For almost nine months now, the Fiesta has been coming to India. Now it has finally arrived. And though Ford might not understand plastics too well or for that matter how important fuel efficiency is to our country, they sure do know a thing or two about driving dynamics.
To be honest, I was looking forward to drive the 100 bhp petrol Fiesta simply because their earlier three-box was so good. The 1600cc Ikon might have notched up fuel bills that you would struggle to get past George Bush, but it went around corners as flat as a frisbee.
Add to that the small steering wheel that had an effect similar to what silicon does to most supermodels - it, um, took excitement to an all-new level.
So when I got in the driver's seat of the all new Fiesta, I was a bit disappointed. Partly because they had got rid of the zestful steering wheel and partly because this one was wearing an oiler suit.
Now, I understand that the new generation diesels are losing their smoker's tag as quickly as they accelerate - thanks to the holy common rail. But all things considered, they tend not to be good entertainers.
However, on the desolate Delhi-Jaipur highway, I was warming up to the 1399cc, 8-valve, oil burner pretty nicely, with the ultra long straights allowing me to harness the 68 horses to their fullest, and the speedo indicating a steady 150 kph.
And although the earlier Ford presentation had spoken about liberating more space in the footwell, my left foot was sorely missing a dead pedal. But apart from that, the rather torquey diesel wasn't working too well for me and my diesel prejudices. In fact, at triple-digit speeds the road/wind noise was proving to be more intrusive than the Duratorq lump up front.
To say that this diesel is a huge improvement on their current 1753cc motor is like saying human beings are better than chimps. However, what really makes this engine special is refinement. Yes, it does speak like a diesel but oh-so softly.
The breakthrough, though, isn't in the engine per se. It's the fuel feed that has changed. This one comes with a high-pressure common rail system - TDCi in Ford speak.
And as with other systems, there is a tiny pilot injection just before the main event giving a small early burn that softens the edge of the big bang. This, and the fact that the diesel uses an aluminium block means that it weighs just 20 kilos more than its petrol sibling.
Now, I didn't go corner carving with it, but a few imaginary slaloms later it was rather apparent that the weight saving programme was paying dividends.
Contrary to what you would expect, the diesel isn't nose heavy at all nor does the steering require any undue effort. And it's not too bad in traffic either. With most of the 16 kgm of turning force coming in at just over 1400 rpm, all you need to do is stick it in one gear and let the torque do the er... talking. In terms of driveability, the diesel is brilliant.
Something that's a bit of an issue with the petrol, though. The 1596cc, 16-valve, DOHC, Duratec motor that currently serves the Fusion has seemingly been retuned, but is good for 100 bhp at 6500 revs and 14.6 kgm at 3400 rpm. This isn't too bad when you have a decent stretch of road, but in traffic, life becomes an endless series of gear changes.
With a huge chunk of the power coming in at 3000 revs, the 1.6 struggles to breath fluently in traffic. Show it an open stretch though, and it will pay a fitting tribute to the brilliant Cosworths of yore. Not to mention the noise that it makes, which will get you interested in pressing that right foot harder.
This is great, since the aural brews are always accompanied with a lot of grunt right till you hit the rev limiter, which is incidentally at just 500 rpm past its max output!
But you see, the problem with having the meat of its power in the upper echelons means that it is a great car only if your fuel expenses are taken care of by someone else. Ideal for road testers, then. My guesstimate is that the Fiesta should be able to put in a very respectable sub-12 second 0-100 kph run.
And given how good the diesel is around corners, it's no surprise that the independent McPherson struts up front and the semi-independent twist beam at the rear do a decent job of keeping the rubber side down. But given that we ran on the very best tarmac North India had to offer, ride quality remains a big unanswered question.
Oh and before I forget, the Fiesta is also available with a 1388cc petrol engine that's good for 82 bhp at 6000 rpm and which as of now comes only in the most basic EXI trim. At Rs 5,86,000 (all prices are ex-showroom Mumbai) this is the cheapest Fiesta around.
The diesel too comes in just one trim level that includes an in-dash CD player as standard and, among other things, gets better interiors than the EXI. All this is yours for a slightly steep Rs 733,000.
The top-of-the-line petrol, on the other hand, is the 1.6 SXI that comes with leather seats, in-dash six-CD changer, alloys and some amount of aluminium for the interiors and retails for eleven thousand rupees less than the diesel. The best part though is that for Rs 26,000 more you can specify ABS on either the 1.6 petrol or the diesel. Something that we don't just recommend - we swear by it.
There is one other thing. The Fiesta might be turning heads today, but I am not so sure it will do so even a month from now. With its borrowed design cues - a Japanese front end and C-class inspired rear - it is far from spectacular, and the 175/65 R14s are aesthetically insufficient and make the car look like an American football player - somewhere under all that padding is an athlete waiting to get out.
All things considered, it certainly doesn't seem like a design that will stand the test of time, which is why I wish Ford had stuck to their new-edge design theme. Having said that, the interiors no longer resemble the plastics convention that the Fusion is and the instrument cluster is gorgeous to say the least. Interior space though is a notch below the class average.
What we have here is a car that doesn't look special, drives brilliantly, is cramped on the inside and has a diesel engine that's a worthy alternative to the petrol. And given that it uses a lot of borrowed parts, it isn't exactly brand new but it certainly is more all-new than most 'all-new' cars.
As it now stands, the diesel Fiesta is a decent option over the current C-segment king - the Honda City. As for the petrol, well I would have certainly recommended it as the car to have if you want something that's fun to drive.However, Honda has just launched a 100 bhp version of the City, so the gloves are well and truly off.