Fiesta's worth easy to gauge

Forget the all-new Ford Fiesta's striking smiley face, funky styling, handy performance, good small-car safety, and right-for-the-times fuel efficiency. Call me shallow, but the thing that caught my eye when I first stepped aboard was the design of those gauge needles, with that beautiful teardrop base, trimming down to a long and sleek red pointer.

Car manufacturers love building into their cars a factor called the USP - Unique Selling Proposition.

Okay, the gauge needle design almost certainly isn't the Fiesta's most obvious USP. It's probably not something that gets the lads and laddettes talking down at the local bar.

Fishing out Ford's extended press kit, I carefully flipped through all 36 pages for a chapter, or even a mention, about the new gauge needles. But lo, nary a word. The Blue Oval PR and marketing folks clearly don't place the same importance on such things as moi!

Instead the kit was full of stuff about passive and active safety equipment, economical yet zippy engines, great dynamics, packaging efficiency and a host of good-value standard features.

And how the new Fiesta, complete with model inspired good looks and dynamic driveability, will shake up the light car segment.

"The all-new Fiesta will be the hottest property in the light car segment," said Ford Australia president & CEO Marin Burela said back at the launch in January.

Burela is a little biased. In his previous gig in Europe, as Ford's executive director of small cars, Burela had responsibility for developing the new Fiesta for the world.

It was designed to meet the differing needs of customers around the globe, from Western and Eastern Europe to North America, China, Australia and South Africa.

And it appears to have hit the spot. Fiesta seems destined to be a strong seller in the local Light segment, up against the mighty atoms like the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Getz and Honda Jazz.

Like the Mazda2 and Yaris before it, the Fiesta has the looks that the youngies love.

The dramatic, eye-catching design of the new model is an extension of Ford's kinetic design language. Sharp angular lines help differentiate the new model from its rivals, while the contemporary interior introduces easy-to-use controls.

The Fiesta comes with a choice of two body shapes (three- and five-door) and three model levels.

An 88kW/152Nm1.6-litre four cylinder engine with five-speed manual transmission is standard across the range. A four-speed automatic transmission, matched to a 71kW/128Nm1.4-litre engine, is available as an option on all models except the sporty three-door Zetec.

Fuel economy for the 1.6 manual is a frugal 6.1L/100km and carbon is emitted at the rate of 143g/km. The 1.4's fuel economy is 6.9L/100km and carbon emissions are 164g/km.

Prices start at $15,750 for the CL model, $18,490 for the LX and $20,250 for the Zetec (excluding dealer delivery and statutory charges).

The model we sampled and enjoyed was the three-door base CL in manual form riding on regulation 15-inch wheels.

The engine is pleasantly enthusiastic with a lovely clutch/gearbox action. The absence of torque means there is a need to change down on hills. Final-drive gearing appears a little short but this obviously hasn't hurt the fuel economy numbers.

It steers pleasantly, and goes around corners hard without noticeable body roll.

There are characteristics inherent to three-door designs that I don't like - the long heavy door being one, and the need to go searching behind you for the seat belt is another. But there's no knocking supportive and comfortable front seats nor the rear-seat room available in the Fiesta.

Forward visibility is excellent, but over-the-shoulder vision is limited.

All Fiestas come standard with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), plus driver and passenger airbags as standard.

Additional safety equipment, optional on CL and LX and standard on Zetec, includes front seat head and thorax side airbags, driver knee airbag and dynamic stability control (DSC) with Traction Control and emergency brake assist (EBA). A 3.5mm audio jack and Easyfuel capless refuelling is standard on all models.

Wondering how the Fiesta has fared in the market in its first couple of months on sale here sent me scurrying to the VFACTS official sales numbers.

It's doing well but not as well as it probably deserves to do. In March, 834 Fiestas were retailed across Australia. This compares with 1741 Yaris, 1597 Getz, 828 Jazz sales.

These Fiesta sales could accelerate once people realise how intoxicating it is to look at the tacho and speedo needles...

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