Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ford Fiesta Zetec Review

Ford Fiesta Zetec

Ever wondered what it feels like to be caught with your pants down? It certainly happened to Ford Australia a few years ago when Kia announced it would stop making the Festiva, which it on-sold to Ford. And, no, Ford would not be getting the larger Rio that would replace it because Kia was keeping that for itself.

The decision left Ford searching the world for a new small and cheap entry-level model. Desperation is a word you could use. With sales of its bread-and-butter Falcon slipping with the AU's popularity and nothing to bolster volume at the bottom end, those were dark days indeed for what was once Australia's biggest-selling car company.

What Ford decided on was the European-based Fiesta - close in name to the Festiva, but a completely different car - in a similar way to how it replaced the Japanese Laser with the German Focus. There was also the little Ka, which proved unsatisfactory for its three-door body and lack of an auto option.

This is the first Fiesta we've seen in Australia, despite it being a long-term badge in Europe, and the current car has been out for two years. Ford Australia has used that time to hone the pricing position, with the result being an extremely competitive $14,990 starting point for the base three-door version.

That price-leading LX model comes with dual airbags, a CD player, power front windows and remote locking, but air-conditioning is a pricey $2000 option. It's a similar case in equipment terms for the $15,990 five-door LX.

Sitting a little higher in the range is the Zetec, a slightly sportier model with more equipment. As air-conditioning, alloy wheels and front fog lamps are fitted, it looks like pretty good value at less than $19,000 despite being available only with the three-door body.

The Zetec is powered by the same 1.6-litre, 16-valve engine as all Fiesta models including the more expensive Ghia. It's a slightly bigger unit than in rivals such as the Holden Barina and Toyota Echo, or even the Hyundai Getz, Mazda 2 or Honda Jazz. So its perky outputs of 74kW of power and 146Nm of torque are to be expected, if welcome.

One catch, though, is that those figures are only achieved using more expensive premium unleaded. However, it will cope on regular petrol with a slight power drop.

What is perhaps more surprising is that this is a sweet engine and not like the flat, uninspiring power plants fitted to the larger Focus. It has crisp pulling power from low revs and doesn't mind exploring the upper end of the tachometer. The five-speed manual gearbox has a quick, positive shift via a rather long gear lever. Overall, it's a small car you wouldn't mind driving all day by choice.

There's a bit of engine noise, but it is not unpleasant and levels of road and wind noise are also generally low. The Fiesta works well in the city thanks to its vim, vigour and small body - ideal for picking tight gaps and small parking places - while at higher speeds it is a bit more frenetic because its short fifth gear has the engine spinning at about 3000rpm at 100kmh.

Our Fiesta Zetec came with optional 16-inch wheels, fitted with low-profile tyres. They seem like a good buy for only $900, as the wider rubber fills the guards and gives added grip without adversely affecting ride quality. In fact, the Zetec's ride is one of its best features. Unlike some crashy small-car suspensions, this one seems to have plenty of travel and an ability to soak up some really poor road surfaces.

The steering is very direct and that helps give the handling a responsive, sporty feel. As mentioned, there's plenty of roadholding but the soft ride does come at the expense of body control. Tweak the steering wheel and the front wheels react instantly; the body takes a little longer to settle on the suspension, and it's up to the driver to readjust slightly.

Anti-lock brakes are welcome, and they work well on gravel as well as bitumen.

The Fiesta's styling is heavily based on the so-called "edge" look of the Focus, although softened a little. Inside, there's none of the bigger car's mix of curves and corners. In fact, it's all disappointingly plain with lots of hard, dark plastic and not even padded inserts for the elbow rests. The seats are firm and lacking in lateral support and there's no telescopic adjustment for the steering column.

Other than that, the radio and ventilation controls are easy to use, once the additional stalk for the stereo is deciphered.

The rear seat is relatively easy to access and, once ensconced, two adult passengers will find adequate leg and head room, given the Fiesta's tight external dimensions.

Boot space is neither large nor small. Although the hatch lacks an exterior latch, there's a remote switch on the dashboard and one on the key fob. The split-fold seat doesn't fold flat, and there's a space-saver spare under the floor of the boot.

As a kind of warmed and sporty small hatch, the Fiesta Zetec makes good sense with a fun engine, pleasant styling, a good ride and above-average handling. Better than that, though, you get most of this on the cheaper LX model.

But with keen specification, plenty of enjoyment for the driver and levels of refinement above its station, the Zetec is a winner in its own right.

Ford Fiesta Zetec

How much: $18,990 (manual), $21,290 (auto) plus on-road costs.
Insurance: RACV insurance premium not yet available. Car goes on sale in April.
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Engine: 1.6-litre, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder, 74kW at 6000rpm and 146Nm at 4000rpm (combined).
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Front-wheel-drive.
Steering: Rack and pinion, 2.8 turns lock-to-lock. Turning circle 9.8 metres.
Brakes: Ventilated discs front, drums rear. ABS standard.
Suspension: Front -- independent MacPherson struts with stabiliser bar. Rear -- torsion beam with coil springs and stabiliser bar.
Wheels/tyres: 15 x 6.0-inch alloy wheels, tyres 195/50.
How heavy? 1038kg (manual).
How thirsty? 8.1 L/100km average. Premium unleaded recommended, 45-litre tank.
Equipment: Driver airbag, CD player, remote locking, power windows, alloy wheels, air conditioning.

Interior notes:
. Extra stalk on steering column for audio controls.
. Lots of hard, grey plastic on dashboard and doors.
. Stereo well laid out, easy to operate.
. Prominent circular air vents.


Holden Barina SRi - $22,490 - 3 stars (out of 5)
Larger engine doesn't give noticeably better performance than Fiesta but handling is a notch better. Doesn't make up for price gap.

Toyota Echo Sportivo - $20,240 - 3 stars
Not much of an improvement over standard three-door Echo, despite extra engine power.

Mazda 2 Neo - $18,490 - 4 stars
Reasonably priced with air-conditioning and, now, power windows. Roomy, bright and airy, grips the road well, with a punchy engine.

Honda Jazz VTi - $19,990 - 3 stars
A cute looker with a flexible interior and five doors. Variable valve timing on 1.5-litre engine means lots of performance. CVT auto is a winner but the Jazz is expensive.

Source: drive

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