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NEW Ford Fiesta review - Party time

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Few people have ever driven a Ford Fiesta 1.6S. Even fewer people own one. To most, it looks like a regular Fiesta with a spoiler and body kit slapped on, but to those discerning few who know it it was the best handling car for under Rs 10 lakh until a few months ago. I was lucky enough to have spent six months in one, and I kid you not, it left an indelible mark in my life. Then Ford rehashed the Fiesta, called it the Fiesta Classic, pushed it down the price band and killed the 1.6S. I’m sure a few people cried over its loss, and I don’t doubt one bit that it has the makings of a cult classic.

That’s pretty much the only lament I have, because the new Fiesta is seriously impressive. Ford hasn’t announced prices just yet, but we think it should undercut the new Hyundai Verna and Honda City by some margin, spec-to-spec. It needs to, because the Ford Figo has somewhat cemented Ford’s reputation as a price champion, and it can’t afford to lose all that goodwill now, can it?

It’s the first of eight new cars the American car maker intends to bring to India between now and 2015. And unlike most other cars Ford has sold in this segment to date, this is as modern a car as it gets. Currently on sale in China, Europe and North America, it’s quite handsome, just like the new Verna. A prominent and heavy nose is relieved by stacked headlamps, a large air-dam and neatly integrated fog lamps. When viewed in profile, the rising waistline gives a hint of its hatchback lineage, and it can’t hide the bulk around the rear wheel arch too well, despite the wraparound tail lamps. It’s a fairly tall car that appears a bit narrow when placed next to some of its competition, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have space inside.

In fact, it’s quite spacious. There’s enough headroom for the average six-footer, decent kneeroom and legroom. It’s easy to get in and out of those rear seats and three people can sit abreast in reasonable comfort. I feel, though, that the Verna and City offer more shoulder and leg room, though it’s still pretty comfy for most. At the front, the seats are among the best in the business, with good side bolstering and lower-back support. The dash itself is pretty good quality, though the door pads can feel a bit plasticky after a while. Most of the switchgear is new on this car and there is hardly any lack of features on the top-end Titanium version. From a voice-activated in-car entertainment system to auto-folding mirrors, cruise control, rear parking sensors, auto-climate control and the usual raft of twin airbags and ABS, the car has enough and more to keep you occupied. The voice-activated system also has climate control and Bluetooth functions, which is something even most luxury cars don’t have.

Apart from cruise control and the voice-activated system, Ford has some more firsts it can lay claim to. India is the first market to receive the new 1.5-litre twin-cam, variable valve petrol motor, called the Ti-VCT, and a 1.5-litre Duratorq diesel. Both these engines are mated to a new five-speed manual gearbox, with India being the first market yet again. The petrol engine produces 106.5 bhp@6,045 rpm and a pretty healthy 14.3 kgm@4,500 rpm. The diesel, on the other hand, is a bit short of peak power, producing just 90 bhp, but it has a strong 20.8 kgm of peak torque. Both these engines are locally assembled and will feature in other markets in the coming years, as well as on models destined for India in the future.

 

The petrol is more fun to drive of the two, with the diesel tuned more for efficiency than anything else. There is some lag up to 1,800 rpm in the diesel, yet, despite using a fixed geometry turbo, the diesel has good driveability and decent performance on offer. While I didn’t like the clutch action, the gearbox is hard to fault. The taller gearing helps efficiency, as Ford India claim an Automotive Research Association- approved figure of 23.5 kmpl, but it also means it has the legs to catch up with, say, the Maruti Suzuki SX4 diesel in a straight line. The petrol version is a little gem. It has good low-end torque and past 5,000 rpm, it sounds rorty. There is also some serious shove towards the top-end, even though the Honda City does have the edge here. The gear throws are slick, though they have a slightly longer throw than the Fiesta Classic.
Why am I going on about it, you ask? Well, Ford says the new Fiesta’s electric power steering is lighter than the Fiesta Classic’s hydraulic unit and yet is well-weighted, accurate and retains Ford’s DNA steering feel. Feel? The rack on the 1.6S recreated every surface curvature with an accuracy that had to be experienced to be believed, but the new one can’t do the same (sorry, Ford). It’s accurate, weighs up well and is probably the best unit on a car in its segment, but it doesn’t match up to the late great.

But some things don’t change, and the new Fiesta is as dynamically sound as its predecessor. Show it a straight stretch and its road holding is pretty impressive, but throw it into corners and it gets even better. Overall grip and body control is tight, the 195 section 15-inch tyres ensuring there’s little in the way of understeer. The steering, as I mentioned before, works well in Indian conditions. It’s light at low speeds but weighs up well as speeds rise, in a more linear manner than most other electric power steering units. To add to its repertoire, Ford has also added a technology called pull-drift compensation. Most roads in India are cambered and crosswinds affect cars, thus forcing the driver to apply torque to the steering in the opposite direction. Using sensors, the system detects such opposite force and accounts for it, thus learning along the way and compensating for the force applied. It means less effort when you encounter such a situation.

 

The car changes direction in a jiffy, but with some predictability, and it should put a smile on the face of an enthusiast. Ride quality is the other highlight of this car. It rides with an assurance we’ve seen on some high-end European cars and has a sweet balance between being firm, and supple. Overall ride and handling setup is probably the best in the segment we’ve seen so far.

But is it good enough to be the best car in the segment? Well, it sure has the makings of one, given its overall performance, ride and handling, features and space. Ford India even claims it will be cheaper to maintain than comparable brands, a claim that can only be tested with time. What will be tested soon enough is how it is positioned against its competitors on the price front. We expect Ford India to price the car in the region of Rs 8-10.5 lakh, which should make the competition sit up and take notice. If it turns out that way and it becomes a success story, who knows, Ford India may risk it yet again and offer us an S version of the Fiesta, hopefully one that sells better than its predecessor. The writer was invited by Ford India to Bangalore to test drive the new Fiesta MORE DETAILS ON THE NEW FORD FIESTA: www.bsmotoring.com/storypage.php