FIESTA COMES CLEAN
DIESEL ENGINE AND TWIN-CLUTCH AUTO FOR FORD’S SMALL CAR
GETTING into a small car has never been so difficult nor so rewarding. The good news is that the light and small-car segments are now red-hot with value. The bad news is that you have to choose which one suits you best.
And the task has become harder as Ford unveils its nine-car Fiesta range that is jampacked with models that are great drives, great value and good to look at.
There are choices of diesel and petrol and sedans and hatchbacks. On offer are a five-speed manual and a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The new auto replaces the previous fourspeed unit that was available only with a 1.4-litre engine.
And just quietly, there’s room for an XR4 model in the future.
PRICES start from as low as $16,990 (CL petrol manual hatch) and climb through the list to the specialised — and very popular — ECOnetic diesel hatch that costs $24,990 and remains Australia’s most economical car.
In between you can have the mid-range LX in either automatic or manual, and diesel or petrol, from $18,990 to $21,490, and the sports-oriented Zetec that officially arrives here next month and is very appealing at $20,990-$23,490.
Ford says pricing is on par with the outgoing models, yet extra kit is valued at $600-$1000, indicating how competitive the baby-car market has become and how serious Ford is to climb back up the sales ladder.
STANDARD equipment includes electronic stability control that’s linked to traction control and electronic brake assist.
The base model CL has two airbags but the other models have seven. Ford says the optional safety pack that restores seven bags in the CL costs $600 and lifts its ANCAP crash rating from four to five stars.
However, Ford has taken away the spare wheel. All Fiestas, now built in Thailand after the change from Germany, have an aerosol ‘‘mobility kit’’ in the boot’s vacant wheel well. A spare wheel is an option.
‘‘It’s one of the trade-offs,’’ says Ford Australia general marketing manager David Katic. ‘‘We’ve chosen deleting that ahead of adding features, such as ESC and Bluetooth, for example, which buyers want ahead of a spare wheel.’’
IN THE move from Germany to Thailand, the small car has had a big increase in noise reduction, a factor of concern in the previous model.
It gets substantial underbody sound dampening which, combined with improvements to the suspension, give the Fiesta a level of ride and comfort above its class.
The engine line up is an 88kW/151Nm 1.6-litre petrol and 66kW/200Nm 1.6-litre turbo-diesel rated at 6.1 litres/100km and 4.4 l/100km respectively.
The six-speed dual-clutch automatic is available only in the petrol models.
Ford says ‘‘we’re working on’’ an auto-diesel combo but there’s a lot of resistance from the drivetrain suppliers in Europe.
FORD won’t talk sales numbers with the new Fiesta, but it expects a healthy rise in interest.
The sales split is expected to be 20 per cent sedan and 80 per cent hatch, with an overall 15 per cent swing to diesel. ‘‘This is a car that will change people’s perceptions of Ford,’’ says Katic. ‘‘We are seen as a big-car company. This Fiesta will bring a lot of people into Ford showrooms.’’
REFINEMENT is a word used to describe gentlemen’s etiquette, not usually light-car handling and ride comfort, yet the Ford Fiesta manages to add the word to its vocabulary.
And it did it on a day when storms pummeled the hills of Adelaide and rain blinded the driver’s view and made the little Fiesta fight for traction. But what a little hero.
Over debris and flooding that coursed over the twisting roads, the Fiesta handled itself brilliantly and rose above the ranks of many of its rivals. But it isn’t all highlights for the Fiesta. It makes a lot of difference which Fiesta model you choose to drive.
There isn’t much between the sedan and the hatchback, perhaps the small extra weight making the sedan’s tail sit better and the su- perior rigidity of the three-box design helping handling. But there is a big gap in the diesel and petrol. Though smooth and quiet, the 1.6-litre petrol is gasping on the hills. It is very rewarding in the mid-range of the tachometer but feels weak below 2000rpm and breathless above 5000rpm.
That is fine in the five-speed manual version, but even the lauded six-speed dual-clutch automatic has problems getting hold of the powerband and then placing it on the road.
For general driving, the Fiesta petrol auto is fine, but push it a bit and it feels lacklustre.
The diesel, by comparison, is sparkling. Also 1.6 litres in capacity, it is down on power (66kW to 89kW) but stronger on torque with 200Nm
against the petrol’s 151Nm. And it is delivered much lower in the rev range.
That translates into a car with manual transmission being such a fun ride. The flexibility of the diesel engine means it can be left in second or third for the really tight stuff, then pulled up to fourth and fifth as the road straightens.
THE basic Fiesta that was first introduced in January 2009 remains. But in the move this month to the Thailand plant, changes were made to key areas of sound deadening.
That, combined with the new diesel-dual clutch auto drivetrain option, creates a light car with small to mid-size ambitions and refinement.
It rides with surprising compliance. Noise from the suspension and tyres is low.
Even the electric-assist power steering is responsive and not overly vague.
The CL and LX models get standard suspension and seats while the Zetec model — on test here but not in showrooms until early next year — has sports suspension ( tighter springs, retuned steering rack and 195/50R16 tyres) and front seats with more side bolsters to enhance the ability of the Fiesta’s chassis.
The Zetec does this without compromising the ride qualities and, as such, deserves attention by buyers who enjoy driving.
In fact, the best model of the range is the diesel-manual Zetec ($23,490) or the LX sedan diesel-manual ($21,490). Such a shame the diesel can’t be mated to the dual-clutch auto.
Shoo-in: a nifty drawer under a seat gives the new Fiesta more storage space.