FI­ESTA COMES CLEAN

DIESEL EN­GINE AND TWIN-CLUTCH AUTO FOR FORD’S SMALL CAR

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

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.

Value

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.

Safety

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.’’

Technology

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.

Sales

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.’’

Driv­ing

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.

Ver­dict

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.

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