By Miles Downard
Small hatchbacks. It’s a tough market here in South Africa where the VW Polo is such a dominant force, the rest are largely left fighting for scraps. But here to up the ante is Ford’s new Fiesta. The Fiesta as a model has dominated places like the UK for decades, outselling all and sundry much like the Polo does in South Africa. It’s puzzling to imagine why the same doesn’t hold true here.
Nonetheless this new Fiesta stands up to the competition well, starting with what I consider to be the most well engineered chassis on offer. Without going into the boring technical details, the new car’s floorpan is 15% stiffer, slightly wider in track and uses lighter materials to allow the engineers to soften the actual suspension to work better in conjunction with the 16 and 17 inch wheel options. This gives the car better body control while making it even more comfortable than before. Add to that the introduction of something called Torque Vectoring, which is just a fancy way of saying the computer can apply brakes to individual wheels during cornering to make the car handle better, and you have a little car that’s good fun to drive.
On the engine front there’s the option of petrol or diesel. Two versions of a 1.0 litre turbocharged petrol motor are available, starting off with a 74kW unit with the option of a six speed manual, or a six speed automatic. A higher-output 92kW version of the same engine is available with a manual gearbox. One turbodiesel derivative is offered, relying on the frugal but punchy 1.5 litre four-cylinder engine that generates 63kW and 175 torques.
Honestly all of them are great. The use of a traditional style torque converter automatic is a much improved option over the old model’s dual clutch gearbox which wasn’t particularly nice. The new manual gearbox is also a treat, with one of the smoothest and most satisfying gear changes of any car I’ve driven recently, let alone just in the segment.
Coming to the Fiesta’s interior is where I’d suggest the Polo might have one over the little Ford. Overall the redesign of the Fiesta is a huge step in the right direction. The old model had an endless number of buttons and dials spewed across the centre console. That’s all gone, with an uncluttered and simple design that really works. In my view however the floating infotainment screen (6 or 8 inch depending on model) isn’t integrated well enough into the dashboard. The instrument cluster also looks rather dated in my view.
There are many plus sides though. One of which is a great set of front seats. Supportive and comfortable with no sign of back pain despite a good few hours in them over the course of two days. There’s also a decent level of standard technology available, with Ford’s SYNC infotainment system. All kinds of mobile integration is on offer for voice, Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Higher end models come with build in navigation too. Things like automatic headlights, keyless entry are there too.
On the pricing front expect to pay less for a Fiesta than a Polo across the range, starting at R261,900, especially when you start speccing the VW to the same level. Also worth mentioning is a 4 year 60,000km service plan with the Ford where the Polo only offers a 3 year 40,000km plan (you can pay more to extend it of course).
As I said at the beginning, it puzzles me why people in South Africa prefer to buy a VW Polo over a Fiesta. Don’t get me wrong, the new Polo is a very nice car and in fact has a better interior. But when I consider how nicely the Fiesta drives, and its lower price tag, I can’t help but think I’d end up in the Ford rather.