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Tim O'Brien | Mar 6, 2009 | 11 Comments

How good is the all-new Ford Fiesta? I will tell you… it’s very good, perhaps approaching brilliant.

From the second you nestle in behind the wheel and run your eyes over that crisp modern interior, you know you’re onto something special here. It looks good, and feels just right.

But fire the engine into life, slip the nicely-weighted shift into first, and poke it out for a quick lash around the ‘burbs… then, mere minutes later, you’ll be grinning like the cat that got the cream.


It is an absolute delight to drive. With the new Fiesta, released to rave reviews in the UK and Europe, Ford has popped a genie out of the bottle.

No question, the Zetec model we drove has got the measure of the benchmark for the class, the Mazda2 - with which it shares its platform and much of its underpinnings (and which won The Motor Report’s 2008 BEST DRIVE BEST VALUE Small Car Award).

We would seem, then, to have a new leader in arguably the toughest class of them all.

So, stop reading now if this is starting to sound a little cosy. C’mon, you’re thinking, you’re drunk, it’s a tiddler – just 1.6 litres - you can’t expect us to believe that this thing is a serious set of wheels?


Well, yes it is. Having driven those wheels off for a week, the further I drove it and the longer the week went on, the more I found to like about it.

But I like small cars anyway. Especially sharp-handling ones with zesty engines and a snappy manual shift. Can’t help wringing their feisty little necks, whippin’ the stick through their slick little gates and throwing them around my favourite looping ‘test track’. Who doesn’t like fun of that order?

Sure, it’s not perfect, there are a few things Ford Australia will need to attend to before you’d give it a straight-A report card, but the Fiesta is a pivotal car for Ford and will grab the market by the throat over the next 12 months.

What’s so good about the Fiesta then? Here’s what.

Super-neat, cool-as interior

Some interiors work, some don’t. Some look alright, style wise, but are then let down by sub-standard materials or incomprehensible ergonomics.


The new Fiesta’s interior works. The ‘transformer’ dash and console are just right. Smart, distinctive, as modern as next year, with good quality materials and everything right at hand.

The instruments are clear and easily read. The wheel – carrying cruise, menu, and audio controls in the LX and Zetec - is the right size, square to the driver, and easily set ‘just right’. There are smart touches like a soft blue-lit strip sitting under the lip of the dash, running from the centre console across and above the glovebox.

It’s also got all the electronic geekery that everyone who can still wear a tight T-shirt insists on: Bluetooth with voice control (available on LX and Zetec), USB connectivity, MP3 player integration, CD player and a crisp high-fidelity audio system.


The seats, in the Zetec model, are nicely shaped for comfort as well as for securing the bum region when out hunting the bends. Ford, across its range, is using some very appealing trim materials – the interior of the more up-market Zetec looks, well, up-market.

While ‘ours’ came in shades of grey, there are a variety of funky trim-colour combinations available that carry into the dash and door plastics. In Zetec trim, it looks like you spent more dollars on it than its list price suggests. (And that’s gotta be good.)

It is also amazingly quiet on the road. Wind noise is banished – it is as quiet as a Lexus – and road noise too is suppressed to only intrude on the coarsest black-top. This level of refinement is totally unexpected in an inexpensive small car. And this is where the secret to the Fiesta starts to emerge.

You have to keep reminding yourself which sector the Fiesta is actually competing in and what it’s competing against. It carries the refinement of a larger, more expensive car, though it’s not much bigger than a size 14 boot.


And speaking of boots, the two door Zetec hatch in our care managed to swallow a small Bose PA comfortably (we were convinced we’d have to tip the rear seats forward… but no). It can easily carry a couple’s or small family’s clobber for a weekend away.

Interestingly, the Zetec was completely untroubled on the road by that weight in the boot.

The drive… a revelation

Because it shares more than its underpants with the pin-sharp Mazda2, the Fiesta is a willing, almost rorty performer when out on the tear.

The 1.6 litre Ti-VCT Duratec DOHC unit in the Zetec is a jewel. It is beautifully balanced, throttle response is instantaneous, and it zings like a Swiss-watch right to the redline.


It’s not powerful, no, you have to keep things on the boil to get the best out of it, but it’s got the heart of a Jack Russell terrier and simply begs to be worked.

The 1.6 litre donk, producing 88kW of power at 6000rpm, 152Nm of torque at 4050rpm and with five-speed manual attached, is standard across the range. There are no figures there to write home to Mum about, but they’re some of Mr Newton’s and Mr Watt’s finest brew – it feels more potent under the toe than the bald figures on paper would suggest.

(If you want an auto, it’s available as an option on all models except the three-door Zetec, but comes mated to a smaller 1.4 litre mill with 71kW at 5750rpm and 128Nm at 4200rpm.)


On the road, because it is so appealing at the wheel, we gave the little bugger heaps.

You can really get connected to a small car that has its chassis dynamics as well sorted as the new Fiesta. Because it’s light and responsive and predictable, you kind-of ‘wear’ a car like this – it seems to work as one with your reactions at the wheel.

It is not only the handling that impresses, but the ride also. The initial compliance, a little softer than some in the first part of the ‘travel’, takes the jarring out of the drive, but then firms progressively with good damping for fast cornering and for dealing with larger hollows and bumps.

Again, the ride too has a refinement that could quite easily sit on much more expensive wheels.


There is nothing particularly new or sophisticated with the suspension underpinnings. Aside from a thicker anti-roll bar, the Fiesta sports a run-of-the-mill McPherson strut front suspension with twin-tube shocks and torsion bar rear with monotube shocks. That it works so well is a testament to Ford’s engineers and chassis tuning.

On a tight road, you can slide the Fiesta around if you’re up to it (great for a lash on the dirt); keeping the power up is a simple matter of using that snappy gearbox and keeping the revs on song. And anyway, you’ll find yourself rappin’ through the cogs just for the heck of it.

On our (ahem) ‘private test track’, there is a looping curve that crests a long hill, with a negative camber and a sudden hollow waiting just over the brow. It can catch out even some of the more-fancied machinery we get to jump into here. We’ve had more than one sphincter-tightening moment finding that hollow while peddling a tad over-enthusiastically.

p2090079The Fiesta, flat chat in fourth, was barely unsettled. Even allowing that, with just 1.6 earnest litres on the job, the Fiesta wasn’t pulling the ‘gees’ of some we’ve flung over the top, it was one of those ‘shake the head’ moments. One where you find yourself muttering things about the brilliant chassis balance and control at the wheel.

So it’s great on the road: remarkably well planted and with fun written all over it.

Perhaps the only downside to the drive, one that those having to do longer trips may find fault with, is the shortish gearing. In fifth, I kept reaching for another gear. On a longer freeway drive, it can be a tad wearing.

While at 100km/h it’s spinning over at a reasonable 3000rpm (which isn’t high by most small car standards), there is ample torque to handle taller fourth and fifth ratios. Perhaps the gearing is ‘just right’ when fully loaded on a highway drive, but most driving isn’t fully loaded and this is a big country with big distances.

The other minor demerit was that, in the test car (flogged mercilessly no doubt by a posse of ham-fisted journos, most with evil in their hearts and unsympathetic to things mechanical), reverse was a tad disinclined to engage. Once or twice it required a bit of jiggling to slot it home.


Other than those two comments - one a preference, the other a niggle - the Fiesta came through with a pristine and very impressive report card.

The wrap-up

Perhaps most appealing of all is the price. Starting at $15,750 for the CL model, $18,490 for the LX and rising to $20,250 for the Zetec (plus dealer delivery and statutory charges), the Fiesta is exceptional buying for those who value the experience at the wheel .

There are cheaper small cars, but none approaching the Fiesta’s dynamic capabilities nor levels of refinement.

Fuel economy of 6.1 l/100km for the 1.6 litre with manual, and 6.9 l/100km for the auto, will add to the enjoyment.


It is simply so damned hard to find fault. Stylish, full of beans, full of personality, inexpensive but superbly executed: does a small light car come any better?

Not at the Fiesta’s price, and not in this reviewer’s experience – it’s a pearler.

This car, Ford’s new Fiesta, can’t help but win friends and can’t help but succeed. That’s why it is winning increased sales – up 11.4 percent in January - in a European market that was down 26 percent.

So, if you’ve spent the last weekend or two drawing up a ‘whadda-we-gunna-buy-next’ short list of possible small car purchases, don’t go out the door till you’ve added the Fiesta to the top of the list.


Funky as all get-out, Ford’s new Fiesta talks to the driver like few small cars can. For Ford globally, it is carrying a huge load on those willing little wheels. In Europe, the success of the Fiesta, and the excellent Focus and Mondeo, are three reasons why Ford is – for the moment - managing to keep the wolves from knocking the door down and chewing the company’s arse to bits.

Despite the terrible state of the market, something is happening within Ford that may be its salvation. Perhaps it has put people who understand the essence of the car, and engineers who understand the joy of driving, back in charge of producing them.

The Insider likes:

  • Funky, well-thought out interior
  • Class-leading on-road refinement
  • Well-balanced chassis dynamics
  • Zingy, free-spinning 1.6 litre donk
  • Great driving fun
  • Standout best-drive in the sector

The Insider doesn’t like:

  • Finding reverse (was elusive once or twice)
  • Could do with taller fourth and fifth gear ratios
  • (It’s too damned hard to find fault with it)



Engine Duratec 1.6 litre Ti-VCT DOHC 16-valve
Fuel System Electronic Multipoint fuel injection
Power 88kW @ 6000rpm (1.4 litre: 71kW @ 5750rpm)
Torque 152Nm @ 4050rpm (1.4 litre: 125 @ 4200rpm)
Economy 6.1 l/100km (manual), 6.9 l/100km (automatic)
Performance 0-100km/h (un-timed)
Transmission Five speed manual (or four-speed automatic with 1.4 litre)
Suspension Front: McPherson Strut, twin-tube shockers

Rear: Torsion bar, coil springs with mono-tube shockers

Brakes Front: ventilated discs

rear: drums

Safety • Front driver and passenger airbags

• (Zetec) Front seat head and thorax airbags and driver’s knee airbag

• ABS with EBD and Emergency Brake Assist

• Dynamic stability control, traction control

Wheels and tyres (Zetec) 16-inch alloys with 195/45 R16
Kerb weight 1016 kilograms
Prices $15,750: 1.6 CL manual three-door (tested here)

$16,490: 1.6 CL manual five-door

$17,250: 1.4 CL auto three-door

$17,990: 1.4 CL auto five-door

$18,490: LX 1.6 manual five-door

$19,990: LX 1.4 auto five-door $

20,250: Zetec 1.6 manual three-door

$20,990: Zetec 1.6 manual five-door

$22,490: Zetec 1.4 auto five-door.

Get the best deal on this car!
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