Ford Fiesta: New Fiesta shining star of Ford stable

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If you've ever wondered what the difference is between strong performance and dynamic sparkle, then I suggest you head down to your Ford dealer and ask to take a 1.4-litre automatic version of the latest Fiesta for a spin rather than the more obviously sporty 1.6-litre manual.

Mustering 71kW and 128Nm, the 1.4 is only modestly powered and so, with a fairly standard four-stage self-shifting transmission taking those peak outputs to the front wheels, falls well short of being an ace sprinter or hill-climbing star.

Yet borrow it long enough to go beyond a quick assessment of around-town performance, and try as well a winding back road - poorly surfaced for good measure if you dare - and a vehicle that might too quickly be dismissed as merely adequate in respect of driver appeal can show as a shining star.

That was certainly my experience, to such an extent that - after several days on test - I ran late on my scheduled return time for the car, simply to take the junior Ford for a second run over the twists and turns of the old main road over Mt Cargill.

Knowing that it uses the same underlying platform as the Mazda 2, it came as no surprise first time over that road to find that the Fiesta 1.4 was an exceptionally well-mannered machine.

Tackling the road from north to south, though, meant that the tastiest sequences of bends on that first run were taken on the uphill climb, when the engine was labouring to maintain pace, despite my use of the manual shift gate to override the transmission's hunting instincts as it sought to find the right gear for the hill.

Second time over Mt Cargill I travelled south to north, and so provided the car with a better opportunity to show its dynamic strengths.

Its road manners are both impeccable and engaging, comprising a blend of excellent small-car ride, superb chassis composure over bumps, and a rare agility in response to driver input through the steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator.

As a result, even when travelling at quite a moderate pace, this new Fiesta has a rare talent for putting a smile on its driver's face over the tight-and-twisty stuff.

When the eager-revving engine is working hard it's also impressively quiet for a small car, with minimal wind roar, and road noise is well contained.

Those who value style should also be satisfied with how it looks.

Not, perhaps, as endearingly cute as Suzuki's chart-topping Swift, but more solid in appearance, with the trapezoid grille, wrap-around headlights and rising waistline that are hallmarks of Ford's small and medium-car family look.

Even on this, the cheaper of the two models available in the Kiwi Fiesta line, alloy wheels are standard, as is a tidy rear spoiler and side mirrors that incorporate the side indicators.

The theme of style, allied to a high standard specification, continues in the front of the cabin, where key controls and instruments are laid out in an attractive and user-friendly array focused on the centre console.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive while the driving position, which can be altered for height as well as rake and reach, is also first-rate.

The choice of interior materials is something of a mix, with good-quality upholstery for the seats, but a reasonably extensive use of hard plastic trims.

As part of its $25,990 price tag, the Fiesta 1.4 keeps up with the modern age (and gets a jump on its main rivals) by ticking the box on user-friendly Bluetooth connectivity, impressively allied to a voice-activated command system for both the phone and sound system.

Cruise control (with the buttons mounted in the steering wheel), and a trip computer, also make it on to the features list, joined by expected staples such as anti-lock brakes, power windows and mirrors, and air conditioning.

The sound-system is MP3 compatible, with 3.5mm auxiliary and USB plug-in points positioned next to a handy little iPod storage cubby.

The airbag count runs to five (the odd one out is for the driver's knees), and electronic stability programming is standard along with traction control.

Those in the back are not, it must be said, accommodated quite as generously as in the best of the Fiesta's rivals.

While equipped with handy features such as bag-hooks, the 295-litre boot is not especially large either, and nor does the Fiesta - with its simple arrangement of split-folding rear squabs - challenge best-in-class standards for load-carrying flexibility between the boot and the cabin.

If, then, you are buying a new small car with a hard head and flexibility a key point of interest, then the new Fiesta 1.4 might just miss out.

If, however, you are seeking up-to-the-minute equipment in a predominantly around-town vehicle that also provides class-leading dynamic flair, then this is one car that is deserving of very serious consideration.


Ford Fiesta: New Fiesta shining star of Ford stable
At a Glance

Ford Fiesta 1.4 Zetec automatic

From $25,990

Duratec 1398cc four-cylinder, max power 71kW@5750rpm, max torque 128Nm@4200rpm.

Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive.

Brakes and Stability Systems:
Front disc and rear drum brakes with anti-lock, traction and stability control systems.

Wheels, tyres:
16-inch alloys and 195-45 R16 tyres.

Fuel and Economy:
91 octane unleaded, 6.5 litres/100km (on standard combined cycle), tank capacity 43 litres.

Length 3950mm, width 1722mm, height 1433mm.

3 years. 100,000kms

RATING (4/5)