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First Oz drive: Fiesta a baby boomer for Ford

Standing tall: Fiesta, the smallest Ford, has an impressive big-car feel.

Five seats, five doors and automatic transmission add to the allure of Fiesta

23 Feb 2004

KEEN pricing, European design, German build and engineering, and driver appeal should help the new Fiesta crack the light car class for Ford.

But more importantly, the availability of an automatic gearbox, five seats and five doors will probably help seal an altogether more successful fate for the Fiesta than that of its hapless three-door four-seat five-speed manual-only Ka predecessor.

Already two years old abroad, the Fiesta goes on sale locally in early April in four guises – LX three-door, LX five-door, Zetec three-door and Ghia five-door.

At $14,490 for the base LX three-door five-speed manual hatchback, the Fiesta’s focus is to put Ford firmly back on light car shopping lists. The five-door LX sets the shopper back another $1500.

Every Fiesta features dual front airbags, keyless entry, power steering, electric front windows and mirrors, a CD player, body coloured bumpers and 15-inch wheels.

But on the LX air-conditioning is $2000 extra. The Zetec and Ghia get it as standard.

The automatic adds another $3000 to the LX, but it does include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution. ABS is unavailable on the manual LX.

On Fiestas already specified with ABS (the sporty $18,990 Zetec three-door and luxury $21,490 Ghia five-door), the automatic is a still hefty $2300 option.

Side and curtain airbags are a $900 option on the Ghia, while cruise control is unavailable.

Much of the Fiesta’s underpinnings are light car class conventional, with front-wheel drive, powered rack and pinion steering and strut-front and torsion-beam rear suspension. Notably, though, the throttle is a drive-by-wire cableless system.

The Aussie-bound Fiesta’s elephantine gestation period was due to availability of an appropriately powerful four-cylinder engine and conventional automatic gearbox.

27 center image A new 1.6-litre twin cam 16-valve Duratec four-cylinder engine (running on a high 11:1 compression ratio for optimum efficiency says Ford) provides motivation, and the four-speed automatic gearbox features computerisation that can select the most suitable gearing according to the prevailing conditions.

The former was engineered with Australian driving styles in mind (we prefer performance over parsimony even in our least pricey powerplants), while the latter – deemed essential in a segment where automatics account for half of all sales here and virtually all in Japan – makes its world debut here concurrently with Europe. On the recommended 95 RON premium unleaded fuel, maximum power is 74kW at 6000rpm while the 146Nm torque top is turned out at 4000rpm. Standard unleaded fuel is also fine, but at a small slide in performance and economy. Ford says the Fiesta’s Australian acclimatisation program, which began three years ago, included a pair of automatic prototypes driven from Melbourne to Port Hedland in Western Australia and back before being shipped to Europe and stripped for defects.

It also involved heavy testing in Sydney’s inner-city traffic.

With its snaky streets, steep hills, searing heat, heavy humidity, imperfect roads and constant stop/start traffic, the NSW capital has a global reputation for being super tough on cars.

Larger standard wheels (15-inch instead of 14s) are an upshot, although the spare is a limited-use space-saver.

The Fiesta is fighting for 400 sales per month.

Within its light-car confines, the Fiesta eschews its Festiva predecessor’s low-price positioning (accounting for 37 per cent of total segment sales – a big fall from the heady “$13,990 driveaway days of 1998), so the Hyundai Getz has at least one less thing to worry about.

Ford is instead aiming it for the mushrooming (56 per cent) mainstream movers like the Toyota Echo, Mazda 2 and Honda Jazz, as well as the ageing Holden Barina and this year’s new Mitsubishi Mirage/Colt.


It has been four years since Australia’s number three car-maker has had adequate representation in the light car field

Around 60 per cent of Fiesta sales are expected to be the LX the Zetec is slated for a 30 per cent slice while one in 10 out the door should be a Ghia.

Posher Fiestas will compete with the premium ($20,000-plus) VW Polo, Renault Clio, Peugeot 206 and Citroen C3 – which only account for about seven per cent of baby sales.

To get the message out, Ford has been preparing the public since last October’s Sydney motor show with cinematic and music venue sponsorships, a text-messaging campaign and 310 demonstrators arriving now across 85 per cent of dealers Australia-wide.

So will the Fiesta cannibalise sales of the yet-to-fully-fire Focus? Ford admits it may be inevitable, but is also confident that the increased traffic flow into dealers will better expose the Focus to potential buyers. Similarly, the release of a new, cheaper Escape 2.3 model should also help both small Fords.

It has been four years since Australia’s number three car-maker has had adequate representation in the light car field.

Even though it is replacing the now discontinued Ka in Ford’s line-up, the Fiesta is really the very late replacement for the Festiva – the South Korean Kia-built hatchback sold locally from 1991 to 1994 (WA series) and 1994 to 2000 (WB-F). Ford will not import the Fusion, an oddball Fiesta-based five-door wagon in the now dead high-riding Honda HR-V mould, but with no four-wheel drive option.

Ford also never considered using the established Festiva name for the Fiesta.

According to Ford’s director of product and business planning, Don Pearce, the Fiesta sounds very related to Festiva anyway. Ford expects people will easily make the connection that Fiesta is a small Ford.

The Fiesta may be new to Australia, but it has spanned three generations over 28 years in Europe and South America.

The original Mk1 “bobcat” model of 1976 was Ford’s first front-wheel drive hatchback. As its three-door only configuration confirmed, the Fiesta was aimed squarely at the fledgling light car class defined by the original Honda Civic, Renault 5 and Fiat 127.

Its 1989 Mk2 successor introduced a five-door option. However, that generation Fiesta was a victim of its own success, as Ford procrastinated for years over a successor, with only two (albeit thorough) facelifts in 1995 and 1999 to last it through to 2002.

The last Fiesta also spawned the sub-B segment Ka from 1996, the 1997 to 2001 Puma (a Europe-only) low-volume three-door coupe and the Indian-built Ikon four-door sedan, produced since 1999.

The Ikon’s replacement is also expected to be Fiesta-based, but on the current Mk3 model. Although there is believed to be very significant design and engineering input from Ford Australia, nobody is confirming this.

PRICING
Ford Fiesta LX 3-dr $14,490
Ford Fiesta LX 3-dr auto $17,490
Ford Fiesta LX 5-dr $15,990
Ford Fiesta LX 5-dr auto $18,990
Ford Fiesta Zetec 3-dr $18,990
Ford Fiesta Zetec 3-dr auto $21,020
Ford Fiesta Ghia 5-dr $21,990
Ford Fiesta Ghia 5-dr auto $24,020

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

AMONG keen drivers, the Fiesta’s predecessor – the Ka – was a cracker, with its chatty steering, fluid handling and supple ride qualities.

It was also individual, nicely kitted and cheap to run. But for most baby car buyers, the offbeat Ford was just too off-beam, with no auto, too few doors and kooky styling. Understandably then, the new Fiesta is serious, conservative and complete.

Ford doesn’t need to remind us of its German heritage. No-nonsense styling featuring geometric forms says it all - apart from the Fiesta’s cheery face, although folk hoping for Focus-like flair will frown. Nevertheless, it’s still a spunky car.

And that, along with some slight wind noise at speed, the lack of cabin grab handles and no cruise control, are about all that’s not quite right with the Fiesta, sampled over a few hundred kilometres in and around Sydney last week.

The smallest Ford has an impressive big-car feel. Whether it be in tight city streets, zig-zagging country roads or on Highway 31, there’s a deep level of refinement you just don’t expect from cars in this class.

Ford is currently on quite a roll with its dynamic prowess and the Fiesta doesn’t disappoint here either. While not quite Focus-like in its ride suppleness or steering fluency, not even the sassy Mazda 2 can entertain like the Fiesta can.

Drivers of the horrible 1990s Festiva will think the Fiesta is from some distant Utopian future.

After the flak the Focus’ base engines have copped for their lack of spirit, the 74kW 1.6 Fiesta engine is well up to the task, providing enough punchy performance to keep the Ford up among the class front-runners.

And while nobody should have any concern over the five-speed manual’s slick operation, the new four-speed automatic may even be more preferable.


The Fiesta seems to have no real drawbacks, while its strengths are truly its own

The willing tranny is all about unobtrusive changes, intelligent gearing through a wide arc of driving conditions and instant response. It may be the most pleasurable auto this side of Honda’s superb CVT. I guess it should be, at that eye-watering $3000 premium.

Inside there’s a slight dourness to the design and decor, although function and taste live here unimpeded. There are no quibbles about space, comfort or useability either, but you’re unlikely to get excited. The Jazz creams it for both function and flair.

In a crowded segment, the Fiesta seems to have no real drawbacks, while its strengths are truly its own, particularly the way it manages to entertain and cosset the driver.

It out-Germans the Polo, out-points the Peugeot 206, has more beep than the Barina and is cheaper than the Clio. The Fiesta has the Euro rivals licked then.

And the leading Honda and Mazda competition had better batten down their hatchbacks too.

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