Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ford Fiesta 2008


The Ford Fiesta has long been one of Europe's favourite small cars - a runaway success from first launch in 1976, it defined the then-new so-called 'supermini' sector and more than 12million Fiestas have been sold to date. Ford has high hopes for this new model, on sale in the UK from October 2008: it's going global, from Asia to America.

As ever, there's an extensive range of versions to choose from; petrol engines are the familiar 1.25 and 1.4 or an all-new 120bhp 1.6 Ti-VCT (its name denoting twin independent camshaft timing), and the diesels 1.4 and 1.6 TDCi units, including the specially-modified 1.6 TDCi Econetic, which emits just 98g/km of carbon dioxide and is thus road tax-exempt in the UK.

Trim levels range from entry-level Studio through to sporty Zetec S and with-all-mod-cons Titanium, and there are three- and five-door body-styles.

The new Fiesta is 40kg lighter than the outgoing model, despite extra sound-proofing and added safety features, and this helps to make it much more fun to drive than the rather disappointing outgoing model.

Better-looking, more refined and comfortable, and - crucially, these days - more economical to run, it's a vast improvement, and it sets a new standard for mainstream, low-cost small cars. Low-cost? UK prices start from just £8,695 but this is no more than a headline-grabbing price because it is ridiculously spartan in terms of kit. You'll need to spend around £11k if want a decent amount of equipment but, really, that's not a king's ransom in this sector. Even the 1.6 Zetec S (featuring that superb new 1.6 Ti-VCT engine) is only £12,595.

Reliability and quality

The Ford Fiesta is generally well screwed together, and while this one has a lot of new electronic aids, communications devices and gadgets, none of the tech is all-new to the Ford range. Much of the underpinnings and structural components have already been tried and tested in the closely-related Mazda 2 - or in the latest Focus - and we'd be confident about ongoing reliability. It's built for Europe in Cologne and Valencia, both factories having a good track record.

It's clearly a car developed to a price - cheap touches out of direct eye-line include the hard-plastic central console between the front seats, and the bare-metal rear seat-backs - but the cabin is nicely designed, with some pleasant soft-touch surfaces and decent upholstery. It all looks finished with good attention to detail, too, with impressive touches including multi-layered seals around the windows and doors, and no obvious loose plastic, ragged-edged fabric or wobbly bits.

On the road

Though the Ford Fiesta shares its basic platform with the Mazda 2, the two cars feel quite different due to specific retuning - and the Fiesta's even more fun to drive. Ford has finally managed to transfer the talents of the acclaimed Focus into a smaller package; light weight, low centre of gravity, excellent balance and responsive, much-redesigned suspension with thicker anti-roll bars all make for fine handling. Bring on the Fiesta RS: this car has huge hot-hatch potential.

The new electrical power steering is light but offers enough feedback for accuracy at speed, and its assistance feels neither artificial nor counter-intuitive.

Ford may not yet have confirmed an RS version, but in the meantime, the Zetec S is a (more affordable, everyday) hoot to drive. The 1.6 Ti-VCT engine offers 120bhp, 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 120mph, and while these figures don't sound especially impressive, point-to-point this is a pretty damn quick little thing. The engine is flexible - its 112lb-ft of torque peaks at just over 4000rpm, but it pulls well in all gears and even climbs steep hills in third or fourth - and it sounds great when revved up, yet cruises sweetly and smoothly if you're being less aggressive. The gearbox fitted with this is only a five-speeder, but the ratios are so well-set that a sixth gear isn't necessary.

Likewise the strong, refined 1.6 TDCi (90bhp). It's quiet by any standards let alone those of diesels in this class, and it'll do 0-62mph in 11.9 seconds and 109mph (the economy-modified Econetic will be a little slower, but not by too much). It's an absolute delight to drive, and could convert many a committed petrolhead - read on and check out its economy figures...

We've not driven the other versions yet - 1.25 (60bhp and 80bhp), 1.4 (96bhp) and 1.4 TDCi (68bhp) - but these are carried over from the previous range and should all prove adequate, if not as exciting as the new 1.6s.

New features include a recalibrated electronic throttle and an electronic anti-stall device which anticipates when the driver is about to pull away and primes the engine for a smoother getaway - this'll help learners. Those less concerned about sporty handling can rest assured: the hot-hatch driving dynamics haven't compromised overall ease of operation. You get a good driving position (the seat's multi-way adjustable), good visibility all round, a user-friendly interface for controls and auxilliary functions, and a light clutch to boot.

Safety and Security

This lighter-but-stiffer Ford Fiesta hasn't been through the Euro NCAP crash tests yet, but the structurally-similar Mazda 2 achieved the full five stars for overall adult occupant safety, four for child protection but just two for pedestrian protection. However, NCAP is revising its overall rating system to put greater weight on child and pedestrian protection, and introducing some new tests including whiplash assessment, so we'll have to wait and see if the Fiesta turns up with a five-star score.

It's well-equipped, though: all versions have front, side and new driver's knee-protecting airbags, with full-length head-protecting curtain airbags optional, plus three-point seatbelts for all three rear seats and Isofix child seat mounting points.

The front seatbelts have pre-tensioners and the side airbags cleverly deploy from the seats' side bolsters. And if you should hit an unfortunate bystander, Ford notes that the redesign of items such as bonnet hinges, windscreen wipers and bumpers should help limit the damage. Security devices include an immobiliser and 'smart' key, double locking (except on entry-level Studio models), ID-marked components and, for Zetec S and Titanium-spec models, an alarm.

Running Costs

It won't get much cheaper than this; Ford servicing and maintenance is affordable, insurance groupings are low, and the Fiesta's improved emissions put most models in low tax bandings.

You insurance bill will be low if you opt for a Fiesta: the entry level version 1.25 is in group 1E and even the 1.6 Zetec S will keep your bank manager happy with its group 6 rating.

Headline news on this score is the 1.6 TDCi Econetic, which releases just 98g/km, Band A - free - road tax, and 76.3mpg, thanks to revised gear ratios, lowered suspension and improved aerodynamics, low rolling-resistance tyres and other minor mods (it also has a particulate filter), but the standard 1.6 and 1.4 TDCi still return a very respectable 67.3mpg and 110g/km. The 1.6 Ti-VCT petrol gives 47.9mpg and 139g/km, good considering its performance, the 1.4 and 90bhp 1.25 both do 49.6mpg and 133g/km, and the entry-level 1.25 52.3mpg and 128g/km.

All models include the easy fuel system which means you won't have to shell out for repairs for any misfuelling disasters.

Comfort and Equipment

Ford has done a good job in improving the Fiesta's refinement: not only is the sound-proofing far better than before and the engines less raucous, the ride is smoother. The suspension is stiffly-set, especially in the lower-riding Zetec S, but it has enough 'give' to cope sympathetically with rough road surfaces. Body roll is minimal and there's an absence of jolting, vibration and general all-round harshness.

Though the low roofline - the trade-off for that stylish side profile - means headroom isn't as generous as that in some rivals, all but the tallest of drivers will still be comfortable. The front seats are well-shaped and supportive, even under hard cornering, thanks to generous side bolsters. Rear seats are a little less generous, with short and flat bases, and legroom in the back is rather tight for adults, but access is easy even in the three-door.

Where the Fiesta falls short is in its load-carrying versatility. Though the boot is larger than before (up to 295 litres in models with no spare wheel) it's still not a huge cargo capacity, and the rear seats do not slide, tumble or even fold fully flat. That's quite an oversight in a supermini these days.

Entry-level Studio does without air conditioning or even electric front windows, but have a CD player and central locking. Style spec adds electric front windows, remote central locking, an uprated four-speaker sound system and body-coloured bumpers, mirrors and door handles, and Style+ (from £10,395) brings air con and a heated windscreen.

Zetec models (from £10,995) are expected to be the most popular, with 15" alloy wheels, front fog lamps, leather steering wheel, chrome grille and exterior trim and interior LED lighting; Zetec S versions (from £12,595) have 16" wheels, deeper front bumper, side mouldings, rear spoiler and sports suspension.

You pays yer money and you makes yer choice, but should you really wish to go to town, top-spec Titanium models come with 16" alloys, tinted glass, Bluetooth phone kit cruise control, automatic headlamps and wipers, power-folding mirrors, keyless ignition/start button and the all-important carpet mats. Five-door models have rear electric windows, and options include leather upholstery. All models except the base version have an MP3 socket.

There's a number of different interior finishes to choose from, depending on exterior paint colour. The oxblood red won't be to everyone's tastes, and the blue dash-top looks a bit dated and cheap, but the basic plain black and monochrome interiors are uncontroversial if a bit dull.

Used Value

Always easy to sell on, the popular Ford Fiesta is much-loved by used buyers and while it doesn't hold its value quite as well as the posher Volkswagen Polo, it will net a good return at trade-in time or if disposed of privately.

The diesels will be the most sought-after, but a petrol model with a sensible specification (don't go too mad on the options list) will sell for a respectable price too. A safe bet.

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