Better late. . .



Ford Fiesta

Pardon our cynicism, but the continually excellent sales results of the Ford Fiesta (virtually always amongst the top three in the UK) rather suggests that the British car-buying public either doesn’t read what is written in the motoring press or, if they do, that they don’t really take heed.

Since the inception of the Mk1, the Fiesta has been an okay sort of car, but there have always, always been dynamically more appealing alternatives. Be that as it may. Ford’s marketing efficiency has always triumphed over superior engineering.

Until now.

And it’s not that the Fiesta’s sales graph has wilted. They really have improved the product.

A brand new Fiesta will be introduced about 18 months from now. In the meantime, several of its most vital components have been grafted on beneath the current set of body panels: Ford calls the result the ‘1994½’ Fiesta.

Visually, it is barely distinguishable from the previous model. Mild revisions to body mouldings and wheel trims offer the only external clues, while inside an airbag features as standard on the driver’s side and is available as an option for passengers.

The flavour of the model range has changed somewhat.

Gone, forever one presumes, is the XR nomenclature. This doesn’t only affect the Fiesta, but the Escort too. Concerned at the effect on sales of rising running costs, Ford has worked in consultation with the insurance industry in order to suss out exactly what is and what isn’t premium-friendly. While the 130 bhp RS 1800 will continue, the XR2 has been shelved. The incoming Si, available either with the 75 bhp, 1.4 CVH engine or the 90 bhp, 16v, Zetec 1.6 that also serves in the Escort and Mondeo ranges, takes over as the popular sports model, though we were unable to try it at the launch in Cannes as it had been damaged in transit.

Best not tell the insurance company . . .

We were, however, able to sample 1.3 petrol and 1.8 diesel-engined models.

The chassis has been stiffened considerably (and the shell has been reinforced by the currently fashionable side impact bars), the benefits of which are immediately apparent. It is sharper than it was, and far more reponsive. Ride quality while still not on a par with some has also been improved. The steering, too, has been transformed. It is now much more direct, and the optional powered system (with almost two turns less lock than the manual) is blessed with plenty of feel.

While the diesel has been refined, and is now much more civilised than used to be the case, the 1.3 engine remains harsh and thrashy. All the same, there is the basis here for a hatchback whose road performance might, for the first time in the model’s 18-year history, match its sales performance.

We look forward to trying the Si in the near future. S A