INITIAL experience with the new Ford Fiesta has left us with a favourable impression: it is a well-appointed and generally very agreeable package that is a worthy contender in the small car market. Earlier this year we tested a 1,6-litre petrol derivative in Trend trim level. The subject of this test is the oilburning 1,6-litre TDCi variant in base-line Ambiente specification. It is the only diesel-powered model in the Fiesta line-up. The Fiesta’s looks have been a real revelation. Even months after launch and with examples seemingly filling our roads, the rakish design is still a head-turner, an extremely stylish alternative in a sea of bulbous econoboxes. Even in Ambiente trim, with wheel caps on steel rims as opposed to alloys, it loses little of its appeal.
Actually, this basic Fiesta is reasonably well equipped. All necessary mod-cons, such as airconditioning, CD player, electric front windows, etc, are in place. Added to this are some highlights that one does not necessarily expect but are welcome nonetheless, such as the height-adjustable driver’s seat, rake/reach-adjustable steering wheel and remote audio controls.
The model on test was trimmed in grey upholstery that, when coupled with the dark metallic exterior paintwork, did create a very sombre mood. Behind the sporty three-spoke steering wheel are deep-set dials. These are neat in execution with simple white-on-black graphics. Controls for the audio/ information system are located on the centre section of the facia. Pride of place is taken by a scroll-click joystick inspired by cellphone design.
The wraparound facia creates a driver-centric sensation. Low down on the hangdown section are rotary controls for the manual air-conditioning system. As we’ve noted before, this simple arrangement seems somewhat archaic in a car that is so fresh and ground-breaking in other aspects of its design. Rear accommodation is acceptable for a vehicle in this class, but the sloping roofline does mean that headroom is lacking, especially when compared with some rivals. Annoyingly, the rear seats do not fold completely flat. And we have commented before that the seatbacks are not covered but have exposed metal surfaces.
Unlike the two petrol engines in other Fiesta models, the PSAsourced diesel has been carried over directly from the previous generation. It displaces 1 560 cm³ and uses twin overhead camshafts and a turbocharger to produce 66 kW of power. More impressive is its torque output of 200 N.m at a low 1 500 r/min, which means it will pull a higher gear than with a similar-sized normally aspirated petrol engine – a turbodiesel drivability advantage. The engine is smooth and – once over the initial clattery start-up noises, and if engine speed is kept well below the red line – its oil-burning nature is hardly detectable.
The Fiesta diesel fared well on our test strip. From zero to 100 km/h we managed to clock a best time of 12,65 seconds, only fractionally slower than Ford’s claim. Top speed averaged 175 km/h, exactly as advertised. Most impressive, though, was the car’s braking performance. In our gruelling ten-stop routine from 100 km/h to standstill, the little car averaged just 2,86 seconds. The 258 mm ventilated front discs paired with 200 mm drums on the rear wheels performed consistently to haul the 1,1 ton car up straight and true each time, and continued to do their job with no sign of distress.
One of our main gripes with the new Fiesta is the lack of involving dynamics, even though this will only be a problem for a small percentage of drivers. The electrically-assisted steering, in particular, does little to inform the driver of grip levels. However, handling and comfort levels are as good as anything else in the segment.
The Fiesta diesel is not a bad little car. It rides well, has a powerful engine and an acceptable level of equipment. But, when viewed in the light of its petrol-driven Trend sibling, it suddenly does not make much sense. Despite having the lowest spec, it is the second most expensive Fiesta on offer, the 1,4 Trend offering a good deal more for nearly R20 000 less, including (amongst other things) remote central locking, voice control, Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels and electric rear windows.
Of course there is the diesel’s frugality, but the 1,4-litre Fiesta is no fuel guzzler either. In fact, you would have to drive pretty far – in excess of 100 000 km – to offset the difference in list price before the diesel’s fuel-sipping nature started to pay dividends. By that logic, the 1,6 TDCi is not the Fiesta of choice, but it is a good diesel offering, if you must…