The new WT Ford Fiesta adds yet another strong competitor to the ultra-competitive light-car segment.
With prices starting from just $16,990, the updated WT Ford Fiesta range includes more diesel variants, sedan models, added safety features and a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
As we venture into a new decade there is considerable excitement for automakers as they plan to roll out future technologies and move the industry towards an exciting new direction. Most interestingly though, there appears to be a strong resurgence at Ford.
Whilst on the outside it appears the automotive world is now dominated by the might, technological genius and future planning prowess of Japanese and European manufacturers, one would be foolish to dismiss the legacy of Henry Ford.
Ford Motor Company was the only big American manufacturer that didn't file for bankruptcy during the global financial crisis. That's partially due to smart future planning that saw it in a position years ahead of rivals General Motors and Chrysler.
Part of that future planning was the updated WT Ford Fiesta.
If someone had said to me ten year ago that Ford will have the most fuel efficient car in Australia by 2010, I would've looked at them in the same way I'd look at a Scientologist explaining the evils of alien Lord Xenu.
Alas, it's true. The Ford Fiesta ECOnetic remains as the most fuel efficient car on the market. Despite all attention on the Toyota Prius, the Fiesta uses just 3.7 litres of diesel per 100km (beating the Prius by a good 0.2L/100km and at least $15,000).
The ECOnetic technology has filtered through to the rest of the Fiesta range. With the updated WT release, Ford Australia has added more diesel variants and changed its sourcing operations from Europe to Thailand (except for ECOnetic) and has brought a number of firsts into the segment.
From the outside you can tell the new Fiesta hatch apart thanks to its revised front bumper and different wheels. All Fiesta sedan variants join the lineup as model year 2011.
The new Fiesta also happens to be the only car in its class that sports a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (Powershift) and finally gains a maximum 5-star ANCAP safety rating (same as Honda Jazz, Volkswagen Polo, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris).
To review and road test the new Fiesta, Ford brought Australia's automotive press to Adelaide. It was there, in torrential rain, that I got accustomed to what is arguably one of the best light-cars in the market today.
Here is the thing, there is no such thing as a bad car anymore. The Honda Jazz, for example, has an amazing capability to turn into a mini-van thanks to its rear 'magic-seats' that allow for ample storage room when removed or folded down. The new K13 Nissan Micra comes with a load of new features that include a little storage area built into the passenger seat. The Volkswagen Polo has won numerous car of the year awards and continues to offer the best interior in its class. Nonetheless, the Ford Fiesta has its place.
Out of the three cars I just mentioned, none of them make the cut for the top three best selling in their segment. So far this year about eight percent of all light-car buyers have signed the dotted line for a Fiesta. The top three in the light-car category are: Hyundai Getz, Toyota Yaris and Mazda2. All great cars in their own right, but long ago superseded in technology and features by the newer models.
So it goes without saying that despite the latest technology, fuel economy, safety features and marketing, sometimes it takes a little more to convince potential buyers to try something new.
Heading out of Adelaide airport the first variant driven was a top of the range Zetec 1.6-litre manual. With 88kW and 151Nm of torque, the little petrol Fiesta is rather zippy around town.
Priced at $20,990, Zetec variants are yet to go on sale (Q1 2011). If you can wait a month or two the additional features include all-new sport suspension, sports seats, unique alloy wheels and sporty front bumper.
Sit inside a new Fiesta and you'll notice just how much attention has been paid to making the little car's instruments as practical and easy as possible. Everything is pretty much exactly where you'd want it to be. Simplicity is the best answer and that certainly applies in this case. Even the base model comes with Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone support.
There are nice highlights throughout the cabin and special use of fabric for door trims. The centre console allows easy change between audio sources and the single-colour screen (whilst not the prettiest thing in the world) is easy to read and even simpler to use. The sound system is pretty good for the car's size.
Unlike some of its rivals, the Fiesta makes use of hard plastics for its dashboard and door panels. Although it doesn't look cheap, it can feel a little hard to touch (which means its easier to scratch if you wear rings).
The next test car was a base model CL Fiesta sedan with a six-speed powershift system. It's hard to fathom that even a light car such as the Fiesta is now equipped with a six-speed dual-clutch system. In saying that, if more is better than the Volkswagen Polo has the edge thanks to its seven-speed box. But this is all about driving feel and dynamics.
If you've never heard of a dual-clutch transmission then you have two choices. You can do the research and work out how the system works or you can take my word that it's the new generation of smooth transmission systems. Better yet, the company that makes the six-speed dual-clutch system for the Fiesta (Getrag) also happens to make gearboxes for the all-new Ferrari 458. Should I say more?
Having gone from a four to a six-speed transmission has allowed for a 30kg weight saving and 12% improvement in fuel economy for the petrol variant. It now makes use of 6.2-litre of fuel per 100km, the same as its manual brother.
Around metro and inner-city environments the six-speed auto is smooth and delivers power when need be. It also happens to seamlessly shift into neutral when the Fiesta is not in need of engine power (e.g. stopped at traffic lights). Around hilly country side Adelaide though, it's a slightly different story as it has to pushed harder to keep up with its manual counterpart.
When it comes to choosing between manual and auto, it all depends of what you're after. If you plan on driving your Fiesta around town then the automatic makes perfect sense and you won't be disappointed. However, if you happen to travel out of the city frequently or live in a hilly part of town then the manual is worth considering.
You can debate the merits of manual and automatic transmission for days but what's really going to stir the pot is the new diesel variants. The same 1.6-litre diesel engine found in the ECOnetic is now available in other Fiesta models. With 66kW of power and an impressive 200Nm of torque, the diesel powerplant is available in LX (sedan, hatch) and Zetec hatch. It's by and large the pick of the range.
Although it's currently only available with a manual transmission (Ford says it may come as an automatic in the future) the diesel powerplant smashes its petrol brother for fuel economy, driving feel, pulling power and overall dynamics. If you can drive a manual, you'd be mad to look past it.
Sipping just 4.4-litre per 100km, the Fiesta diesel pulls hard from the lights and makes overtaking a breeze. It behaves itself around town and when the time comes, it gives a lot more 'go' than you might be expecting. Diesel variants attract a $2,500 premium but (even with the better fuel economy set aside) it's worth every cent if you ask me.
Overall, the new Fiesta's ride and handling remains at the top of its segment. Ford has also made sure it's quieter than ever thanks to improved sound proofing.
It conquers corners at ease and rides some of Australia's most dreadful roads without too many hassles. Around tight corners Ford's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) (which is now standard across the range) makes sure the Fiesta remains on track.
If you ever happen to be in accident you'll quickly find out that there are seven airbags to take care of you. Buyers of the base model (CL) should certainly tick the $600 safety box to gain the 5-star safety rating.
With excellent fuel economy, 5-star safety rating, superb ride & handling and the latest in technology, the new WT Ford Fiesta adds yet another strong competitor to the ultra-competitive light-car segment.