Reliable and fun little car with handling to die for!
Blown boot courtesy light bulb.
The car is used for a mixture of daily commuting and dedicated B-road blasts, and never fails to start on the key, runs flawlessly, and provides plenty of driver entertainment.
The 1593cc 16 valve Zetec SE four develops 105 bhp, and it's a characterful and eager little unit. However, it bizarrely manages to be both one of the cars strengths, and also its Achilles heel. Part throttle response is absolutely fantastic, with gentle throttle openings providing instantaneous and sometimes eye-opening surge. Low down torque is superb for a small capacity multivalve unit, and means the car can be squirted around town without ever exploring more than 3,000 RPM. Sounds good too, with a deep chested growl as the revs build. It feels like a quick car when you're driving gently, something which is normally reserved for engines developing twice the horsepower of this.
Unfortunately, when the road opens up, and the revs pile on, that early promise is not built on in quite the way I would have hoped. Booted through the gears, the Zetec S picks up speed reasonably well, but that sharp response in the first half of the throttle travel becomes a tad vague and woolly during the second half. The engine also feels unhappy being pushed beyond 6,000 RPM which is bizarre considering the 8 valve unit in our old 106 XSi pulled like a train right through to its 7,200 RPM limiter. Finding the limiter in the Zetec S is possible, but the engine comes over a bit breathless during the last 1,000 RPM, and the performance seems to tail off too. The plus side, is that mid range torque and throttle response, combined with 23mph/1,000 RPM in 5th provides surprising motorway ability, with the car able to cruise easily, and with bags in reserve until well into three figures.
If the engine can be disappointing, the same cannot be said of the chassis. I fail to see how a front drive car could be better set up, and coming from an ex-106 XSi driver, that is praise indeed. Compared to the 106, the Fiesta initially felt very stable, and the sheer grip from the fat 195/50 Pirellis was noticeably better than the 185/60's on the 106. Taking the Fiesta out for a first blast, I was amazed by its ability to cover ground quickly, and without the (admittedly entertaining) tail-out antics that the 106 would often display. The steering is almost telepathic in its responses, and offers superb feel from the front tyres. Rapid direction changes are astonishing, with the nose darting from apex to apex, and the tail simply following faithfully.
Push it harder, and the Fiesta shows it has real balance and poise to go with the impressive grip. The first thing to occur is a slight widening of the line, as understeer progressively sets in. Feather the throttle, and the understeer disappears instantly. You can feel the tail gently tug against the rear tyres, but it remains in line, and the line remains tidy. Snap the throttle shut, and the tail will break away, but it does it so gently and progressively that you have seemingly minutes to correct it. Planting the throttle will usually sort it out, or a dab of opposite lock from that superb steering. You can play with, and provoke the car in exactly the same way that the 106 allowed, but it remains that bit more composed, and that bit more forgiving. Only once has the car "bitten" me, and that was a bizarre situation where both front and rear ends let go at the same time, sending the car into a mildly terrifying four wheel drift. In this situation, steering and throttle actions seem to have no effect, and luckly the car scrubbed off speed quickly and control was regained. However, some experimentation with tyre pressures seems to have eliminated this, and thankfully it has not occurred since.
The rest of the car is what you would expect from a Fiesta. The interior is functional rather than pretty, although the basic ergonomics, fat three spoke wheel, and the funky white dials are superb. General materials are however on the cheap side, and the detail finish is poor. Things like carpets which fit badly around the seat runners, unplugged holes in the footwell trim, and loose, badly fitting trim in the boot are not the kind of things you would find on a Polo. Basic build quality however is good, and the car feels taut and fresh with 20,000 hard driven miles on it. It will be interesting to see how it fares as the miles go on. One thing I cannot fault though is the paint, which looks simply superb after a good wash and wax.
Running costs are also typical Fiesta. The car is averaging bang on 35 mpg - a little less on a blast, a little more on a gentle run. The engine has used barely any oil, and will not need to be topped up before the next service, and reliability thus far has been faultless. Only a blown boot courtesy light bulb has blotted the copybook, although the 59p replacement hardly broke the bank. The other nice thing about Zetec S ownership is insurance group 8E. A years comprehensive cover for a 26 year old with full NCB in London, and the car kept on the street cost just £420. That said, in just six months of ownership, the car has attracted the attention of vandals on three occasions, and now sports two key scars along the rear quarter, and a broken rear wiper. The 106 was never touched in the two years we owned it, and the Fiesta's less subtle appearance is the only explanation I can offer. The total disinterest and lack of helpful response from the police is also a factor I suspect, as it hardly deters these low-lives from coming back and trying again. A good alarm is a wise investment, and is next on the list.
To summarise, if you want a great looking, superb handling, reliable, insurable and economical warm hatch, the Fiesta Zetec S is a perfect choice. If you want outright speed, you might be disappointed, but in my opinion, the handling abilities more than make up for it. Besides which, if it was quicker, you wouldn't be able to insure it so cheaply. Overall, I'm delighted with the car, and apart from the odd moment where I wish it was quicker, I can't seriously fault it. Try one, you'll love it!!
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 6th October, 2002