Pleasantly surprised - a game-changer
It's a brand new car, so nothing to report.
SEATING POSITION & VISIBILITY & ERGONOMICS:
The seats are rather firm, in a typical German manner, although not that firm as, say, an Opel or VW/Audi/Skoda of the same price category. Legroom up front is more than satisfactory, and finding an ideal driving position is really easy, what with the steering wheel also offering a vast amount of vertical and axial adjustment.
The seats are very pleasing in the upper (back) section, whereas the seating surface is way too short even for average-leg-size individuals. Ford obviously chose to make it easier for frequent in-and-out movements (city driving!), but unfortunately to such an extent, that the lower body faces a serious lack of support.
The steering wheel itself is a very successful design, and the grip is almost perfect, enhancing the driving experience further.
Pedals are nicely spaced, and heel-and-toe is somehow still possible (obviously they are not ideal for sporty driving, yet they are very acceptable both for spacing and for distance from the floor and general alignment - pedal level alignment). Pedal feel is very good, except for the clutch pedal being not 100% defined (the car was new and not run-in). The brake pedal is not the firmest out there, but it's still very positive, with a nice feel and allowing very precise dosage.
The gearshift mechanism is definitely best in its class, and can put to shame even some much more expensive machinery – it is simply a combination of buttery smooth, sporty-solid shifting, with very distinct slot-spacing and a VERY positive, click-clack engagement feel. The throw of the shifter is a bit longer than for out-and-out sport driving, but we don’t drive our cars in a sporty manner 100% of the time, so as it is, the gear shifting is JUST perfect. It’s a pity that the stock gear knob is a bit finicky and looks cheap, but it can be replaced with a proper sport gear knob cheaply, and you can have almost Porsche-levels of gearshift quality in a 10,000 Euro car. Impressive. Well done Ford!
One very big (almost shocking!) fail in the ergonomics of the Fiesta, however, is the totally wrong positioning of the door mirrors; since the seating position & general chassis layout is very unusual (your legs are literally “introduced” into the engine compartment, rendering front legroom supremely comfortable, but also making you sit somewhat further-forward than usual), they should ideally be positioned where the windshield touches the hood, and not where they are (some 10 inches backwards on the door!). The way the door mirrors are positioned, the driver is seriously disabled in using them frequently, as minor head movement is needed (they cannot be seen solely by a swift eye movement).
This failure tends to make for a big, serious drawback on an otherwise perfect and enjoyable driving & seating position.
Another, almost nerve-wrecking design failure, is the positioning / layout / colour of the onboard-computer display: namely, it is positioned some 1 inch closer to the driver’s eyes compared to the surrounding rev-counter and speedometer, making it impossible to “throw” a single glance on all three instruments (with a single eye-focusing movement). Instead, one needs to focus the eye separately if he/she needs quick information from the display, and ANOTHER eye-focusing (!) if the rev-counter and/or speedo info is needed. To make things worse, the bright-orange colour (especially at night) of this display, and its digital font, are TOTALLY different and incoherent with the font/colour/font size/lightning intensity of the illuminated numbers on the rev-counter/speedo!
This design flaw (failure in my eyes) makes it necessary for the driver to mentally pre-select two different eye-focus movement commands, apart from the main (third!) eye-focus for looking at the road. This causes a much higher fatigue level for the driver, especially in night driving, so definitely this is a big drawback when using the Fiesta as a long-distance hauler (which it is surprisingly good at in all other aspects – what a pity!).
Visibility-wise, the roof-mounter mirror is OK, and gives a really honest picture-frame of what is available (not a lot!) to be seen through the comically-small rear windscreen. When driving, the rear visibility is acceptable, though. When reversing/manoeuvring, the rear visibility is verging on poor.
You have to rely on those big & nice door mirrors, which are unfortunately positioned in a totally unnatural spot. When manoeuvring/reversing, they are less of a pain to use, but still your head is forced to make comical “no-no” movements.
Forward visibility is really OK, having in mind the thickness of the A-pillars in all of the contemporary cars. On the Fiesta, the A-pillars are not an exception, yet both their angles and general direction-of-thickness is very carefully chosen. The only obstruction they create is the small triangle-window they form with the hood – on the driver’s side, the glass is not visible at all, and those 4-5 inches are really a blind-spot of sorts (although nothing critical, really – there are many much worse cars out there in this regard!).
In the 5-door version, when joining intersections, the B-pillar tends to be right “in-your-face”, so it IS a visibility issue, but in my personal opinion it is a nice trade-off with the 3-door version, whose doors are really “impossible-to-open-in-tight-parking-spots”, so you must exit the car using some teleportation techniques…
The audio commands on the steering wheel are intuitive, simple and lovely. The main commands of the audio system are, however, rather complicated, and best not tackled while driving.
The radio/audio system itself is rather good for this price segment, perhaps superior. The reception is clear & stable, the speakers are crisp and high-quality, with useful bass & depth, and the amplifier is really punchy for a stock-system.
It has only one, but VERY big flaw: the amplifier power has a rather steep surge at one point – the volume difference is WAY too big between 7 and 9 on the volume level. 7 or 8 is just not loud enough, and 9 is already boomy and distracting.
What a pity, for an otherwise shockingly good stock stereo system.
FIT & FINISH:
The dashboard is surprisingly well finished, with a pleasant soft-touch, and obviously very high-quality materials were used. The centre console is also seriously finished, although the HVAC controls look a bit too fragile (although they are really not like that - in operation their feel is really solid and mature).
The doors close with a reassuring sound, and everything seems nicely and solidly built, almost without exception. Another very serious and mature feature for what is supposedly a cheap vehicle.
Shockingly good. The engine mounts transmit just the very slightest amount of engine feel (just enough to feel the engine when revving, not more - perfect!), whereas road noise, transmission noise and undercarriage (suspension) noise is really minimal.
Wind noise is somewhat more disturbing (between 110 and 120 kph it is most pronounced), but still nothing to really notice.
The dashboard, door panels and generally all parts of the interior were totally solid and without even a hint of a rattle, even going over some seriously damaged roads. It seems that Ford knows how to make even the cheapest model totally silent, yet they intentionally “filtered-in” all the right noises/vibrations (just the perfect tiny amount!) to make the car enjoyable & characterful on the road, and not totally soullessly silent (as some other manufacturers often go wrong and “kill” their own cars aurally).
In this aspect, the car presents levels of enjoyment comparable with premium brands/models – truly mind-boggling performance, bearing in mind the entry-price.
The Duratec 1,25 engine (82 PS) produces the proper sounds on the open road and under acceleration, making even a characterful, rorty 4-cylinder sound when really pushed around, whilst in the city, and under normal low-load conditions, it is almost ideally silent (a perfect combination, that I honestly never expected to find in a 10,000 Euro car!).
HANDLING & RIDE:
The Fiesta is so good in both of these aspects (especially the handling), that I won’t waste space to describe it. It’s mind boggling.
Imagine the high-speed stability & tracking of a huge premium sedan (130-140 kph highway speeds are a doddle, it is alarmingly stable & secure), combined with the in-corner-capabilities and agility of a Peugeot 205 GTI, with the traction limits of almost a Renault Clio-Sport, and a turn-in liveliness almost like a Mini Cooper S.
And a steering that can rival - the Mini Cooper S.
And all of this, with a secondary ride that, a few years ago, belonged to a BMW 5-series or a good Mondeo.
Amazing. Shocking. Benchmark-setting. Knockout.
Yet, the primary ride, especially on broken and damaged roads, is somewhat limited, and from what can be felt, it seems that the suspension itself is not the culprit, but the front shock-absorbers' damping power feels somewhat “cheap”. Whereas the rear shock absorbers are simply stunning – it is obvious that Ford cut some financial corners on the front shockers. Again, it might be that the perfection of the other aspects of this chassis tends to make this feature stand out, and it might be nothing to be really worth mentioning, as well.
Ride vs. speed, the car is not happy between 90-115 kph, as in this speed-window, the ride tends to be choppy and not really in harmony with the overall smoothness of the entire Fiesta dynamic experience.
Above 115 kph, however, the car (almost magically) gains down force and the spring/damping equation becomes very sophisticated, with an enjoyable and properly “grooved-in” ride, that until recently, just didn’t belong in this class & price level.
Again amazing, yet again somewhat limiting in the way the car dictates which speed-ranges it prefers on the highway.
The steering is very well weighted for what’s apparently an electric power-steering system, and its dynamic feel (especially under high loads) is so resilient & unyielding that one doubts whether Ford timely sourced some steering components from the Volvo S60 or thereabouts... It’s just race-track tough, and was a total surprise for me to see that one could obtain such a steering system in a car costing 10,000 Euro. Good times!
To conclude for this section:
Apart from the somewhat pronounced ride-vs-speed sensitivity (the car dramatically changes its ride feel & composure above 120 kph, almost like an on/off switch!), and the somewhat under damped front suspension (on very rough roads), here we have a rare example of a suspension/ride/handling so good that it completely changes the game value-wise: 5-7 years ago, such handling (combined with such stoutness!) could be found only in a premium sport sedan costing 3-4 times as much!).
Thank you Ford!
ENGINE CHARACTERISTICS & GEARING:
The car is still new (still under its running-in regime), and the Duratec engine seems to quickly acquire the proper cylinder pressures and “loosens” itself every day.
In spite of this, a certain engine character & performance is already noticeable. The ECU seems to be programmed in such a way that anything over 30-40% of throttle-pedal movement gives a “get-up-and-go” command to the engine parameters, and the car feels really lively, light and light-footed – even a slight sporty buzz from the engine/exhaust can be felt!
Whereas, in light-throttle-conditions, it purrs unobstructively and has just enough torque for smooth, economical forward progress (in this “light-foot” mode, though, inclines and hills make the car feel heavy and there’s just enough (not) torque – but press it on a little less fuel-mindedly, and the car gets up and goes in a rather spirited manner).
Therefore, in spite of being a typical rev-hungry multi-valve non-turbo engine, the Duratec in this Fiesta was obviously programmed to offer a smooth but relatively torquey output when caring for fuel, and a sharply-contrasted engine nature when the right-foot prods the pedal deeper. To me this is a very desirable and perfect combination.
Out on the road (i.e. when the car has gained momentum, above 80-90 kph), the engine is more than enough for the aerodynamics & weight of this incredibly spacious “little” hatchback. The Duratec makes all the right noises when asked for, and the performance can be really lively – obviously the aerodynamics are good, but also the ECU is programmed to offer a spirited drive when needed.
The gearing seems to be ideal in the first four gears, really no complaints at all – yet, the 5th gear is (at least for my taste) a tad too short (too low-geared). At circa 125-130 kph (when the car is at its happiest stride ride-wise, as stated above under Ride & Handling), the revs are almost at 3800 - 4000 RPM, which does not give you confidence in relation to fuel-consumption on long hauls. A 6-speed gearbox, with a nice laid-back overdrive 6th gear, would be a blessing on this car, although, on second thoughts, the 1,2 engine might be just a tad too weak for that.
In other words, both as ride quality and as gearing/engine characteristics, this Fiesta was designed with a relatively narrow speed band for “happy motoring”, as it seems to be happiest between 120 and 135 kph. Under 120 its ride is somewhat too harsh (and wind noise is pronounced), whereas over 135-140 the revs are already too high for longer hauls (economy probably suffers a bit).
This is both good and bad, as, when it’s within this “happy window”, the Fiesta is just marvelous, amazing to drive. But outside of this range, there’s something missing to an extent.
It is exactly in this “discipline” that the diesel-powered cars offer a much broader useful speed range on the highway. The petrol engines are just behind in this aspect, yet I expected more flexibility from the Fiesta 1,2 82 PS anyway. Not disappointed, but it seems that the car dictates the speed you choose for the longer distances. Nothing wrong with it, it even gives the car some dominant character trait, yet I would prefer to have more “choices” on the menu, as there are trips when I need a leisurely, safe and economical constant 120 kph, and there are trips when I need a relatively economical but bearable 140-150 kph constant progress (e.g. on very long interstate runs). The Fiesta 1,2 seems to be just too “narrow” for such tasks.
On a 500 km road trip (mostly highway), driven in very variable conditions of speed & load (due to running-in procedures, but mostly between 100 and 125 kph, with 20-30 medium-load “give-it-a-boot” runs), the car returned an average (according to the on-board computer) of 6,2 lt/100 kms, and the real average was approx. 6,4-6,5 litres (measured brim-to-brim). This gives me reasons to expect that, when:
- The engine is fully run-in and achieving the normal compression pressures, and...
- The manner of driving will be much more constant & light-footed (after running-in).
The fuel consumption shall stabilize at (my assumption, based also on others’ experiences) at circa 5,2 – 5,4 lt/100 km – this is on a long run, with 120-130 kph on the highway, combined with 110-120 kph on the dual carriageway roads.
This is more than acceptable for such a good and lively car.
I am somewhat more pessimistic about city fuel consumption, though. It seems that, unless one is determined to “feather” the throttle in city driving, and can deprive himself/herself of the sweet engine character when pressed, then the city fuel consumption could probably be persuaded to fall under 7,5-8 litres/100km (that is with the A/C off!).
However, in the real “spirited” conditions that this car WILL convince you to use (believe me – it will!), the city fuel consumption will likely exceed 9 litres/100km, which is a huge argument in favour of the TDCi-diesel versions.
With current prices of fuel, a “normal” car that consumes above 8,5 litres/100 km in town driving tends to lose meaning, as the running costs are almost the same compared to some hot hatch that consumes 9-10 litres, and the grin-factor is immensely better – cue the Fiesta ST / Clio RS / 208 GTI etc. etc. !
Luckily, there’s always the Fiesta TDCi to consider (although it is not as smooth as the Duratec obviously!).
The Fiesta has such a mature, grown-up competence in many of the crucial areas in this segment - most notably its virtues are the space offering & ride/handling equation (out of this world!), and also its design and the fit & finish & CVH are also superior – that one can probably forgive the two crucial failures in the secondary ergonomics (mirror positioning & usability, and the dreaded instrument cluster layout/colouring).
It depends on the state of mind, really: on one hand, the car is so bloody brilliant in all other aspects, that these two criticisms can be even ignored (by some).
But, as so often in life, being so perfect makes some “minor” imperfections even more visible and makes them stand out. Still, the above two design failures are definitely not minor ones (especially as they concern safety & are fatigue-inducing on long-run drives).
If you plan to use the car on the open road too often, the above two issues (mirrors and instrument cluster), combined with the just the slightest bit too-short 5th gear gearing – then the Fiesta should be probably avoided (or you can opt for the diesel engine, which takes care of the third problem, but still the first two problems remain).
On the other hand, for a car that is SO SILENT & COMFORTABLE (OK, apart from the seats…), the Fiesta packs so much character (THAT otherworldly steering & handling, the engine noise, ECU “Jekyll & Hyde” engine programming, perfect NVH calibration etc. etc.!), that it’s practically a no-brainer.
Honestly I cannot even think of finding such a sweet balance in any other car in this price-segment: when you need a silent, soothing and calm drive, it’s there – when you need a thrill/buzz/character/liveliness, it delivers immediately as well. A blessing!
On a completely different level, another dilemma develops: if the car has those two or three distinct flaws that prevent it from being an ideal long-hauler-cum-city-car, then it has at least to perform ideally in city driving, no?
Well, if the fuel consumption proves to be acceptable in city driving, it’s OK – but if not, then the entire exercise seems half-hearted, and you have a car that neither excels on the highway (ergonomic issues), nor in the city (relatively obscene fuel consumption for what is essentially a city car, and NOT a warm/hot hatch to enjoy for the gas you pay?).
So in spite of being a no-brainer on first sight, one has to carefully consider everything before deciding.
I’d define it as follows:
If you are a keen driver, that likes sports cars and adores driving, but you need the comfort & safety & space of a family car within a CITY-CAR footprint (within the constraints of this class – these are NOT proper family cars of course!), you’d be amazed at what fun & personality & safety this Fiesta offers in real road conditions.
However, if you are not a keen driver, and if you see cars as white goods for A-to-B transport, and do not find any joy in driving them, then there are probably 2-3 better choices out there (and still, in terms purely of space available, finish and quality, the Fiesta would probably still win!).
And BTW, if you are of the latter type of drivers, the Fiesta will have you converted in no time. It’s really that good, chassis-wise.
And for many of us, let’s face it - (almost) nothing else matters.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 3rd June, 2013