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Ford Fiesta Ghia Road Test

An impressive entry into the 1.6 litre hatch market.

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Poor NVH
  • Firm suspension and seats
  • Best performance is on premium unleaded
  • Rigid body with generous space
  • Drives like a larger car
  • Useful luxury features
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We’ve seen it happen time after time. A car manufacturer grabs a base model vehicle and crams it full of poorly integrated ‘features’ in an attempt to create a luxury pack. Oh, and then they charge anywhere up to 50 percent more than the car’s base price. Value for money? There it goes - rolling out the door...

Thankfully, the new Ford Fiesta Ghia is not one of those vehicles.

The 5-speed manual Fiesta Ghia (as tested) enters the market with an AUD$21,490 pricetag. Sure, that’s a 34 percent premium over the AUD$15,990 base Fiesta LX 5-door, but take into account the Ghia’s standard air-conditioning (a $2000 option in the LX), alloy wheels and traditional Ghia luxuries and it shapes up as decent value.

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The little Fiesta is the newest addition to the local Ford stable and within a few kilometres of driving it strikes you as the very latest-and-greatest design. The Fiesta has an amazing ability to drive like a much larger car – this is primarily thanks to its spacious, airy cabin and excellent body rigidity. There’s not a single creak or rattle from the tailgate to remind you you’re driving an economy hatch.

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There’s also plenty of useable performance from the 1.6-litre Duratec DOHC all-alloy four-cylinder. Using electronic throttle control, it’s a responsive and flexible little engine. Capable of 74W and 146Nm (at 6000 and 4000 rpm respectively) the 1080kg 5-speed Fiesta Ghia can accelerate to 100 km/h in just over 11 seconds. No, it’s nothing exhilarating, but it’s enough to keep you out of trouble’s way.

As tested, the Fiesta’s 5-speed manual gearbox gives a nice short-shift action but it lacks feel. An optional 4-speed auto is available at extra cost.

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Fuel consumption during our test was pretty much as you’d expect in the 1.6-litre hatchback class – just over 7 litres per 100km. However, due to the engine’s high 11.0:1 compression ratio, Ford advises that you fill the 45-litre tank with premium unleaded to ensure optimum performance. Fill it with normal unleaded (as our test car was received) and there’s noticeably less throttle response and power. It also audibly detonates when taking off in a hurry.

Without question the new Fiesta’s cabin is right up there with the best in this category.

Thanks to a low waistline and a relatively high roof, the cabin feels very airy - despite the dark colour trim used in our test vehicle. All-round visibility is excellent.

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The driving position is comfortable but the Fiesta’s seats let things down in a big way – they’re too firm and offer zero lateral support. The only other in-cabin problem is an obvious lack of NVH development. The Duratec engine is gruff and noisy under acceleration, there’s excessive tyre noise on coarse bitumen and aerodynamic noise is evident.

Still, the Fiesta manages to redeem itself...

There’s plenty of front space to accommodate a driver well over 183cm (6 feet) tall. Impressively, another 183cm passenger can also be seated directly behind with more than adequate foot, knee and headroom. Unfortunately, (like the fronts) the rear seat is too firm.

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Rear cargo space is big enough to carry a sizeable shopping load. The 60/40 split rear backrests are also easily folded forward to expand carrying capacity. Note that there’s no need to slide out the rear head restraints to fold the backrest forward – the Fiesta’s adjustable rear head restraints can be easily lowered flush with the top of the backrest. Our only criticism is the cargo area is cheaply finished – for example, the carpet on the floor is completely unfastened.

The Ghia-spec interior is equipped with everything you need to be comfortable – but nothing superfluous.

All Festiva models are decked out with power front windows, an immobiliser, remote central locking, leather steering wheel and electric mirrors. Safety is also enhanced by standard dual front airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners.

The Ghia receives all of this plus deluxe trim with attractive brushed aluminium highlights, map lights, easy-to-use air conditioning and an upgrade 6-disc CD sound system, which delivers decent sound. You also get remote audio volume controls mounted on the steering column.

The instrumentation – although basic – is not entirely clear. Some of the markings on the speedo are too small and the digital display for fuel level and coolant temperature is not easy to read in certain light conditions. Apparently, a traditional needle-style gauge wasn’t good enough...

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The Fiesta manages to deliver a big car ride in the majority of conditions, but – combined with the too-firm seats – the taut damping can cause some discomfort. Note that this happens only over B-grade urban roads – the Fiesta is remarkably composed on the open road.

Employing MacPherson front struts with lower L arms and a semi-independent ‘twist-beam’ rear, the Fiesta is 100 percent stiffer in bending and 40 percent stiffer torsionally than its predecessor. Note that much of the Fiesta’s design is based on the Mazda 3.

The front-wheel-drive Fiesta offers delightful handling balance - its chassis attitude is easy adjustable via the accelerator pedal. This is certainly not a car that you’d categorise as a kill-all-the-fun understeerer. There’s also a surprising amount of grip from the 195/50 Bridgestone Turanzas. With its combination of great balance and grip, the Fiesta can zip through tight and medium-radius corners fast enough to scare many ‘high-performance’ cars. Note that there’s no stability control or traction control.

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If you buy a hatchback for its nimbleness the Fiesta won’t disappoint. It has a wonderfully tight 9.8-metre turning circle and, with just 2.8 turns lock to lock, the steering is nicely responsive. Weighting of the power assisted rack and pinion arrangement is spot-on.

The brakes might not be particularly high-tech but they performed faultlessly during our road test. The front employs 258mm ventilated discs while the rear gets ol’ 203mm drum brakes. With ABS and EBD, however, the Fiesta stops powerfully and consistently.

Fresh out of the design studio, the Fiesta has attractive styling to draw in customers.

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Available only as a 5-door, the Ghia model is solidly proportioned and features high-mount tail lights and large, effective headlights. The Ghia also rides on attractive 5-spoke 15 x 6-inch alloys and carries a chrome grille, fog lights and colour coded mirrors. Oh, and you also receive Ghia badging. Paint and panel fitment is well up to standard - and you can point to this when you tell people your new car is designed and built in Germany...

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With spacious accommodation, useful luxury features, decent performance, great chassis balance and good build quality, the Ford Fiesta Ghia is a very worthy newcomer. If it weren’t for its NVH shortcomings and firm seats, we think it could be a class benchmark.

Still, even as it stands, the AUD$21,490 Fiesta Ghia is well worth taking for a test drive.

The Fiesta Ghia was provided for this test by Ford Australia.

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