Then along comes a gamechanger: the Ford Fiesta.
It's true, they took their sweet time to bring it here and the rest of ASEAN. However, I'm glad they took their time, as the Fiesta we're getting is already the redesigned version, available either as a sedan or the original hatch. For looks, the Fiesta clearly the most lively in the class, staying quite true to the kinetic design language introduced in the Iosis and Verve concept cars. Really the only issue for concern is the trunk, which looks a little strange because of the significantly extended rear overhang, something that its brother, the Mazda2 sedan, also has. Overall, however, the car looks great from any angle, though I wish all models came with the Sport version's chrome lower grille accents.
While most people focus on the outside, it's really the cabin that the driver will be immersed in while stuck in traffic, and you can tell that they spent a lot of time working the interior out. The Fiesta is well and truly stylish inside, and with plenty of attention paid towards build quality and interior fit and finish. The fabric seats in this 1.6L Trend model are simply fantastic, while the control surfaces (steering wheel, shift knob, buttons and stalks) feel great to the touch and feature excellent ergonomic contours.
Features-wise, the Fiesta range has a very extensive list, something unusual in its class. There are the standard things like power windows, mirrors and locks, but peruse the brochure a little more closely and you'll see things like USB input, aux port, Bluetooth Voice Control (for the Sport model) and even an Electronic Stability Programme with Hill Launch Assist control, making the Fiesta as the most affordable car in the market to come with ESP and HLA.
Powering the new Fiesta are a choice of 2 engines: a 95 PS 1.4-liter or a 121 PS 1.6-liter, both being Duratec inline-4, have twin camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder. The 1.6 liter, as tested here, is the better choice of the two, especially with dual camshaft variable valve timing that advances or retards timing to suit either for economy or power delivery. The block, cylinder and head are all made of aluminum to shave weight, while composite materials are even used for the intake manifold to further lighten the car and even improve intake air temperatures (colder is always better).
Great as the powerplant may be, it's in the transmission that the Fiesta has a clear leg up over the competition. All of them. While most of the its contemporaries use conventional, torque converter automatics, the Fiesta has a highly advanced dual clutch transmission; the first in its class. The technology, usually reserved for high end, high performance machines, makes its way under the hood of Ford's most affordable car, promising seamless shifts, better gear ratios, a more direct drive and, most importantly, better fuel economy.
Taking the car out for the first time, the Fiesta's powertrain does live up to the hype. Power delivery is excellent, and the transmission kicks down a gear or two if you floor it. Having the 6-speed breaks up the ratio more effectively for the 121 PS engine to deal with, and at highway speeds, RPM is kept low for good fuel economy, upwards of 17 kilometers to the liter. In town, its literally point and squirt, though the 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to 4th gear upshifts need a little work as the Powershift transmission tends to linger in a lower gear, something you wouldn't want for fuel efficiency in the city.
Where the Fiesta truly delivers is in the driving dynamics. It's one of those cars that really cut its teeth in the UK and the rest of Europe, where the demand for a car that handles itself in the corners is a must. Toss the car into a mountain pass and it feels instantly at home, taking them with a confidence so rarely found in most locally available cars, regardless of class. Steering feels superbly weighted, and overall the driving manners exceed that of the Mazda2, the Fiesta's platform brother. In terms of NVH, the Fiesta is right up there too, as for a car that can drive and corner this well, it soaks up the rough stuff with ease.
Refreshing is one way to describe the new Fiesta. Superb is another. With the new Fiesta, Ford has definitely raised the bar, and set a hard new standard for others to meet.