

A total of 3.5 million kilometres of on-road testing was carried out, with 41 prototypes accumulating up to 45,000km per vehicle every eight weeks on public roads.

Others included 550 component and system-level lab tests for durability, functionality, serviceability and degradation over a vehicle’s lifetime, as well as 300,000 operations for doors, tailgate and bonnet life tests in real-world environmental conditions featuring dirt, dust salt, humidity and temperatures varying from -40 to 80 degrees Celsius.

This car has been engineered and tested for a life of at least 240,000km or 10 years, the company states, adding that this is the same standard achieved for the Focus and Mondeo.

Besides Germany and Thailand, the new Fiesta will also be built in Spain, China and the Americas.

All Fiestas are equipped with a multiplex electrical system incorporating a trio of CAN-Bus networks to look after driveability and safety (ABS, DSC, E-PAS, airbags and transmission), ‘upper body control systems’ such as the automatic temperature control devices and the HMI media and audio features.

A capless fuel filling system is another Fiesta innovation that follows in the tyre treads of the Mondeo, while the Zetec model benefits from high-intensity projector-beam headlights for better night-time vision.

All models come standard with ABS and EBD, dual front airbags, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking and a CD/AM/FM sound system with MP3 input jack.

The LX adds the five-door body as standard, plus cruise control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, Bluetooth with voice control, a trip computer and 15-inch alloy wheels, while the Zetec has all the safety gear (DSC, EBA, side and knee airbags) plus 16-inch alloy wheels, a perimeter alarm and a body kit – among other items.

Tyre choices are 195/50 R15 on steel rims (CL), 195/50 R15H with alloys (LX) and 195/45 R16 with alloys (Zetec), while all versions come with a 175/65 R14 temporary spare wheel.

Of the 11 exterior colours on offer, the European ‘Magenta’ hero hue (as seen on the Verve concept cars that previewed the B299) is not yet available in Australia as it is only a base-model colour. However, Ford is working on bringing this in.

More importantly, Ford hopes to improve on the 500 or so WQ Fiesta vehicles it sells in Australia each month as the WS Fiesta takes on the Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and other Euro imports such as the VW Polo and Peugeot 207.

Around 45 per cent of sales are expected to be CL models, followed in popularity by the LX at 35 per cent and the Zetec at 20 per cent. Manuals should narrowly outsell automatic models, says Ford.

But the real chance for success against cheaper rivals such as the Hyundai Getz and Holden Barina arrives when Fiesta sourcing switches from Germany to Thailand in 2010.

Since the original Fiesta was launched in Europe in 1976, some 12 million have been sold worldwide.

Generational changes occurred in 1989 (MkII) and 2002 (MkIII), with Australians having to wait until 2004 before the latter took over from the unsuccessful Ka and Ford Australia’s first modern B-segment vehicle in the Mazda 121-based WA Festiva launched in 1991.

So far about 26,000 WP and WQ Fiestas have found homes in Australia.

2009 Ford Fiesta pricing:
Fiesta CL 1.6 3-dr $15,750
Fiesta CL 1.4 3-dr (a) $17,250
Fiesta CL 1.6 5-dr $16,490
Fiesta CL 1.4 5-dr (a) $17,990
Fiesta LX 1.6 5-dr $18,490
Fiesta LX 1.4 5-dr (a) $19,990
Fiesta Zetec 1.6 3-dr $20,250
Fiesta Zetec 1.6 5-dr $20,990
Fiesta Zetec 1.4 5-dr (a) $22,490

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