09 April 2011

DRIVEN: Ford Fiesta

The small car that provides plenty of smiles per gallon...

WHEN Ford came to replace the old MK3 Fiesta in 1995. Visually, it was more a case of being evolution than revolution. In retrospect, the fourth generation Fiesta was one of the very cars that gained Ford a reputation of making fun-to-drive cars. Today, the Blue Oval is renowned for it.

Ford played it quite it safe in that respect. It’s basically the old MK3 Fiesta with softer, rounder edges. A new front end with the MK4 Fiesta (1996-1999) having the oval shape grille and headlights. Taking the jelly bean design cues from the Mondeo and the re-vamped Escort. The numberplate was also moved from the tailgate to the bumper, which doesn’t make the Fiesta look as bum heavy.

Inside, Ford made major changes. The interior got a makeover to reflect the outside of the car. With a redesigned dashboard that was also recessed in front of on the passenger seat. To make more use of the interior space and keeping the Fiesta fresh and up to date for the late 90s.

With the fourth generation Fiesta, the changes Ford made were more than just cosmetic tweaks. Undergone by Ford's chief engineer, Richard Parry-Jones. Beneath the surface, it has a re-worked chassis with a batch of brand new Zetec engines that the Blue Oval (apparently) co-developed with Yahama in the making. Those were the other major changes made to the Fiesta.

Even though I haven't driven a MK3 Fiesta. Based on the knowledge and experience I have with owning an old Ford Ka, it had the old 1.3 litre Endura-E (nee Kent) pushrod engine. That powered the previous generation of Fiestas which Ford did sell in the MK4 with that same engine.

I can tell you on how much of a leap forward the newer Zetec engines are. When I took the Fiesta out for a spin once again after driving my Ka. I thank Dad and Alison for letting me use their car by the way. I quickly made my mind up on it. The contrast engine-wise is chalk and cheese.

The newer 1.25 litre, 16 valve, double overhead camshaft Zetec unit is not just only quicker, smoother and more refined. It's a peppy little engine that likes to be revved and eager to go; giving you that fizz and crackle sensation. It doesn't sound nor feel like it's being strained and that it will become breathless - even on motorways. Whereas the elderly 1.3 Endura-E unit is slow, noisy and ashmatic in comparison to the Zetec. Why did Ford never put this engine in the Ka? I ask myself.

There's good news besides the Zetec power plant because it's also a good steer. There's little body roll. The turn in is sharp and composed from plenty of grip in the corners. With the quick and nicely weighted steering. With me receiving plenty of feedback. Knowing what the front wheels are doing. I'm involved and feel part of the action. Inspiring confidence to rag and drive the car harder. The gearshift is light, smooth and slick with a positive short throw. Then add the lively Zetec engine into the mix altogether makes the Fiesta being a fun and engaging car to drive.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a sports car or a Hot Hatch. Not that it's trying to be one either. The Fiesta is a car that will entertain keen drivers when they're wanting to get a bit enthusiastic behind the wheel.

While you're having fun driving the nimble and agile Fiesta on twisty, open roads. It doesn't come at an expense of a poor ride either. If you have your mates on board travelling with you, they're not going be uncomfortable. The ride is supple – not soft or spongy as it would it be in a French supermini. There is an overall nice blend of driver enjoyment and ride comfort. Thanks to the soft and well damped suspension with the anti-roll bar set up.

Over the years, superminis have come a long way. They're bigger, grown up and more sophisticated in this day and age. By modern standards, the MK4 Fiesta is a dinosaur. It maybe an analogue car in a digital age and that's not meant in a derogatory manner by the way, far from it.

Whereas so many modern cars these days are bombarded with on-board computers and electrical gremlins. The Fiesta is a more-or-less a basic car and all the better for it. That means it should be an unpretentious little car. If anything goes wrong, it should be cheap and easy to fix and work on.

Specifications on the MK4 Fiesta varied. Ford offered a broad range of names and trim levels. Such as the basic Encore, sportier Zetec to the plush Ghia and LX models. The petrol engines ranged with the old 1.3 continuing from the older Fiestas; the newer 16 valve Zetec engines with either a 1.25 and a 1.4.

Ford also sold this generation Fiesta with only a 1.8 diesel engine on offer. Strangely enough, Ford didn't make a warm or hot MK4 Fiesta. In fairness, they were built at a time when Hot Hatches fell out of favour due to sky high insurance premiums.

The Fiesta I drove was the high spec Ghia model. It's pretty-much well kitted out. With body coloured bumpers and mirrors, neat little rear spoiler, side door strips and 15 inch four spoke alloys on the exterior. If you're a Blue Oval anorak, you'll notice that they resemble the wheels from the old Capri Lasers and Escort RS2000s from the past. With the Ghia badges on the wings of the car as well; marking out that this is no poverty spec Fiesta.

Inside, the Fiesta has electric windows at the front, remote central locking, a sunroof and power steering. Being a Ghia model, it's not only well equipped but it comes with the look-a-like wood veneer on the dashboard. Some Ghia models even had leather seats - not ideal for a supermini in my humble opinion.

If you're sensible and looking for a cheap, no-thrills, shopping trolley. The Fiesta ticks the right boxes as it's a practical little runaround. Especially the five door models. The boot is big enough to swallow a fortnight's worth of shopping bags. They also have the handy split folding rear seats to make it that bit more versatile.

However, packaging is one of the Fiesta's downsides. Space in the rear for two adults is adequate enough; as long as they don't have to travel long distances on a regular basis. In its defence, it is a small car and it's not an MPV or a limousine. However, rivals like the Fiat Punto and Toyota Yaris are much better packaged in that respect.

If you're considering of buying a MK4 Fiesta. With the age they are, you can get them for peanuts. There's still many of them on the roads, so you can afford to be choosy. Parts are also cheap and easy to obtain. From places like scrapyards and they'll be ready off the shelf.

If you're after buying one, make sure you buy one that's been looked after and the 16 valve Zetec engines. As long as you avoid rusty examples and/or those with the ancient 1.3 litre engine. The MK4 Fiesta should make a sound buy.

To sum it all up, the Ford Fiesta is a very good all-rounder. Cheap, unpretentious, practical, nippy and fun to drive. Personally, I believe the Fiesta epitomises everything on what a small car should be.


1998 Ford Fiesta 1.25 Ghia

  • Engine: 1.25 litre 16 Valve DOHC 4 cylinder
  • Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
  • Power: 73bhp
  • Torque: 110nm
  • 0-62mph: 11.9secs
  • Top speed: 106mph
  • Economy: 41mpg
  • CO2: 161g/km
  • Equipment: Front electric windows, remote central locking, airbag, alloy wheels, rear spoiler, colour coded bumpers and mirrors, sunroof, power steering, internal boot release, full-size spare wheel

1 comment:

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