Fleet News

Ford Fiesta 3-dr

Ford

Review

LIKE its five-door brother, the new three-door Fiesta extends Ford's supermini offering.

'Judge me by my size, do you?' asked Yoda, the diminutive green Jedi master in the Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. Well, yes actually, because we tend to judge everything in proportion to the world it inhabits.

The same goes for cars. The theory runs that while the supermini is the cute little runabout, lower-medium and upper-medium vehicles do the real work in the big world. Use a supermini for long distance driving? Too small, comes the reply. But, like Yoda, the force is with the supermini, and in particular two I have driven in recent weeks. Both the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo behave like much larger cars and have safety, comfort and refinement disproportionate to their wee dimensions.

And now Ford has completed its range with the introduction of the three-door Fiesta – a cheaper, marginally funkier version of the rather sober five-door model. It is rather good as well. As with the five-door, the three-door will come with a choice of four engines: 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol and 1.4-litre diesel, and in three trims, Finesse, LX and Zetec.

Although Ford does not expect this to be a large volume fleet car – being too small to benefit from any downsizing fashions, it is sure to find its way into rental companies, local health authority and courtesy car fleets.

Out of the 105,000 Fiestas Ford is looking to sell, about 55,000 to 60,000 will be the three-door, making this one very important little car.

There have been revisions to the three-door compared to its five-door sister. Below the mid-point, the three-door is exactly the same, but above it, the top of the C pillar has been pulled forward to produce a more sloping rear screen and the rear light clusters are a different design. Consequently, boot space is down marginally from the five-door – from 268 cubic litres to 284, but the doors are 248mm longer to help access for rear passengers.

The idea was to make the car look sportier and a bit more urgent, which it does a little, but not much. Importantly, the Fiesta is still a well proportioned, handsome rather than cute little car.

As for prices, they have not yet been announced, but Ford claims the cheapest will be under £8,000 on-the-road.

In fact, it will need to be nearer £7,000 at the entry-level mark to compete with the likes of the budget three-door Volkswagen Polo.

The three-door comes with the high levels of safety that we have come to expect from the Fiesta. Dual-stage airbags, thorax protecting side airbags, inflatable side curtains and stiffened body structures and energy crush zones to absorb and direct impact energy away from occupants.

Now to the engines available on test. The 1.4-litre petrol engine feels bogged down by the weight of the five-door Fiesta, but in this car, with the extra lightness of having the rear doors removed, it comes alive, singing along happily. It might not have an earth- shattering 0-60mph time – 13.2 seconds – but with peak power of 78bhp at 5,700rpm and peak torque of 107lb-ft at 4,000rpm it is a revvy little minx, which combined with its wonderful steering, good brakes and a superb gearbox makes this a ball to drive.

It has a combined fuel consumption figure of 45.6mpg and carbon dioxide emissions of 153g/km – putting it into the lowest company car tax band for this year and next.

The other car available at launch was the 1.4-litre common rail TDCi diesel engine, which is a star again. It shone more in the heavier five-door, but its excellence is less obvious in the three because the 1.4 petrol does a better job at this weight.

Even so, the TDCi is relaxed and fairly refined. Vibration and noise intrusion into the cabin is kept pretty low for a car of this size, and although it does 0-60mph in 15 seconds, it feels quicker and nippier on the move thanks to a maximum 117lb-ft of torque from 1,750rpm. It also manages a massive 65.7 mpg on the combined cycle and emits a paltry 114g/km of CO2 – easily putting it in the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band for diesels for several years to come.

Behind the wheel

How Ford manages to breed fun into volume cars like it does is quite a feat. The Fiesta, like the Focus and the Mondeo, is a driver's car without match in its sector. Sharp steering, precise gearbox, lots of grip and informative with it. The Fiesta leaves a smile on your face, a grin that seems at odds with the sober and sensible styling of the car.

City-dwellers looking for more styling brio and pizzazz should look to the forthcoming Streetka.

From inside, however, the Fiesta's driving position is very good, with the raised gearstick pulling the ergonomics together.

The driver and front passenger seats have all the space of the five door but the seats lack width, which would be my only gripe. The ride is so exceptional for a car of this size you can easily settle back for a few hours motorway cruising.

It feels more cramped in the back as the C-pillar intrudes at shoulder level, and being quite tall I would not relish having to wedge myself in for long journeys, although legroom is much the same as the five door.

I would prefer to see the buttons on the central console being smartened up. I know they are so simple to help clarity, but they could do with a little more style – they are too childlike in their simplicity.

Driving verdict

The force is with the Fiesta. It might be small but it is – very nearly – perfectly formed. As long as those prices are right, this will be a top car in the supermini sector.

Fact file
Model 1.3 1.4 1.6 1.4 TDCi
Max power (bhp/rpm): 67/5,000 78/5,700 98/6,000 67/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 80/2,800 91/3,500 107/4,000 117/1,750
Max speed (mph): 98 104 115 101
0-62mph (sec): 15.8 13.2 10.6 14.9
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 45.6 44.1 42.8 65.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 147 153 157 114
On sale: December 2002
Prices (OTR): TBA

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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