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We drive the new Ford Fiesta

2008-09-11 07:59
Ford Fiesta

The new Ford Fiesta is due to arrive in South Africa in October.

Pierre Steyn

For us South Africans and motorists in 49 other countries, the new Ford Fiesta is just the latest incarnation of a small, fun car that’s sold 12 million units since its launch way back in 1976.

But for the Ford Motor Company this little car is huge. Why? Because it’s going to be launched into the US, the world’s largest car market, for the first time to turn it into a true “world car”.

As punch drunk American consumers shun their thirsty pick-ups for small Toyota Yarisses and Honda Fits (we call them Jazzes), Ford has turned to its European division for an answer in the shape of competitive small car.

This is the reason we’re in Italy with a truck load of sceptical American motoring writers to sample the best that Ford Europe has to offer.

If the Yanks don’t like the new Fiesta, they deserve to drive lumbering F150s until all their fuel runs out.

This is a seriously good little car, which we reverently hope turns the US market into a small car market because if their fuel runs out, ours is gone as well.

But let’s forget about the Yanks for a moment and concentrate on the car. We’ll be the first market outside of Europe to get the new Fiesta, with its local launch midway through October.

The current engine line-up of a 1.4-litre petrol, a 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre diesel continues, with all three models available in a 5-door and 3-door hatch.

Three different trim levels (entry level Ambiente, mid level Trend and high spec Titanium) will be on offer. There’s even talk of the Fiesta sedan (aimed squarely at the Americans) that could join our local line-up later.

Verve concept

On the cosmetic front the new Fiesta looks a lot better than the current model, not at all far removed from the Verve concept Ford teased us with at Frankfurt last year.

It’s the same design DNA found in the European Mondeo and the new Kuga – think strong shoulders, big, gaping radiator grille and multi-dimensional surfacing. It boils down to a stylish and good looking car.

The interior is quite funky too with the centre console inspired by the buttons on cell phone to appeal to the younger market. It comes equipped with all the necessary sockets for iPods and USB sticks.

The dashboard is covered in soft touch material, the seats in tough durable fabric. Some of the colourful trim options might scare the older customers, but they can always opt for conservative greys or blacks.

Seating in the front is very comfortable, even for big adults, and adequate in the back where a 6-footer will find his legroom compromised. This is supposed to be a small car after all, although you wouldn’t necessarily notice it if you’re the one behind the wheel.

It’s more of the same once you’ve turned the key. It drives like a bigger car, with surprising ride comfort at high-speed on highways.

There’s very little wind noise, with the MacPherson struts up front and the torsion beam at the back soaking up the bumps and undulations with ease.

But it loses none of its small car agility when it comes to the dynamic stuff. This is where the Fiesta has always done well, and the new one doesn’t disappoint either.

Mazda2 genes

Even though the new car is almost identical in size to the current Fiesta, it’s 40kg lighter. It seems the Ford engineers borrowed heavily from the Mazda2, with which it shares 50% of its below-the-skin parts, to accomplish this.

The current car’s hydraulic rack and pinion steering is replaced by an all-electric system, which will have the enthusiasts worried since the old car’s steering was one of its best features.

The new steering isn’t bad though, light and quick at low speed with good accurate feedback at higher speeds.

The smooth shifting five-speed transmission, coupled to the petrol and diesel 1.6-litre engines we drove in Italy, made for an enjoyable and fun drive.

The petrol’s probably the pick of the two, a free revving 88kW motor with 152Nm of torque on tap. Ford claims it will do 0 to 100km/h in less than 10 seconds.

It’s a good, quality package and if Ford can bring it in at Mazda2 prices as is their stated aim, it should do well.

You can read the exclusive story on Ford’s amazing Focus RS in the current September issue of topCar, and you can look forward to an in-depth analysis of the Fiesta, and Ford’s latest Euro models like the Kuga and Focus, in the November edition of topCar – on sale from October 20th.

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