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First drive: Ford's Thai Fiesta hits a home run

Blue Oval baby: New Fiesta sedan is expected to attract one-fifth of sales.

New sedan, diesel and Powershift models headline Ford's more advanced Thai Fiesta

8 Dec 2010

FORD Australia’s fresh Thai Fiesta range is an evolutionary development of the feisty German light-car, featuring a number of improvements that will soon be adopted by the Saarlouis plant for European market models.

Instead of unravelling the smallest Ford’s reputation for athletic steering and handling with the shift in production for Australia, Ford’s global integration team in Germany applied a number of key body and chassis upgrades to the already accomplished WS Fiesta, which was designed and engineered in Germany but now makes way here for the revised and rejuvenated WT Fiesta range from Thailand.

These include more soundproofing, quieter (Continental) tyres, better door seals, a stiffer body and significantly more rigid mountings for the twist-beam rear suspension, improving handling and – according to Ford - reducing wind noise by up to 40 per cent while slashing road noise, vibration and harshness by up to one decibel.

More up-to-date electronic stability control (ESP) and upgraded electric power steering systems have also been introduced, the latter now offering both more torque assistance at parking speeds for lighter steering and less help at higher velocities for a weightier feel.

Ford has also fettled the Fiesta’s suspension, changing the springs and dampers on the non-Zetec models to offer a “plusher” ride without, says Ford, sacrificing handling prowess.

“AAT (Auto Alliance Thailand) Fiesta has the European dynamics of the German vehicle,” said Ford Asia/Pacific and Africa B-car vehicle integration chief Stefan Muenzinger.

As we reported at the WT Fiesta’s international launch in Thailand last August, Ford Australia believes improvements in refinement, comfort, convenience and driveability will allow it to capitalise on the momentum of the WS.

27 center imageRepresenting the first ever Ford of this shape in this class, there is also a B409 four-door sedan to sell alongside the B299 hatch, designed to persuade folk from plonking for a Honda City, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio, Holden Barina, Mazda2 or Nissan Tiida sedan instead – and a 430-litre boot capacity may help its cause.

Unfortunately, however, the racy three-door Fiesta is not produced in Thailand, so it’s bye-bye – at least, perhaps, until the XR4 Turbo lobs.

All Fiestas now come fitted with ESP (which was previously only standard in the Zetec), along with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and emergency brake-force distribution (EBD).

Only the base CL, which opens the 2011 Fiesta range at $16,990 plus on-road costs, misses out on seven airbags – including side curtain/thorax airbags and a driver’s knee device – so has only an ANCAP four-star rating to the other Fiestas’ five-star result. An optional safety pack including these costs $600.

Ford is making a big deal about Bluetooth connectivity with voice control being standard on all Fiestas, along with an aux-in jack connection for personal audio devices.

Other new CL additions include ESP, a driver’s ‘Beltminder’ warning, body-coloured bumpers, six-speaker audio and a sliding drawer under the front passenger seat. These come on top of the standard ABS/EBD brakes, air-conditioning, power front windows and mirrors and remote central locking.

The mid-range WT LX gains these plus all seven airbags, a passenger Beltminder and new alloy wheels, on top of standard WS LX extras like rear power windows and cruise control. It now also offers a TDCi diesel engine option.

Lastly, the WT Zetec builds on these with the sports suspension tuning, different sports seats and a unique front bumper and honeycomb grille treatment.

Visual indicators of the WT include new front bumpers, wheels, colours and trim, but existing WS Fiesta owners will immediately notice what’s missing – a reach-adjustable steering column, rubberised dash-top padding, a manual gearshift mode for the automatic transmission and full-size spare wheel, which has been replaced by a ‘temporary mobility kit’.

However, the plusses in the Oz-bound Fiesta’s shift from Saarlouis to Rayong are manifold, beginning with the adoption of Ford’s six-speed dual-clutch Powershift automatic transmission for the 1.6-litre DOHC 16-valve Ti-VCT four-cylinder petrol engine. The diesels should follow suit sometime in the future.

Displacing the maligned 71kW/125Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine/four-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox combination, it delivers 89kW at 6000rpm and 151Nm at 4050rpm. Also offered in five-speed manual guise (not CL sedan), it sees a 1kW rise and 1Nm fall compared to the WS’ 1.6-litre Ti-VCT unit.

The Fiesta’s combined average fuel consumption figure is 6.1 litres per 100km for either gearbox iterations, representing a 10 per cent improvement over the old 1.4-litre/four-speed auto pairing. At 73kg, Powershift also weighs some 13kg less.

Other interesting transmission titbits include a ‘Grade Assist’ function that reduces gearbox hunting when driving, for example, in hilly terrain a ‘Hill Start Assist’ mode that holds the brakes for a couple of moments to stop the Fiesta rolling forwards or backwards ‘Neutral Idle’ – an economy and emissions-enhancing feature that takes the Powershift out of ‘Drive’ when the car is stationary and a ‘creep’ function that emulates regular torque-converter autos in edging the car forwards when in Drive.

Ford says Powershift is a sealed unit with no maintenance required and falls under Ford’s global durability standards by being designed to operate for 240,000km or 10 years.

Speaking of diesels, the TDCi is very closely related to the 1.6-litre common-rail direct-injection turbo-diesel unit found in the Fiesta Econetic, producing the same 66kW and 200Nm.

But the TDCi lacks its eco-siblings’ lower ride height, slipperier aerodynamics, 14-inch wheels, low-viscosity oils and taller final drive ratio, so it uses 0.7L/100km more diesel (4.4L/100km) compared to Australia’s most economical new car – the Fiesta Econetic, at 3.7L/100km.

To November this year, Fiesta sales are up by 22.7 per cent (9739 compared to 2009’s 7938 tally), but supply constraints from Germany and a start-up delay in Thailand saw supplies all but dry up during the last three months.

Ford hopes to up its light-car segment share from about eight per cent to about 15 per cent - close to the leading Hyundai’s Getz’s 16.1 per cent (19,970) during 2011 – with the new sedan and TDCi models each accounting for about 20 per cent of all WT Fiesta sales respectively.

2011 Ford Fiesta pricing:
CL (a)$18,990
LX (a)$20,990
LX diesel$21,490
Zetec (a)$22,990
Zetec diesel$23,490
CL (a)$18,990
LX (a)$20,990
LX diesel$21,490

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