06 October 2017

BOTTLED IT!: Ford Fiesta MK3

Very well marketed, but the product in question by the Blue Oval was a half-arsed effort. A triumph of marketing over engineering.

Planned obsolescence

TOWARDS the end of the 1980s, the Ford Fiesta was getting long in the tooth. The ageing Fiesta had already started to lag behind other small cars on the market such as the Peugeot 205 and the Fiat Uno. Which arrived on the same year the heavily revamped Fiesta (known as the MK2 Fiesta) was launched in 1983. 

Not only were the 205 and Uno better engineered cars. They were better packaged, and offered higher levels of practicality and efficiency than Ford’s small car ever could. In other words, the Fiesta at that time was outclassed by many of its rivals and rendered obsolete.

Despite this, the Fiesta sold well. That was largely down to the fact that the Fiesta was a well-marketed car, competitively priced and that Ford had a huge dealer network. The Fiesta though, was a simple car that’s cheap to buy, run and maintain.

Ford eventually replaced the MK2 Fiesta with an-all new model (codenamed Urba) in April 1989. It was a bigger car than its predecessor, and for the first time, was available as a five-door hatchback. Which would boost the Fiesta’s appeal. Especially for buyers who wanted a small car with practicality high on the list of priorities.

On the surface, the MK3 Fiesta appeared to be an all-new car. When it came to the styling, it looked as if Ford’s small car was an imitation of the Peugeot 205. Some might say that imitation is a sincere form of flattery. Put into consideration that Ford spawned out the radical looking Sierra seven years ago. They played it rather safe with the Fiesta, which looked very bland in comparison.

In typical Ford fashion, the Fiesta was available with in a variety of guises to cater for tastes or budgets. Ranging from the basic, no-frills Popular and Popular Plus, the mid-range L and LX, then there was the lavishly appointed Ghia, the warmer S, and the hotter XR2i and RS models. In short, there was a Fiesta for everyone.

Ford even made a Fiesta-based panel van, though it was sold under the Courier nameplate. Which sat below the popular Escort van in their range of commercial vehicles. To rival other supermini-based vans like the Citro├źn C15 and Fiat Fiorno.

It may have looked like the 205, and that's where the Fiesta's similarities end with the little Pug. In reality, the then-new Fiesta was quite frankly crap. The only improvement the MK3 Fiesta was over its predecessor, was that it was available as a five door hatchback. Take that out of the equation, and it failed to improve on its predecessor in any meaningful way. One of the least convincing cars to be launched by The Blue Oval that was cynically conceived.

Under the skin concealed an old hat. The old CVH/Valencia engines were carried over from its predecessor. It also sat on the same floor pan as the old MK2 as well albeit having a longer wheelbase. Don't forget that the MK2 was a revised MK1, so this is a car that dates back to the 1970s.

With the then-new Fiesta being a bigger car, it was also heavier. So the CVH/Valencia engines carried over from its smaller predecessor that powered the Fiesta range. Which were rough and already outdated back then, and had to work even harder. Meaning that fuel economy and performance was never going to be the Fiesta's strong points.

Adding insult to injury was the sloppy steering, excessive body roll, along with the gruff engines, that did not bode well in making it a fun car to drive. Adding insult injury was the patchy build quality. Summing up that the MK3 Fiesta was lazily put together.

Compared to its rivals, the MK3 Ford Fiesta was inferior to other small cars in pretty much every conceivable way. Particularly from newer superminis following the Fiesta's arrival in 1989. The Vauxhall Corsa, Fiat Punto, and the Nissan Micra to name some. They were all better cars than their predecessors that came with a raft of useful improvements.

Furthermore, the new Fiestas did not score well in customer satisfaction surveys. Ford on the whole, did not do well in the surveys. The new Escort that arrived the following year after the Fiesta, was in for a lot more stick.

The Fiesta didn't exactly get a warm reception.

Despite the less-than-satisfactory consumer surveys, and less-than-favourable reviews from the motoring press. The third generation Fiesta was a very popular car. What made it all the more remarkable, was that it was the UK's best-selling car for two consecutive years in 1990 and 1991. Which was down to the Fiesta being competitively priced, and Ford having a wide dealer network. But more than anything, the Fiesta was a very well-marketed product.

The Fiesta XR2i was dismissed by motoring magazine, CAR, for being 'another duff Fast Ford' in 1990. The major improvement over the old Fiesta XR2 was more power and fuel injection. Despite this, the XR2i was a popular pocket rocket. A quick car with good on-paper performance, and kerbside appeal that came with Fast Fords.

Filing out the rough edges

Ford though, did respond to the criticism the Fiesta got. Newer 16-valve twincam engines were introduced in its later years, and replaced the elderly units on mid and higher spec models. Thanks to the all-new 16-Valve Zetec unit under the bonnet, the XR2i was quicker and more polished than the CVH lump in the previous XR2i. The Zetec lumps were also slotted into the RS models, but the RS Turbo was replaced by the RS1800. As the RS1800 had a normality aspirated engine.

But the XR2i wasn't to be as successful as the old XR2. Which was largely down to sky-high insurance premiums that would have been commanded at the time. By then, Hot Hatches fell out of favour with buyers. Which comes to no surprise that Ford quietly dropped the XR2i and the RS1800 from the Fiesta range.

After the stick Ford got for their sheer mediocrity in the making of the MK3 Fiesta. They clearly addressed these issues following the arrival of Dr Richard Parry-Jones. When the Fiesta was heavily revamped in which it became the MK4 Fiesta.

Parry-Jones used his expertise when he developed the Mondeo. Which was filtered over when it came to updating and revising the Fiesta. The new Zetec engines that Ford co-developed with Yahama. The extensively reworked and re-engineered chassis set up, made the revitalised Fiesta a fun car to drive. The contrast was night and day compared to its predecessor.

The MK4 Fiesta may look like an evolution of the MK3. But was a quantum leap over the old Fiesta.

The new MK4 Fiesta went on sale in 1995. Whilst the new Fiesta looked very similar to the outgoing car. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it was an updated MK3. Well it did have the same architecture, and have the same compact dimensions as the old Fiesta. So you couldn't be far from the truth there.

Strangely enough, Ford continued selling the MK3 Fiesta alongside the new MK4. Though, the Blue Oval did trim down the range of models to make way for the new Fiesta. Which remained in production and on sale until it was quietly killed off in 1997. To date, the MK3 is the Fiesta to have the longest production life-span throughout the Ford Fiesta's 41-year history.

Given the success of the new Fiesta. Of which it was well received by the media and the public. Ford also utilised the Fiesta platform, and used it as a starting base for the 'New Edge' design Fords that arrived in the following months ahead with the smaller Ka, and the Puma sports coupe. Which also played a role in (alongside the Fiesta) in challenging Ford's rather dowdy image, and building its reputation as a maker of fun-to-drive cars.

If there's anything to go by it. Ford learnt that they can't afford to be too complacent. It's all well and good having their cars well marketed. But if the products in question as aren't as good and back up their claims. It won't go down well, and can have an adverse effect on sales and reputation of the Blue Oval.

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