DRIV­ING

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - Go to www.cars­guide.com.au for more im­ages of the lat­est Ford Fi­esta

DE­LIV­ER­ING re­fine­ment and a big-car feel in a light car is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. But Ford has man­aged to re­fine the new Fi­esta to a point where it rides like a French car but has the qual­ity, quiet­ness and am­bi­ence of a Ger­man one.

The air of so­phis­ti­ca­tion car­ries over to the cabin, too. The new­est Fi­esta looks and feels more ex­pen­sive than it re­ally is.

The steer­ing is reach and height-ad­justable, which is un­usual in the light-car seg­ment. There is an up-mar­ket look and feel to the switchgear and the over­all in­te­rior feel­ing sug­gests it should be in a seg­ment above.

The seats are sup­port­ive and comfortable, par­tic­u­larly in the Zetec and though you sit some dis­tance from the steeply raked wind­screen, vis­i­bil­ity is ex­cel­lent.

The prom­i­nent C-pil­lars do hin­der over-the-shoul­der rear views, though.

In the cen­tre of the dash, the mo­bile-phone in­spired de­sign works well for the au­dio con­trols. Like­wise, the switchgear for the heat­ing, and other an­cil­lary fea­tures are of a high qual­ity.

That was not al­ways the way with the cur­rent car, which looked and felt a lit­tle un­der­done in the cabin.

On the road, Ford has man­aged to make the Fi­esta smooth and quiet and de­liv­ered a rea­son­ably en­er­getic driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

It may not be as sharp as the cur­rent car, but more buy­ers will ap­pre­ci­ate its higher lev­els of sup­ple­ness and re­fine­ment.

The trade-off in the pre­vi­ous crisp­ness in the chas­sis has been the de­vel­op­ment of a big-car ride.

The elec­tronic power steer­ing is sharp and ac­cu­rate, and Ford’s claims of bet­ter lowspeed ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity and more pre­cise high-speed sta­bil­ity seem on the money.

The five-speed gear­box is slick and the han­dling pre­cise.

The Zetec’s sus­pen­sion, with its slightly sportier tune, could be adopted across the range without com­plaint be­cause it re­mains sup­ple yet al­lows sporty han­dling. It’s that good.

We can only won­der how good the new Fi­esta could be with a 2.0-litre four in XR4 guise . . .

The early pro­duc­tion cars we sam­pled, the Ti­ta­nium five-door and Zetec three­door, had ex­cel­lent fit and fin­ish and there was a pal­pa­ble sense of en­gi­neer­ing in­tegrity in the cars.

The 89kW 1.6-litre four is smooth and revvy. But to get the best out of it lib­eral use of the silky five-speed man­ual is re­quired.

We got 7.8 litres/100km in spir­ited driv­ing on wind­ing roads near Siena. Ford says the 1.6 is good for 5.9 litres com­bined fuel econ­omy.

In­te­rior space up front is good and though rear pas­sen­gers get plenty of head­room, legroom is snug. Boot space is rea­son­ably good.

The only sour note on over­all qual­ity was the ex­posed, black-painted seat­backs, which we sus­pect will scratch eas­ily.

Ford’s McAlary says the com­pany hopes to sell about 600 a month, about the same rate as the cur­rent car.

We sus­pect once word gets out how com­pe­tent the new Fi­esta is, it could chal­lenge the supremacy of the Mazda2, Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Toy­ota Yaris and Hyundai Getz in the sales race.

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