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Tim O'Brien | Jun 19, 2009 | 3 Comments

WHEN WE PUT the Ford Fiesta Zetec two-door under the TMR microscope back in March, we found it a delight to drive. “Approaching brilliant,” we said.

We also proffered the view that this car, the Fiesta, Ford’s steamrolling entry into the light car segment which is bolting out of showrooms in every market it’s in globally, is the best buy in the segment.

But perhaps we were a little overcome. Perhaps we were also a little soft – a bit smitten by its sharp new lines and the wave of superlatives (from Europe and the UK) that had preceded its release here.

So, jumping into the five-door Fiesta Zetec for a week was a great opportunity to confirm or deny our earlier position on the edgy Fiesta. Even better: snow on the hills meant we could give it a robust run to the snow (with the requisite clobber) as well as a week of commuting.

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The question became then: would we still agree (with ourselves) or had our views hardened with the benefit of hindsight and a little distance?

Well… no. For a couple of reasons – like two extra doors, and no loss of style nor performance – the five-door Zetec is better, if anything, than the three-door.

So let’s recap on a few things.

 

Styling

2009-ford-fiesta_three-doorSharing the platform of the spunky Mazda2, there was no way the Fiesta was going to turn out an ugly-pants. With a crisp modern ‘face’, trapezoidal grille, a rakish bonnet, a high deeply accented belt-line culminating in a truncated, stylish tail: this is one appealing-looking little car.

And while we gave the three-door the thumbs up for style, the five-door, if anything, improves the Fiesta’s lines. It looks slightly better balanced, ‘just right’ as though the five-door is its natural state, and the three-door the afterthought.

‘Ours’, in deep blue, looked an absolute treat. Darker colours seem to sit well with the Fiesta, setting off the jeweled brightware and chrome highlights.

And while it looked good, it also functioned well, providing good access to front and rear, with quite surprising leg-room for back seat passengers.

2009-ford-fiesta_five-door_42

Of course, the small boot compromises its usefulness as a family car (being a small hatch, there’s not much hanging behind the rear seats). But as a young person’s car, or a second car for a family, there is ample room for the shopping, shoe-boxes, snow boards, and a couple of the neighbours’ kids along for the ride.

While in our care, the Zetec copped more than a few complimentary comments for its styling.

 

The Interior

As for the interior, there is little to add to our earlier comments about the three-door Zetec. As we said then: “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.”

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That impression remains. There is a very nice marriage of function and crisp styling in the Fiesta range. The trim, fit and ‘feel’ throughout is impressive and a distinct step up – to these eyes – from the Yaris, Getz and Barina.

It is also a place where you can get settled very comfortably behind the wheel, not something always achieved in a smaller car. The multi-function steering wheel (in the LX and Zetec versions) has a nice connected sporty feel to it – enhanced by the style of the instruments, dash and centre console.

We spent a good part of the trip to the snow three-up – the two passengers both being over six-foot. While not as roomy as the Hyundai i30 CW wagon that also accompanied the drive, each remarked on the surprising space. The Fiesta is kind-of ‘Tardis-like’ here.

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The seats are comfortable, and while not class leading, are well-shaped for pressing on (although the back seat is pretty flat) and trimmed in an attractive hard-wearing fabric. You can also choose some really funky trim colour combinations if you want your Fiesta to look a little more ‘out-there’ than the average wheels.

So, for quirky style that works, we’d still call it as one of the best interiors of the segment.


 

Equipment and Features

In keeping with its modern character, and the demographic it is hunting in the showroom, the Fiesta Zetec is laden with ‘communications platform’ stuff: hands-free Bluetooth with voice control (available on LX and Zetec), USB connectivity, MP3 player integration, CD player and six-speaker high-fidelity audio.

It also comes – in Zetec trim - with five airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag), electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control, ABS, 16-inch alloy wheels, body-kit, sports cloth trim, cruise control, power rear windows, leather-bound steering wheel, halogen headlamps and fog-lights.

There is little missing from that list for the up-specced Zetec.

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Mechanical Package

There is nothing ground-shaking about the Fiesta’s mechanical workings. As in all things though, it is in the sum of the parts, and how well they work together, that sets this car a little apart from the pack.

Up front is a willing 1.6 litre Ti-VCT Duratec DOHC. It is not over-endowed with power, just 88kW at 6000rpm and 152Nm of torque at 4050rpm, but it is happy to sing its head off and feels more potent than those figures suggest (but it is, after all, a light-weight).

Ours was the five-speed manual. It is delightful to use, has a nicely-weighted ‘feel’, a shortish throw and falls perfectly to hand. It begs to be rowed along, something we were more than happy to oblige.

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(An auto is available as an option, we haven’t driven it, but mated to the smaller 1.4 litre mill with 71kW at 5750rpm and 128Nm at 4200rpm, it would seem to lose a fair bit of edge.)

The Australian Fiestas get a slightly softer suspension setting than the Euro models; it would seem to have been the right call. As we noted in our earlier review, 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.

There is nothing particularly sophisticated about it - McPherson strut front suspension with twin-tube shocks and torsion bar rear with monotube shocks – but it is hard to find fault with the way the chassis, damping and steering works.

 

The Drive

It is the drive though that defines the Fiesta and sets it apart – it is simply a delight at the wheel. Our earlier comment about the three-door was that it “talks to the driver like few small cars can.”

Certainly, in its price segment, that comment remains.

Point it at a winding road, keep the revs up, work that snappy little five-speed box, and the Fiesta is a revelation.

There is a nice rising rasp above 4500rpm, and it will spin happily to the redline when asked. Pushing it through the hills confirmed our earlier impressions – this is one nicely-balanced, sharp handling little terrier and really fun at the wheel.

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To get the best out of it is simply a matter of keeping the torque in the sweet-spot. That means putting the manual shift to work; do it, and the Fiesta can really be punted along. (Just can’t wait for a turbo version…)

Out on the hunt, even when pressing hard, turn-in is at the top of its class. While there is a little body roll, and it can appear (from outside the car) to ‘kneel’ a little on that outside front wheel, it is unfussed inside and can be pointed with absolute accuracy.

Few of the Fiesta’s competitors in the segment do it nearly so well. Our second impression confirms our first: the Fiesta is the new benchmark in the class for handling dynamics.

A bonus then that wind noise and road noise is very low. Wind-noise is as good as banished, and, while we would now revise our view about road noise – it can intrude a little more than we indicated in our first review on some courser blue-metal surfaces – the overall level of refinement is unexpected in such a relatively inexpensive small car.


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The only faults – niggles really – relate to the five-speed box. We reckon fifth gear could run a slightly taller ratio (I mean the Getz can do it). We’re also not greatly impressed by the feel of the slot into reverse: you’re never quite sure whether you’re in or not (said the secretary to the Bishop).

But don’t let these niggles dissuade you; this is one super small car. And the longer you drive the five-door Zetec, the more you’ll like it - just like the three door.

The verdict

Once again this version of the Fiesta, the five-door Zetec, came through with a very impressive report card. It is so full of beans, and so appealing at the wheel, it is irresistible in a way.

Distinctions all round then for both three-door and five-door versions. We are firming in the view that the 2009 Fiesta is going to give TMR’s BEST DRIVE BEST VALUE Awards one heck of a shake later this year.

2009-ford-fiesta_five-door_15

Those rave reviews from the UK and Europe that preceded its arrival would seem to have been pretty accurate – and it is still selling up a storm there (sales up 56 percent in May in the European market). We said it before and we’ll say it again, with the Fiesta Ford has popped a genie out of the bottle.

Prices for the five-door Zetec start at $21,490 plus on-road and delivery charges. By comparison, the CL five-door 1.6 litre is $17,190 plus on-road and delivery charges.

There are cheaper small cars, but the Fiesta has the wood on the segment for personality, dynamic capabilities and levels of refinement. It also comes with a five-star ANCAP rating.

This is one superbly executed small light car.

 

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
 

Disikes:

  • 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)
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