Ford Fiesta 2009 Road Test

Sat, 30 Aug 2008

This is Ford’s big new baby, and its first truly world car since the Model A. The new Fiesta will be built in plants throughout the planet, from Valencia in Spain to Rayong in Thailand. In a couple of years there are going to be literally millions of them out there.

Why is it so important? The reason is the world is finally seeing sense and downsizing to cars that don’t gobble up too many diminishing and increasingly expensive resources. Bigger cars may have been profitable, but don’t look good the balance sheet if you can’t sell them. So Ford has applied big car thinking to its small car to make it a car people not only want to own but one it can make money out of.

Ford hasn’t just shrink-wrapped a Mondeo. It started from scratch. The structure is immensely robust, especially the cocoon around the cabin, made out of 55% high tensile steel, multi-layered for strength. There are at least five airbags. The bonnet is built to cushion pedestrians. The car is designed from the start to achieve five NCAP stars. The whole front softly deforms on a glancing blow. And even the paint over the front wheels is semi-scratch proof.

To get people out of big cars and inside smaller cars you have to make them special inside. Ambiance is everything. And dominating the dash of the new Fiesta is an extraordinary voice-activated Bluetooth sound system, intuitively laid out like a mobile phone. On the left you have buttons for CD, radio, aux, phone and menu. On the right, number buttons for the phone. Shuffle and scan buttons underneath. A volume knob. And a big OK knob. You can hook up your i-POD through the aux jack below, or simply insert a £10 memory stick with 2,000 tracks on it and the system will search and display all the folders and titles. The sound quality is excellent.

It’s high up, centre dash with a line-of-sight display screen for minimum distraction. Even the main heating and ventilation controls are simple knobs rather than multiple buttons so can be worked by feel rather than look.

There’s a very nice, Honda-like, leather rim steering wheel on top versions, height and reach adjustable on all versions. All the trim is high quality and beautifully put together. If Audi made a car this size I doubt they’d have done a better job.

There’s legroom and headroom inside the 5-door for five. It passed the centre rear hat standard (I can sit there with my hat on). Front seats are comfy. The boot takes 295 litres, and just a little bit less if you opt for the free optional spare wheel. One shortcoming is that the back seats don’t double-fold so you can’t create a flat load deck like you can on a Jazz, for example. But you can’t have everything.

Instead of making the new Fiesta immensely versatile, Ford has concentrated on making it extraordinarily good to drive. High end versions, anyway. And to demonstrate this they gave us a twisting, sinuous route containing every kind of corner.

The car has electric power steering with ‘camber compensation’ and on narrower tyres there isn’t much steering feel. It still hangs on brilliantly, even on 195/60 R15s. But it’s at its best in Titanium trim with 195/45 R16s that make it beautifully smooth and fluid without wrecking the ride quality. Go one stage more sporty to the Zetec S and you’ll be able to corner a bit more quickly, but you’ll also feel the bumps more.

We got to drive just two engines: the 120PS 1.6 petrol Ti-VCT and the 90PS 1.6 diesel.

There’s no contest between these two. The Ti-VCT is smooth, but low geared at around 20mph per 1,000rpm and just doesn’t feel like 120PS. And though 139g/km so a reasonable £110 tax next year, you’ll pay at the pumps. We only saw 35mpg, and that wasn’t pushing it.

In contrast the 90PS 1.6 diesel feels made for the car. It’s flexible, with some (though not a lot) of torque from 1,000rpm. It’s geared at around 28mph per 1,000rpm for pleasant motorway cruising. We got 47mpg in test conditions, so you can expect 60 in normal use. And it even has some character.

This engine is also fitted to the 99g/km ECOnetic version of the car that hits the headlines by qualifying for ‘free’ VED ‘road tax’. But to do this it comes on skinny little wheels, so I can see the engine overtaking the tyres. Since part of the secret of economy motoring is maintaining momentum, it could well be that in real life the £20 a year tax Titanium or Zetec S will make your fuel go further.

There will be a new Fiesta automatic from January and the news here is it won’t be a CVT or a ‘Durashift’ automated manual. Instead it will be a proper 4-speed torque converter job with a 1.4 petrol engine. You’ll pay at the pumps with a mere 43.5mpg combined and the taxman will grab £150 in VED from you next year, but these are probably prices worth paying for those for whom it has to be an automatic choice.

Top models come with electric folding mirrors. The strength and repairability mean all are relatively low insurance and 1.25 engine models fall into Group 1.

Lastly, but not leastly, you won’t be able to misfuel a new Fiesta because they come with the capless Easyfuel system that won’t let you put petrol in a diesel.

Update 28-1-2009: Fiesta ECOnetic

Like my Focus ECOnetic, this sits on 65 section low rolling resistance tyres, in this case 175/65 R14s and, like my Focus, I think the Fiesta is better for them. It actually rides and grips very well, so my worries about how it would handle on the relatively skinny rubber were unfounded.

Driving along at a modest pace, trying to emulate my idea of Fiesta ECOnetic customers it's very pleasant and exceptionally refined for a small car, marred only by some noise from the transmission due to the low friction oil.

A green arrow pops up on the speedo at between 1,500 and 2,200rpm suggesting you change up for the sake of economy and, paying heed to this, I averaged a creditable 63.2mpg. Some way short of the certificated 76.3mpg, but probably closer to reality.

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