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Ford Fiesta Mk VII in Lucire Left The Ford Fiesta Mk VII has great style and is, in Lucire’s opinion, the most complete small car on the market.

You just need to talk like Keeley Hawes

Jack Yan says the Ford Fiesta 1∑6 Zetec gives you more between the wheels, and that itís one of the most complete small cars heís ever driven. However, the voice recognition isnít as universal as Ford thinks
photographed by Tanya Sooksombatisatian

 

THE FORD FIESTA is a nameplate that has been around for over 30 years. Sadly, for many of those years, Ford New Zealand opted to sell the Festiva, which was a Korean-built Mazda that had as much inspiration as dental floss. These days, however, the B-segment, as Ford calls it, is so competitive that no one can afford to field insipid Korean cars (letís leave that to Daewoo). Ford, therefore, has pulled out all the stops for its worldwide markets with the Mk VII Fiesta, or B299 in Ford-speak.
   Itís about time, too. For decades, I have criticized Ford for its worldwide marketing policies. For instance, the US tended to get second-rate Fords, and in some segments, it still does (look at their Focus, still based on the 1999 model), while the company sells some of the best stuff outside North America. Thanks to current boss Alan Mulally, who had a stint at a company where different products for different regions would have been anathema (he ran Boeing), Ford has finally realized that it can not only get economies of scale, but create competitive products for every market.
   The trouble, however, has been the badge. As BMW and others moved downmarket into Fordís traditional territoryóthe 3-series outsells the Mondeo in Britainósnobbery has meant that Ford doesnít have the same cachet as it once did. But thatís all right when it comes to the rest of us. It means Ford tries harder to create kick-ass product and comes up with what Lucire regards as the best-value and competent cars around.
   The CD345 Mondeo, for example, is probably the best handling front-wheel-drive sedan you can buy, and is so large that it dwarfs Fordís own Falcon in numerous key measurements. And the Fiesta also has that value-for-money, ĎFord gives you more car between the wheelsí feeling. This is a B-class car that feels nearly as big as Fordís own Focus, and is cleverer to boot.
   But we shouldnít say that. We should say that it will steal sales from other companies, and after a week with our blue B299, a mid-range Zetec manual, weíre left in no doubt that it will.
   The immediate competition, Fordís arch-rival Holden, is easily dispensed with: its rebadged Daewoo Gentra is more ancient in car terms than the blue rinsers who buy it, even if no elderly person these days gets a blue rinse. Then there are the usual suspects from the Japanese brands, which fall behind the Fiesta in terms of driveability and handling. The Peugeot 207 seems ill-equipped by comparison, while our usual B-class fave, the Renault Clio, is smaller, though performance-wise it feels revvy enough to keep up.
   The exterior is funky, with the now-de rigueur rising waistline and clamshell bonnet. But what we really love is the way the spoiler and chunky rear lights meet. Car makers seem to use an awful lot of plastic these days to get these details, but here itís worth it. One needs to bear in mind that B299 was developed in Germany, and these chaps are very conscientious about recycling.
   Step into the Fiesta and there is none of the feeling that you are in a small car. The grade of plastic is better than in the base Focus, and the interior is dominated, as Fordís designers anticipated, by a centre console thatís meant to recall funky cellphones. Unlike the now-dated fascia of the original 1999 Focus, this one is practical, but the pièce de resistance (every car must have one for us in the media) is the carís voice recognition.
   Yes, ladies and gentleman, you can talk to this car, just like KITT. It might have only a limited number of commands, and the one I tried the most was the radio tuner, but itís a feature that I last encountered on a far more expensive BMW. This is the old Ford philosophy of the early 1970s embodied once more: expensive features mainstreamed in an everyday car. Which, of course, makes it anything but everyday.
   There are limitations. Various Lucire team members tried their accents and it seems that Fordís voice recognition is best trained to understand received pronunciation. A Scottish accent also works on the Fiesta. Newzild has a reasonable success rate though it is nowhere nearly as good as Keeley Hawes-grown-up; while a northern Gene Hunt also seems to work with the car. What consistently did not work, however, was a stereotyped Paul Hogan accent, with the Fiesta tuning in to the wrong station. Australian buyers beware: God help you, you might even need to sound Kiwi.
   Bluetooth is very easy to hook up, compared to many other cars, and unlike some brands we can think of, it imports the information off oneís cell reliably.
   On the first drive, the Fiestaís steering seems awfully light. Ford explains that this is its adaptive steering, which means it feels lighter at slow speeds, and one has to turn the wheel less to make tighter manúuvres. While weíve had adaptive steering before, it almost feels too light, though it means one-handed manúuvres in and out of tight shopping car parking spaces (which is where many Fiestas will visit) was remarkably easy. And as a daily driver, taking the twisty turns up to Khandallah, it is a brisk and competent handler.
   Having had numerous passengers in the car, the Fiesta is very roomy, reiterating today that small cars are not particularly small. (For those keeping count, B299 is 1722 mm wide, which is more than the Ford Sierra of the 1980s.)
   The 1∑6-litre engine is responsive and refined, which gives the Fiesta a big-car feel on the motorway. In terms of fuel economy, we were getting between 38 and 39 mpg with a mixture of urban and motorway, which is between 6 and 6ľ l/100 km (in short, itís roughly, if not slightly better than, what Ford expects one to get).
   One down side is the Fiesta’s rear visibility. That sexy rising waistline and the spoiler mean that rear vision is more restricted, which is the price to pay when it comes to those looks. In this respect, even the Daewoo has the Fiesta beat, thanks to its six-light bodyshell, but competitors such as the Peugeot 207 and Suzuki Swift have large C-pillars to contend with. However, the Fiesta leaves more to be desired in this respect.
   We even did the infamous corpse test and found that in the hatch, one can put an entire body into the boot (attempted with a live publisher and not a real body). We can only imagine that when the B409 Fiesta sedan comes out of the Thai and Indian plants, it will be roomier still. Mafia wiseguys can get rid of their Lincoln Town Cars.
   But even if Ford has come up with the perfect B-class caróand this is the best all-rounder we have come across and goes to the top of the classódoes the badge have cachet?
   In a country like New Zealand, where snobbery is more frowned upon, then we vote yes. Itís proudly displayed on the front, and along with the styling, projects a new confidence for the Blue Oval. We donít even think its lines will date that quickly.
   Stateside, Ford is already winning fans because of the Big Three automakers, it didnít need money from the US Government. And in many countries, such as China and India, we can see the Fiesta putting up a great fight in the B-segment, becoming the talked-about car.
   Which leaves Europe. Thereís a huge choice there, but Ford still holds a certain position when it comes to small cars. We havenít tried the 2010 Volkswagen Polo or Citroën C3. The Opel Corsa D might be refined but it looks boring alongside the Fiesta. And the premium brands havenít managed to conquer the B-class yet, with the exception of Mini. And we love the Mini.
   So when it comes to a style statement, what would we choose?
   Probably the Alfa Romeo MiTo. But those who find that too Italian, and the Mini too boy- (or girl-) racer, then this is the car that suits every other taste quite well. ē

 


Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

 



From top The spoiler is a neat touch on the Zetec. Chunky rear lights are a feature of the rear view. The Ford badge is proudly displayed. Inside, the centre console dominates. Bottom A sporty rear view on the Fiesta.

 

 

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What consistently did not work with the Ford’s voice recognition, however, was a stereotyped Paul Hogan accent, with the Fiesta tuning in to the wrong station. Australian buyers beware: God help you, you might even need to sound Kiwi

 

 

 

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