Cheap, cheerful and utterly reliable
Fanbelt snapped at c. 90,000 miles, replaced in about 3 minutes.
Slightly erratic electrics due to damp and sand; solved by removing/replacing one of the fuses as necessary.
Rear right-hand wheel bearing uncapped (but still ran fine).
Slightly sticky clutch cable.
This car is very very rare in the UK. Its Kia twin (the Kia Pride) is much more common.
This car was bought by me to complete the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge. It was bought largely on the strength of being mechanically simple and, crucially, being a left-hand drive.
Before I bought it, the car had sat in a damp lock-up in Swansea for a few months. After that it sat in the rain on my drive for a few more months. Despite being quite damp and hardly driven, it never, ever, failed to start.
The Festiva has an unremarkable squared-off shape that screams "build a car on a miniature budget". This was evidently unsuitable for a "rally" car so we added a double white racing stripe, a pair of colossal suns, body-length red spikes and a host of stickers. Coupled with a 3-foot CB aerial and enameled white wheels, we were subject to awestruck glances from small boys from Britain to Gambia.
The engine and transmission in these cars are good. The Mazda-sourced 1.3 fuel-injected motor is smooth and responsive. Also the car weighs about 700 kg if you strip it out (as we did) so is really quite nippy.
Being an American car, it has insane seatbelts that attach to rails running the full length of eact door opening. These were particularly useful for impressing African traffic policemen.
We took out the back seats and fitted a bulkhead (made out of an old bathroom door that I found in a skip). Following this "van conversion" the tiny car swallowed an impressive amout of spare tyres, jerrycans, food and general kit.
The glove box is a bit tiny, but the dashboard and interior are pretty well laid out. Considering how little space there is to play with the designers did themselves proud.
Having a 5-speed gearbox was a real bonus on the long motorway hauls; considering the lack of rear interior panelling the car was pretty quiet and used almost no petrol.
The fanbelt supplied with the car looked quite ragged, but because of this made quite a cool whine like a supercharger drive-belt. It chose to snap in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania during a sandstorm, but was only the work of a few minutes to change.
The Festiva handled the Sahara quite well, due to being lightly loaded and having small overhangs. It got stuck a fair bit, however, due to its tiny 12" wheels. They were very narrow and didn't give us much clearance. Wide 15-inchers would have rolled over the sand much more easily and, if I was repeating the event, would be the single (and only) aspect of the car that I would change.
Apart from the little wheels, the only major snag with the car was insuring the thing! It is not a well-known model in the UK and car insurers run a mile as soon as you mention the words "American Import". A few can handle reasonably popular imports like a Ford Mustang, but this little car left dozens of pre-programmed computer work-it-out system utterly flummoxed. Eventually, the good people at Adrian Flux insurance were able to sort me a policy (for a whopping £840/year, which is actually insane). It is really worth making sure that you can insure a car before you buy it!
This car sold in Banjul (Gambia) for over £600 which is more than twice the price I paid for it!
The car is image-free, has very lightweight bodywork and a slightly lame stereo. Other than that you really can't go wrong. Over 4,000 miles of hard driving really proved the Festiva's worth. From the sheer madness or Marrakech's 1-way system to the sands of Mauritania, it never failed to do the job, while being a constant grin-inducer. We were sorry to part with such a marvellous little car in Africa, but know that someone has got themselves a machine that will go on for ever.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 4th March, 2007